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AFC South Outlook

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AFC East · AFC North · AFC South · AFC West
Houston Should Win AFC South Easily
 
Very few divisions offer an open and shut case like the AFC South futures market will. Even then, I don’t really know how much faith I have in the Houston Texans to finally overcome years of mediocrity to become an actual threat in the conference. Is it me or do they remind you of the San Diego Chargers that came to power with running back LaDanian Tomlinson? Either way, in the vacuum of the division, this will easily be Houston’s title to lose. And even if they experience some weird injuries along the way, which seems inevitable considering their history, the other three contenders in the division aren’t good enough to take advantage.
 
Houston Texans (12-4 SU and 9-7 ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +650 to win
Season Win Total: 10.5 Games
 
There are very few teams in the league that will enjoy an easier path to the playoffs. There is no other team in the AFC South that is expected or projected to make the playoffs, though that depends on how you feel about Indianapolis. As long as all the important parts remain healthy – and they avoid their post season nemesis in the New England Patriots – the Texans are a strong play to once again be a double-digit winner this season and should crest the 10.5 game OVER with little to no problems.
 
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Quarterback Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson and left tackle Duane Brown form one of the most recognizable offensive units in all of football. They’re a constant reminder that the Texans have been smart, talented and polished for a long time and that kind of confidence will go a long way in repeating the successes they enjoyed in 2012.
 
I’ve joked that defensive end J.J. Watt is probably due to be suspended for four games soon because he seems so improbably human, but as long as he’s around there’s no reason to believe that Houston will take a step back defensively. Watt anchors a front-seven that also includes the often underrated Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Antonio Smith. The secondary has some attractive pieces with Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning being flanked by the legendary safety Ed Reed, whom the team would be smart to manage throughout the season so he can be the missing piece in the playoffs.
 
Reed is an integral part to what has often failed the Texans in the playoffs. They have been absolutely murdered in the playoffs 20-13 against Baltimore in 2011 and 41-28 against New England in a forgettable contest. For some reason, the Texans go flat in the postseason and they need to do a better job of protecting the endzone while their offense finds its rhythm. Outside of Denver and New England, Houston is as good of a long term play as any other team. Considering their divisional advantage, Houston’s +650 mark to win the AFC is a decent value but you can’t dismiss this group’s shortcomings in January which is why Kubiak and company are only worth a flier bet in the conference. In the AFC South futures market, however, they’re a lock.
 
Indianapolis Colts (11-5 SU and ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +1500
Season Win Total: 8.5 Games
 
No team is in store for a harder fall than the Colts, who won 11 games under what can only be called miraculous circumstances. QB Andrew Luck proved that he was a worthy number one choice and will be the quarterback of the future for a long, long time. The question remains who is going to be around to help him return the Colts to the Super Bowl. I have to see a lot more out of RB Vick Ballard before I pick him in a top-10 round during a fantasy draft and outside of WR Reggie Wayne, I’m having trouble naming the rest of the receivers in Indianapolis off the top of my head. That’s not really great news.
 
Indy went in to a two-part rebuilding mode that started on the offensive side last year, and everything in that department looks cautiously optimistic. Where the Colts need to turn their attentions to now are on defense, where they’ll have to find a way to be strong against the run without Dwight Freeney holding down the fort. There are some interesting pieces here between Vontae Davis, Pat Agnerer and Robert Mathis but I can’t maintain any real hope in this group.
 
Keep in mind that the Colts rallied around an emotional point that won’t recreate itself – the leukemia recovery of their beloved head coach. Bruce Arians, who manned the helm during Chuck Pagano’s absence, is now the head coach in Arizona. Pagano is obviously a great motivator even when he’s not in the locker room, and having him on the sidelines will definitely help this team maintain a semblance of consistency in terms of leadership.
 
Make no mistake: the Colts reacted to Pagano’s disease with a heroic response but they are not a supremely talented group that can hit double digit wins. Defenses have an entire year of Andrew Luck to analyze, and since he is a prototypical pocket passer, he’ll be much easier to blueprint against.
 
Even if you believe that this team is far better than they’re projected to be, I can’t see them as more than an 8-8 SU team which means their +1500 chances of winning the AFC Championship is a joke. As for the AFC South futures…forget about it.
 
Tennessee Titans (6-10 SU and ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +5000 to win
Season Win Total: 6.5 Games
 
From a certain perspective, the Tennessee Titans are a pretty interesting team. Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington – one of my favorite support receivers in the league – are a seemingly strong receiving corps. Chris Johnson is a home run threat, but doesn’t have a great offensive line and has a greater chance of never hitting 2,000 rushing yards ever again than he does of repeating his staggering 2009 campaign when he ran for 2,006 yards on the ground.
 
For me, the biggest issue is QB Jake Locker, who came out of Washington as one of those “potentially great players in a terrible college program” guys. From a technical standpoint, Locker has all the makings of a viable franchise quarterback. But his production in games has been lackluster. The Titans ranked 26th in total yards and just 23rd in total points during the 2012 season and there’s zero reason to believe that those rankings will get any better in 2013.
 
I won’t even waste time talking about Tennessee’s atrocious defense. They’re going to hover around a season record of 6-10 and shouldn’t be too much of an upset specialist. They have a third-year quarterback who isn’t improving much, and a Pro Bowl running back who doesn’t have much help. Stay away from them as division hopefuls and hold the UNDER on their season win total.
 
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14 SU and 7-9 ATS)
AFC Championship Odds: +15000 to win
Season Win Total: 5.0 Games
 
Yeesh. Let’s just say that the only reason I think that the Jaguars will be slightly better is because RB Maurice Jones-Drew is going to be on the field (and yes I like him as a late first round pick or early second round pick in fantasy). Other than that, the only thing that might be enjoyable is going to their games live and screaming “BLAAAAINNNNEEE!” because that seems like a fun thing to do if you’re a jerk. This is the longest shot in the AFC futures market, an absolute stay-away in the AFC South futures and a laughable team that will probably have the worst record of anyone in the NFL by the end of the 2013 regular season.

  
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