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An injury-plagued Tennessee Titans relinquished the AFC South to the Jacksonville Jaguars after winning the division in 2021-22. The Jaguars beat the Titans in a do-or-die Week 18 meeting for the division. While the Houston Texans tarnished their chances for the 1st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft after upsetting the Indianapolis Colts in Week 18.
- Odds provided by DraftKings Sportbook
After picking 1st in back-to-back NFL drafts in 2021-22, Jaguars 2nd-year head coach Doug Pederson “changed the culture” in Jacksonville. They finished 9-8 in 2023 vs. a 6.5-win total and beat the Titans for the AFC South in Week 18.
Following Jacksonville’s Week 11 bye, Trevor Lawrence was 5th in expected points added (EPA) per play + completion rate over expectation (CPOE). Over that span, Lawrence completed 67.8% of his passes with a 17/2 TD/INT and added 2 rushing TDs.
Lawrence spectacularly won his 1st playoff game in last year’s AFC wild card round. The Jaguars overcame a 20-point 1st-half deficit to beat the LA Chargers 31-30. Lawrence threw four 1st-half interceptions and rallied back to throw four 2nd-half TDs.
Jacksonville lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 in the AFC divisional round. But, Pederson’s 1st season in Duval was a tremendous success and Lawrence enters 2023 as a legit NFL MVP contender.
Outside of the draft, the Jaguars made few upgrades to their roster. They did draft all positions of need though. Instead, Jacksonville is essentially “running it back” and hoping its young talent improves year over year.
- Super Bowl: +3000
- AFC: +1400
- AFC South: -155
- To make the playoffs: Yes (-195), No (+165)
- 9.5 wins: Over (-140), Under (+120)
The trenches are most important positions in football, outside of the quarterback. Jacksonville has a rookie starting at right tackle. None of its other four offensive line starters graded higher than 61.7 at their respective positions, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Though they technically have a “1st-place schedule,” the Jaguars still play in an easy division and against an even softer NFC South this season. Because of this and the quarterback-coach combo, I cannot fade the Jaguars this season.
However, I love the culture Titans coach Mike Vrabel has established in Tennessee. I’m buying stock in the Texans’ roster and new coaching staff. My only “bad team” in the AFC South is the Colts.
This is my roundabout way of saying I’m passing on Jacksonville futures. Based on their odds, the Jaguars are overrated. Tennessee’s defense is the best unit in this division and Jacksonville is definitely too expensive.
‘Unlimited bankroll’ bet for the 2023 Jaguars
Since the Jaguars are mediocre in the trenches and they actually have lackluster skill-position players, Lawrence needs to improve if Jacksonville is going to win more games in 2023.
I have Lawrence as a top-five QB in the NFL and gave him out to win the 2023 NFL MVP earlier this offseason at +1600. There’s a world where Lawrence has a 40+ TD season and the Jaguars have 10+ wins.
The Jacksonville Jaguars 2023 future with the most value is TREVOR LAWRENCE TO WIN NFL MVP, which is now down to +1500 at DraftKings.
LISTEN: Dan Zaksheske and Geoff Clark Break Down The AFC and NFC North On The Latest Episode of “OutKick Bets”
For the 1st time in Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s five years on the job, the Titans had a losing record and went Under their win total in 2022. They were 7-10 on a 9.5-win total a year after being the 1-seed in the AFC.
Tennessee had terrible luck last year.
The Titans had the 3rd-most adjusted games lost to injury in 2022, according to Football Outsiders. Plus, they had the 2nd-worst both 4th-quarter variance and fumble recovery luck last season, per NFL handicapper Clevta’s 2023 preview.
Things got so bad in Tennessee last year now-former general manager Jon Robinson got fired in December. And, instead of blowing it up, the Titans’ front office is investing in Vrabel and the boys.
Their offensive line was trash last season. Well, Tennessee drafted offensive lineman Peter Skoronski with the 11th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and signed veterans in OG Daniel Brunskill and LT Andre Dillard this offseason.
They drafted QB Will Levis in the 2nd round but Titans QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Derrick Henry both return in 2023. Tennessee gave Tannehill another weapon after signing WR DeAndre Hopkins earlier this summer.
- Super Bowl: +8000
- AFC: +5500
- AFC SOUTH: +350
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+210), No (-250)
- 7.5 wins: Over (-125), Under (+105)
For whatever reason, no one ever believes in the Titans. Everyone wants them to move on from Tannehill and expects Henry to run out of gas. I’ve even heard people downplay the Hopkins signing. But, the numbers support Tannehill, Henry, and Hopkins still being an elite trio.
D-Hop was suspended for the Arizona Cardinals’ 1st six games of 2022 and missed the last two with an “injury”. Yet Hopkins was on-pace for 119 catches and 1,300+ yards in 2022. And he only played with Cardinals QB Kyler Murray in three games last year.
The Titans have two young pass-catchers that will benefit from lining up with Hopkins. Tennessee TE Chigoziem Okonkwo was PFF’s 8th-highest graded tight end last year. Titans 2nd-year WR Treylon Burks is a fantastic athlete that’s still honing his craft.
Moreover people consider Tannehill a “game-manager” but let me enlighten you. Tannehill is 3rd in EPA/play + CPOE behind Patrick Mahomes and future hall of fame QB Drew Brees since become the Titans’ starter in 2019.
I.e. Tannehill scores points and throws dudes open. He led the NFL in QB Rating and adjusted yards per pass attempt in 2019. Tannehill led the NFL in 4th-quarter comebacks (5) and game-winning drives (6) in 2020.
Henry is still a top-five RB in the NFL. Last year, Henry ran for 1,538 yards, 13 TDs and led the NFL in carries (349). He set career-highs in catches (33) and receiving yards (398) last season. Henry is the rare RB that will be productive past his 30th birthday.
Best bet for the 2023 Titans
Tennessee’s defense is my favorite unit in the 2023 AFC South. Vrabel is a 3-time Super Bowl champion as a OLB for the New England Patriots and a good defensive coach.
Furthermore, Vrabel is one of the best in-game coaches in the NFL and consistently gets the most out of his players. Per Warren Sharp, the Titans have the 4th-best net rest edge in 2022. Vrabel will have several games with extra prep time this season.
They have PFF’s two top-30 edge rushers (OLB Arden Key and DE Denico Autry) in 2022 and two top-25 interior defensive linemen (Teair Tart and Jeffrey Simmons).
Titans OLB Harold Landry returns after missing all of last year. Landy had a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2021. They signed a good run-stuffing and pass-rushing LB Azeez Al-Shaair this offseason.
Also, Tennessee’s secondary has played above its collective talent level because Titans S Kevin Byard is one of the best safeties in football. PFF graded Byard the 8th-best safety in the NFL last season.
Finally, the gap from Lawrence-Pederson to Tannehill-Vrabel isn’t big enough to make up for all of Tennessee’s other edges over Jacksonville. As long as the Titans stay relatively healthy in 2023, they will win the AFC South again.
BET: Tennessee Titans (+350) to win the 2023 AFC South at DraftKings
Since I already wrote about this, I’ll just come right out and say it: The Colts are going to be trash this season. Like 3- or 4-win bad. They drafted project QB Anthony Richardson with the 4th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Last year was a clown show in Indianapolis. Former Colts head coach Frank Reich was fired after nine games (3-5-1) and Indy hired former ESPN TV analyst, and Colts offensive linemen, Jeff Saturday to lead the “tank”.
Saturday upset the Las Vegas Raiders in his NFL coaching debut then proceeded to lose seven straight to end 2022. Despite the said 7-game losing skid, the Colts weren’t bad enough to get the 1st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Indy hired former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to be its next head coach. Steichen hired Jim Bob Cooter to be the 2023 Colts offensive coordinator and retained Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator.
However, Indianapolis got worse on defense this offseason. The Colts let CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Bobby Okereke, and S Rodney Mcleod Jr. walk in free agency. Their additions were minimal
- Super Bowl: +15000
- AFC: +7000
- AFC South: +600
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+350), No (-425)
- 6.5 wins: Over (-120), Under (+100)
The bottom line is I don’t trust this front office to hire a new coach, draft a new quarterback and improve Indianapolis’s win total from 2022. The Colts are throwing Richardson right into the fire.
In a perfect world for the Colts, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen are comps for Richardson. But, Hurts and Allen were bad quarterbacks for a couple of years before they blossomed into superstars. Also, neither started for their teams in their rookie years.
Richardson didn’t show much arm talent in college. He completed just 53.8% of his passes for 2,549 yards in his final season at Florida with a 17/9 TD/INT rate. So Richardson won’t be taking the NFL by storm until next season, at best.
BET: Indianapolis Colts UNDER 4.5-alternate win total (+350) at DraftKings
They ripped victory out of the jaws of defeat in a tank-off vs. Indianapolis Colts in Week 18 last year. The win cost the Texans the 1st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. It was a middle finger from former coach Lovie Smith who was fired immediately after the season.
Houston hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, and Texans linebacker, DeMeco Ryans to be the new head coach. They used the No. 2 overall pick to draft QB C.J. Stroud and traded up for the 3rd pick to select pass rusher Will Anderson Jr.
Ryans brings 1st-year offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik with him from San Francisco. From 2019-22, Slowik was an offensive assistant for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan who is one of the best play designers in the NFL.
They added two veteran skill-position players in WR Robert Woods and TE Dalton Schultz. Houston has three intriguing young WRs including Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson and John Metchie III.
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Houston’s schedule went from easy in 2022 to easier this season, per Warren Sharp. The Texans added 10 new starters, five on each side of the ball. Last year, they were 23rd in 4th-quarter variance and 27th in turnover margin, according to Clevta.
- Super Bowl: +20000.
- AFC: +10000
- AFC South: +800
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+475), No (-700)
- 6.5 wins: Over (+110). Under (-130)
This could be better worded but I have a good feeling about this coaching staff and like this roster. The Texans missed out on the 1st pick but Stroud is a stud. He was a 5-star QB prospect at Ohio State and lock to get drafted in the top-five.
In college, Stroud completed 69% of his passes for 8,123 yards with an 85/12 TD/INT rate and was a two-time Heisman finalist. Stroud’s offensive line has potential and he has weapons to work with in Houston.
Texans LT Laremy Tunsil is a top-10 NFL tackle and they added two more offensive line starters. Houston drafted C Juice Scruggs in April and signed OG Shaq Mason this offseason. The Texans could have a top-10 to -15 offensive line in 2023.
Houston’s ground game is above-average as well. The Texans signed former Buffalo Bills RB Devin Singletary to go with 2nd-year RB Dameon Pierce in the backfield.
Sure, Stroud needs protection, Woods needs to have a bounce-back year, and one or two of those young wide receivers need to pop. But, there is enough talent for new OC Slowik to work with.
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The Texans drafted CB Derek Stingley Jr. 3rd overall in 2022 and S Jalen Pitre — the 2012 Big XII Defensive Player of the Year — later in the 2nd round. Between nickelback Desmond King II and Ward, Houston’s secondary has a top-10 ceiling.
Texans S Jimmie Ward came with Ryans from San Francisco. PFF graded Ward the 6th-best safety (out of 88) in the NFL in 2022. Ryans brought Ward with him to be the QB of Houston’s talented secondary.
Also, the Texans fortified their front seven this offseason. Houston signed elite run-stuffer, DT Sheldon Rankins, and two top-25 linebackers (per PFF) in Cory Littleton and Denzel Perryman.
‘Unlimited bankroll’ bet for the 2023 Texans
My favorite season-long look for the Texans is pass rusher WILL ANDERSON TO WIN 2023 NFL DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (+400) at DraftKings.
All the NFL talking heads criticize the Texans for trading their 1st-round pick in 2024 for Anderson. But, I like that Ryans has a vision and the move makes sense to me.
What’s wrong with this trade if Anderson is a top-5 to -10 pass rusher in the NFL in the next three seasons? Here’s what I know about Anderson:
- Two-time unanimous All-American in 2021-22.
- Two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
- 34.5 sacks, and 58.5 tackles in three seasons at Alabama.
Call me crazy but this looks like the resume of a defender worth trading up to draft.
Finally, this award is usually won by the rookie with the most sacks. The AFC South has some of the worst offensive lines in football. PFF grades Tennessee’s offensive line 32nd and Jacksonville’s 26th.
AFC South 2023 projected standings
- TENNESSEE TITANS 10-7
- Jacksonville Jaguars 9-8
- Houston Texans 8-9
- Indianapolis Colts 4-13
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