Best Bets - AFC South
August 14, 2012
By Joe Nelson
The AFC South collectively produced a record of just 26-38 in 2011, making it the worst division in the NFL by that measure. The expectations are not much higher this season, although Houston is considered by many to be a Super Bowl threat after breaking into the playoffs for the first time last season. There are many question marks for the other three squads. Here are some predictions for the 2012 NFL season and who will be the best of the AFC South.
Best Team: Houston Texans
The Texans finished 10-6 last season, but they had a +103 point differential on the season. At one point, the Texans were 10-3 and on track for one of the top seeds in the AFC before losing the final three games of the regular season. Keep in mind, the Texans were forced to play with third string QB T.J. Yates late in the year due to injuries and even with that misfortune, Houston won its opening playoff game and gave Baltimore a tough battle playing for a berth in the AFC Championship game. Houston was not able to retain Mario Williams and there are some other changes on the roster, but if the offense stays healthy it should be by far the best unit in this division. Houston made huge strides on defense last season and even if those numbers are not likely to be repeated this should still be a capable defensive team at worst. Houston’s schedule is very favorable early in the season and then will get tough in the middle of the season, but another double-digit win season seems likely.
Best ‘OVER’ Win Totals Bet: Indianapolis Colts
While there has been some overreaction to the first game for Andrew Luck putting up good numbers in his preseason debut, the Colts have a chance to improve by several wins this season. The defense had serious problems last season, but injuries played a roll and actually late in the year, the Colts started to play much better defensively. Indianapolis allowed just 16 points per game over the final three games, all against division opponents. This club should get better QB play than last season behind Luck and the Colts have winnable games on the schedule. Home games with Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Cleveland occur early in the year and only two games all season at home will be against 2011 playoff teams. This was a 10-win team two years ago and it won’t take great strides to top one of the lowest win totals posted in the league.
Best ‘UNDER’ Win Totals Bet: Tennessee Titans
The Titans actually finished 9-7 last season, but rarely did it feel like this team was a serious playoff contender. Getting a second-place schedule brings San Diego and Pittsburgh on the schedule, two teams the rest of the division won’t have to face and the early season schedule is especially tough with a gauntlet in September facing New England, San Diego, Detroit, and Houston. If Tennessee is better than 1-3 through the first four weeks it would be a big surprise and 0-4 is a real possibility. A slow start probably means a full-time switch to Jake Locker instead of Matt Hasselbeck and there could be some serious growing pains. With the AFC East and the NFC North on the schedule for the entire AFC South, it will be very tough for Tennessee to even approach last season’s win total. The Titans were only +8 in point differential last season, despite being two games above .500 and that won’t be good enough to go 9-7 this season.
Best ATS Performer: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are a team that most will expect to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. Being one of the least popular franchises in the NFL will also mean that Jacksonville will be on the shorter side of the ticket window just about every week. Jacksonville has been just 13-19 SU the last two years, but 16-15-1 ATS as this was a respectable defensive team last season and it won’t take much for the offense to show some improvement after averaging just 15 points per game last season. Jacksonville went 1-7 on the road last season, but could top that early this season with the first three road games coming against Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Oakland. The home schedule is difficult with a lot of playoff contenders visiting as seven of the eight home games will come against teams that were .500 or better last season. That will make it tough for Jacksonville to produce a strong record this season, but they may be a worthwhile home underdog in several situations, getting value as a team few people want to back.
Best Team to Fade: Houston Texans
Houston went 12-5-1 ATS last season counting the playoffs and the Texans won’t surprise anyone this season. Houston has a very good offensive team, but there could be some regression on defense after the stunning turnaround engineered by Wade Phillips last season. Quarterback play could be an issue with Matt Schaub coming off injury and the receiving corps battled injuries last season as well. Houston was an underdog in seven games last season, going 5-2 ATS, as the Texans don’t figure to be dogged very often this season which could produce much worse ATS results. The Texans should be a heavy favorite in the first month of the season and they could have a powerful record entering a tough mid-season stretch of games where they may be overvalued. Houston should run away with this division, but the ATS results figure to take a hit after being a bit of a surprise last season.
Best ‘OVER’ team: Jacksonville Jaguars
This pick will seem counter-intuitive, but every team in this division leaned to the ‘under’ last season. The ‘under’ was 11-4-1 in Jacksonville games last season so at least early in the year the Jaguars will get very low numbers posted on their games. New coach Mike Mularkey is offensive-minded and he brought in passing guru Bob Bratkowski as his offensive coordinator and this team will be airing it out more than most will expect regardless of who is at QB. In Mularkey’s two seasons as the head coach in Buffalo, the ‘over’ went 20-12 and while there is more to work with defensively in Jacksonville, this could be a higher scoring team. The combination of value on the ‘over’ based on the perception of this team as well as likely more passing from the Jaguars should lead to Jacksonville being a surprise ‘over’ team in 2012.
Best ‘UNDER’ team: Tennessee Titans
The ‘under’ was 10-5-1 in Titans games last season and this was one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, despite featuring a high-profile RB in the backfield. Tennessee’s focus this offseason has been to improve on defense, particularly against the run and five of the seven draft picks addressed defensive needs. The Tennessee offense topped 23 points just four times last season and the uncertainty and potential changes at QB could hamper this offense again. Opposing teams were able to key in on stopping the run last season as Chris Johnson had a disappointing season, but the defense kept the Titans in games, holding foes to 17 or fewer points nine times last year. Tennessee could give up a lot of points in the first month based on the schedule, but this will be a much better defensive team than the early numbers will portray and value may be on the ‘under’ in October.