NFL Picks: AFC South Power Rankings

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 7:14 PM UTC

Tuesday, May. 20, 2014 7:14 PM UTC

When breaking down the AFC South for this season, it's really pretty simple. The Indianapolis Colts are big favorites on NFL odds because they have a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Texans, Titans and Jaguars don't have one under center.

1. Indianapolis Colts (+105 on NFL odds to win)
What more is there to say about Luck? If you held a draft of every NFL player today, a majority of franchises, if planning long term instead of just for 2014, would take Luck first overall because he's going to be great for at least the next decade. Despite losing his best receiver, Reggie Wayne, in Week 9 last season and having next to nothing in a running game -- that Trent Richardson trade looks like a big mistake thus far -- Luck was better last year than as a rookie. He completion percentage rose nearly six points, his interceptions were cut in half and his rating was 87.0, nearly 11 points higher than 2012. Luck also continue to be a big threat with feet, rushing for 377 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Colts to an epic come-from-behind playoff win over the Chiefs when Luck had four touchdown passes and a fumble recovery for a score. He still sometimes makes bad decisions -- see the three interceptions in the playoff victory over Kansas City and four in the divisional round loss to New England -- but Luck is the complete package.

Luck should be even more dangerous this year with Wayne back healthy, emerging star T.Y. Hilton and new addition Hakeem Nicks at receiver. The running game should be better with Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw returning from injuries. Plus Richardson can't be that bad. The Colts defense took a huge hit with the recent news that linebacker Robert Mathis will miss the first four games after failing a drug test that Mathis said was simply a fertility drug. He led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, nearly half the Colts total. He misses two games against high-powered offenses (Broncos and Eagles) and two division games (Jaguars and Titans).

2. Houston Texans (+260 on NFL odds to win)
If you put the 2012 version of Matt Schaub on this Houston team, it's likely a Super Bowl contender. After all the Texans have a stud receiver in Andre Johnson, a rising star opposite Johnson in DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best running backs in the NFL in Arian Foster, and a potentially dynamic defense featuring J.J. Watt and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney up front. Alas, the 2012 Schaub isn't an option. Someone among Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates and 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage will be under center. That's not good. Maybe new head coach Bill O'Brien will work wonders with one of those guys, but expect Houston to take a QB in the first round of the 2015 draft unless Savage is shockingly good as a rookie.

3. Tennessee Titans (+300 on NFL odds to win)
It's a make-or-break year for Jake Locker with Tennessee as the team declined his option for next year and the Titans are now under a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt who likely will want to install his own hand-picked quarterback. Locker was off to a pretty good start last year before getting hurt. That's been a problem in his three seasons. It was time for the Titans to cut bait with Chris Johnson, and they took the first running back in the 2014 draft in Washington's Bishop Sankey. He could be in line for plenty of work from the start with only Shonn Greene ahead of him. Greene recently had knee surgery and was a huge disappointment last year.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (+2500 on NFL odds to win)
The Jaguars better hope they were right on Blake Bortles in taking him No. 3 overall and ahead of Johnny Manziel, dazzling receiver Sammy Watkins and potential defensive superstar Khalil Mack. If things go according to plan, we won't know what Bortles is until 2015 as the team wants him to sit and watch all season. He's +1200 on sportsbooks to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Chad Henne is a serviceable enough starter but isn't likely to make it through a full schedule uninjured so Bortles is likely to see action. There's not a whole lot to be excited about here yet but at least the Jaguars have a plan. They still need a good running back, a resolution to Justin Blackmon's status and few defensive difference-makers.

Free NFL Picks: That Mathis suspension could cost the Colts a loss they might not otherwise have had. They should still get to at least 10 wins and it's doubtful any other team in the division reaches .500, just like last year.

comment here