Playing Devil's Advocate: NFL Odds Underdog to Rule AFC South

Rivers McCown

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 1:33 PM GMT

Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2015 1:33 PM GMT

The task at hand for this sports handicapper is to find the best betting value in the AFC South division, which has the Indianapolis Colts priced anywhere from -400 to -450 favorites to win.

The Underdog to Rule the AFC South
If you haven't been paying attention – no one will blame you for admitting this – the AFC South is kind of a playpen for the Colts on a yearly basis. Since switching to the format, the Colts were 2-14 one year and employed Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck against mostly sub-standard competition in all other years. 

We're here today to figure out which of these other teams provides the best NFL betting value on what is seen as almost inevitable. The Colts are anywhere from -400 to -450 favorites to win the AFC South (all odds from our NFL prop betting page), depending on where you look. Let's discuss the other three teams.

Houston  Texans: +314 to +485
The Texans, then, are the antithesis to the Colts. They were up when Indianapolis was down, and where the Colts have franchise quarterbacks, the Texans seem barely interested in acquiring one since David Carr crash-bombed. 

Consider just how fortunate this team was last season. They had the easiest schedule in the NFL per Football Outsiders, J.J. Watt had what was undoubtedly his signature season. Both of those factors are in play to some extent this season, but we saw the best versions of them already. And the Texans could only go 9-7. This year, DeAndre Hopkins is going to get the coverage Andre Johnson used to, and there was no real improvement to the non-Watt pass rush or the quarterback situation. I think the Texans are the safest non-Colts bet to win seven games in the division, but that's not what we're looking for here.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars:  +1600 to +2500
The Jaguars are the sort of team you can talk yourself into if you look at them in a statistical model. Second-year quarterbacks usually improve, third-year tackles are coming into their prime, and their bevy of receiving options was only further buttressed by bringing in tight end Julius Thomas from Denver.

But here's where I'm at: I have no faith in Blake Bortles, who was the worst starting quarterback in the NFL last year by pretty much any available advanced metric you want to use. They spent the entire offseason overhauling everything they could possibly think of with him, and that got them a quarterback who isn't yet where he wants to be with his throwing motion.

And if you believe Chad Henne is a quarterback you can win a division title with, I appreciate you reading, Chad Henne's agent and/or Gus Bradley. 

 

Tennessee Titans: +1400 to +2850
This is where I'd put my money if I were betting on someone to knock off the Colts:

I'm open to the idea that Marcus Mariota may be a bust, but I look at him as a solid-average starter right away. Several statistical models, including QBASE, Football Outsiders' new model which wants to have Mariota's child, agree. 

Ken Whisenhunt built a successful offense around Philip Rivers as recently as 2013. While I think he's a poor coach from a game-management perspective, there are enough average receivers on the roster around tight end Delanie Walker and the oozing potential of Doriel Green-Beckham to give me cause to think the offense can rebound. 

The pass rush has been improved by bringing in former Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo, and all-time great Pittsburgh Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau has been brought in to re-acclimate coordinator Ray Horton with good football. LeBeau's units had fallen off statistically, but they also bled talent for years, and it's hard for me to believe that it's all LeBeau getting old.

The Titans are huge NFL odds underdogs for a reason, but they're the only team in the division with enough upside to make me want to make a play on them. I don't find it completely laughable that they could wind up with an average offense and an average defense, which is more than I can say for the Texans and Jaguars. 

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