The 2017 NFL season begins at the start of September and the 32 teams are preparing their rosters for the challenge ahead in the new campaign.
The AFC South has overseen a power struggle at the top of the division for the past eight seasons between the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts.
Both teams have shared four crowns apiece, although neither side has been able to kick on and win the Super Bowl, with the Colts falling short in Super Bowl XLIV.
The Tennessee Titans have not won the crown since 2008, but are a team on the rise with Marcus Mariota at the quarterback position.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have never won the division since its formation in 2002. Their last crown came in 1999 in the AFC Central and they face a massive challenge ahead of them to avoid another underwhelming campaign.
The Texans were hamstrung by Brock Osweiler last season, limiting their production on offense. The club spent big to secure his signature during the 2016 off-season, but he was an absolute disaster on the field for Bill O’Brien’s men. His displays were so poor that the club traded a second-round pick to the Cleveland Browns to get him and his salary off their books.
DeShaun Watson arrived in the first round to replace him off the back of guiding the Clemson Tigers to the BCS Championship. The 21-year-old has the talent to thrive under the tutelage of O’Brien, but whether the Texans have enough talent on their roster to support him through a rookie season is doubtful considering Will Fuller’s injury.
Watson will certainly have the backing of one of the NFL’s best defenses. The unit had Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the back foot in their divisional round clash in Foxborough. However, the offensive display from Osweiler was putrid and the Patriots eased to the victory.
The defense was without JJ Watt in that match and should he return to his prime form following back surgery then the Texans will have a truly elite unit. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus were outstanding last term and highlight the embarrassment of riches that the club boasts on that side of the ball.
O’Brien has guided his side to division titles in two of his first three seasons with the club. Expect that to continue with another crown at odds +240 with Betway due to the dominance of their defense.
The hipster selection for a deep surge in the playoffs is the Titans, although that’s easier said than done for Mike McCarthy’s men. Tennessee enjoyed their best season in five years, posting a 9-7 record, although Mariota suffered a broken leg in week 16 of the campaign.
His fitness will be crucial to the club’s hopes of returning to the post-season. However, the Titans are well stocked at running back to alleviate the pressure on the 23-year-old. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are two excellent players and should be able to carry the load should Mariota not be firing on all cylinders early in the term.
They will be crucial to counteract the stronger defenses in the NFL, such as the Texans, allowing Mariota to take fewer hits and being able to pick his spot.
Tennessee also made improvements to their receiving corps adding Eric Decker after he was cut, while Corey Davis was drafted with the fifth-overall pick. They join Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe and tight end Delanie Walker to make a formidable pass-catching unit.
Defensively the Titans are devoid of elite talent outside of tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Brian Orakpo. That will be their undoing in their battle to win the AFC South as there are significant areas of weakness, especially the secondary.
The club made an attempt to strengthen the unit by signing cornerbacks Logan Ryan and drafting Adoree Jackson, but strong passing sides will be able to expose them.
Tennessee are good enough to reach the playoffs at odds of -105 with Bovada sportsbook, but the Texans will edge them out for the crown.
The Colts were fortunate to land one of the most talented quarterbacks to emerge from the college game when they drafted Andrew Luck in 2012. However, they have wasted the opening five seasons of his career, failing to surround him with enough talent to succeed.
General manager Ryan Grigson paid the price as he was fired and replaced by Chris Ballard in the off-season. Head coach Chuck Pagano survived the cull, but remains on a short leash and needs a strong campaign to stave off the axe.
Unfortunately for Pagano, Luck could miss the early stages of the season with a shoulder injury. Without him the Colts will certainly struggle, despite the improvements made to their defense. There’s no timeline for his return, which will press Scott Tolzien into action, who struggled immensely in his only start for the club.
Outside of TY Hilton there’s not a great deal of talent in the receiving corps. Frank Gore’s best days are behind him, while Donte Moncrief and Coby Fleener have had issues with consistency. There are even injuries on the offensive line with Ryan Kelly and Jack Mewhort missing time – therefore even if Luck returns to the field, he’s not going to be working with a lot of quality.
John Simon and Jabaal Sheard may impress the pass-rush, but the signings on defense will not be enough to turn the fortunes of the unit around. As a result, backing them to win under 8.5 matches at -110 with TopBet sportsbook is the bet to take.
The Jaguars were atrocious last season, which culminated in the firing of Gus Bradley. Doug Marrone has step into the breach to replace him, but the fortunes of the club do not look great for the 2017 campaign.
Their biggest issue is at the quarterback position where Blake Bortles has been horrendous. During the off-season he has managed to regress further and could lose his starting place to back-up Chad Henne before the start of the term.
Bortles has been the anchor holding the club back over the last three years, although Henne will not provide a solution. The Jaguars selected Leonard Fournette with the fourth selection in the 2017 Draft, and he could provide a spark to channel the offense on the ground. However, it will be too much for the rookie to carry the fortunes of the team in his first season.
There is talent on the defense as second-year players Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr have quality. AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell arrived during free agency and could provide the building blocks to produce a stout unit.
However, it will not be enough to cover up the flaws of the offense. As a result, backing the Jaguars at odds of +125 with Ladbrokes to finish bottom of the AFC South is the only option.
Houston Texans To Win AFC South
Tennessee Titans To Qualify For The Playoffs
Indianapolis Colts To Win Under 8.5 Matches
Jacksonville Jaguars To Finish 4th AFC South