In spite of ranking in the bottom half of the league in offensive categories such as points scored, passing yards and total yards per game in 2015; the Houston Texans still managed to come out on top in the middling AFC South division, thanks a slew of injuries in the rest of the division, subpar competition (from the likes of Tennessee and Jacksonville) and a mean 7th-ranked scoring defense led by reigning and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. With the Houston defense set to return with its key pieces intact and upgrades made all over the offense in the offseason, the Texans appear to the early NFL betting favorites in the 2016 AFC South title race. But will the Texans manage to fend off competition from the equally improved divisional trio of Indy, Tennessee and Jacksonville? Get the entire lowdown plus free online NFL picks in the brief analysis below.
Here’s a Closer Look at the 2016 AFC South Expert Picks
— Teresa Walker (@TeresaMWalker) July 21, 2016
The Favorite Betting Pick To Win the AFC South: Indianapolis Colts (+125)
The richest player in NFL history, Andrew Luck, and the Colts are hoping that the 2016 season will be kinder to them, especially in the injury department after the 2015 campaign was hampered by costly injuries all over the squad, including Luck’s lacerated kidney that saw him miss half of the season. Ahead of the new season, Indy overhauled parts of its offensive coaching staff and used nearly all its 2016 draft picks on offensive linemen. With that, Luck is expected to have better protection as he seeks to return Indy back to the summit of the AFC South.
Assuming Luck is healthy throughout the season, it is safe to say that the Colts will do better than their iffy offense in 2015, with the likes of Phillip Dorsett, T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief able to receive plenty of targets. Even so, the Colts didn’t seem to invest enough in solving the problems from their oft-troubled defense that allowed a whopping 379 yards per game and surrendered the 7th-most points in the league in 2015. If the Colts do not show improvements in the defense real soon, the team could be in big trouble against all the members of the AFC South division, who all have solid quarterbacks that are well-capable of exploiting their chances against less-than- average defenses.
The Smartest Betting Pick To Win the AFC South: Houston Texans (+180)
With former Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler under the center and a host of targets to exploit– including rookie WRs Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, mainstay receiver DeAndre Hopkins (team-best 1521 yards and 11 TDs in 2015) and free agent running back Lamar Miller– the Texans are almost guaranteed to play better offensive football than they did last season.
Meanwhile, the likes of Watt, former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and Co. should keep the Houston defense on song, hence giving the Texans a complete and balanced outlook on both sides of the ball. So, although the Colts are the odds-on favorites in the 2016-17 AFC South title betting lines, the Texans should be duly considered as very serious title contenders, particularly if they can stay healthy.
The Longshot Betting Pick To Win the AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars (+250)
While there is a lot to be happy about Tennessee’s running game (dual-threat QB Marcus Mariota combining with former NFL rushing champ DeMarco Murray and 2015 Heisman Winner Derrick Henry), the Titans don’t look the part of being able to make a breakout in 2016, given that the AFC South is tougher than ever before and the Tennessee defense still has some big questions that need to be addressed before they can be considered as legit title contenders. At best, therefore, you can expect 2 to 4 more wins in Tennessee’s 2015.
If you are looking for a legitimate longshot, the Jags appear to be the readier team. I know Jacksonville is streaking on five of fewer wins in each of their last five seasons and winning on the road has been a big issue for this franchise, but with the improvements we saw last year, the Jags could be onto something. For starters, in just his second year in the NFL, quarterback Blake Bortles shattered several franchise records in the passing game, including passing yards, pass attempts, pass completions and TDs in a single season. With a much-improved defense– from the addition of players like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack and the return of 2015 first-round draft pick Dante Fowler to full health–and the Allen duo (Robinson and Hurns) continuing to build their already-solid chemistry with the ever-improving Bortles; the Jags could easily have a season north of the .500 mark and strongly challenge Indy and Houston for the AFC South title.
2016 AFC South Predictions
Taking away the injury-laden 2015 season that didn’t really give a true picture of Indy, the Colts dominated the AFC South with back-to- back 6-0 sweeps of the division in 2013 and 2014, underscoring their class. I don’t expect a sweep in 2016 even if Luck is healthy, but the class should be able to show, especially if the defense gets its act together. That said, the Texans and the Jags won’t be far off, while Tennessee will cause headaches all season. In the end, the finally standings should be really close, especially atop the division. My final predictions? Indy finishes with a division-leading 10-6 mark, followed by Houston at 9-7, Jacksonville at 8-8 and Tennessee coming last with a 5-win or 6-win season.
My 2016 AFC South Winning Pick: Indianapolis