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AFC South Preview

AFC South Preview

AFC South Preview
By Joe Nelson

The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring but the recent release of the 2014 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the AFC South in this schedule preview. The Colts ran away with the division last season as the only winning team in the group but improvement is likely ahead for Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston even through some big changes. Whether there is enough to bridge the gap with the favorite in one season remains to be seen.

Houston Texans:
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Texans went wrong last season as a team that had been expected to be a top AFC contender fell to just 2-14. While the poor results led to a coaching change, it also led to great position in the NFL Draft and a favorable schedule ahead in 2014 as the Texans will be a team expected to bounce back into contention. The quarterback position remains a key question mark for Bill O’Brien as he returns to the NFL as T.J. Yates and Case Keenum are back with limited starting experience and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has been added to the mix as Houston opted not to draft a quarterback early, but did pick Tom Savage in the later rounds. Houston will only play four games against 2013 playoff teams as a result of the fourth place schedule and the lone road game vs. a 2013 playoff team will come in the division at Indianapolis.

Houston will play just one 2013 playoff team in the first eight weeks of the schedule which could help in the transition season for the Texans. Houston does have significant travel on the schedule, including a West coast to East coast back-to-back set early in the season and a few other long flights. The Texans will also have to play on the road after a road Monday night appearance and there are three sets of back-to-back road games ahead. Houston is definitely a team that could see a turnaround with turnovers after having great misfortune early in the season to lose several close games, but the quarterback position is typically the key to improving in the turnover department and that is still an unsettled area for the team. Facing the AFC North and NFC East teams completes a relatively favorable schedule for this entire division and it is almost a certainty that the Texans will improve in the win column in 2014.

Houston Texans 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .441 (30/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 4 (three home, one away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,292
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3
Primetime Games: 2 (1 Thursday, 1 Monday Night)

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts made several moves to upgrade on offense in the offseason, but the defense certainly has some areas of concern, especially with the recent suspension looming for Robert Mathis. For back-to-back seasons, the Colts have won 11 games despite questionable point differentials and favorable bounces with turnovers and close game results, but this is a team that will be feared in the AFC picture again in 2014. Indianapolis went 6-0 in the division last season and the Colts will be favored to hit that mark again in 2014 with the rest of the division featuring two new coaching staffs and unproven quarterbacks. The Colts will face the weakest schedule in the NFL in terms of 2013 win percentage, thanks to the three division foes in the South combining to go 13-35 last season. The Colts will be the only team in the division to face New England and Denver, but three of the four games against 2013 playoff teams will come in Indianapolis where the Colts are 13-4 the last two seasons counting the comeback playoff win last year.

The only road game against a winning team from 2013 will be in the opener against the Broncos, a team Indianapolis beat last season. In the NFC East draw, the Colts will get the 2013 champion Eagles at home and in the AFC North draw the Colts will get the Ravens and Bengals at home for likely the preferable track in those games. The Colts have a Week 10 bye, which should come at a good time in the later part of the season and it comes before a huge game with the Patriots, the team that bounced the Colts from the playoffs last season. Indianapolis does have to play three of the final four games of the season on the road, but the final six games of the season will come against teams that combined to go 28-68 last season. Indianapolis also has very minimal travel requirements in terms of mileage with only two trips to the East coast and no games west of Denver. While the scoring and turnover numbers for the Colts cry for regression, Indianapolis has another great schedule to continue to pace this division.

Indianapolis Colts 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .430 (32/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 4 (three home, one away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 5,605
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (1 Thursday, 2 Sunday Night, 2 Monday Night)

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars have the lowest win total projection in the NFL for 2014 and despite Jacksonville winning four games last season, the Jaguars had the worst point differential in the NFL at -202. Three wins for Jacksonville came within this division and with the Titans and Texans starting over with new coaching staffs, there may be an opportunity for the Jaguars to move up. Jacksonville rolled the dice with Blake Bortles as its top draft pick to inherit the quarterback position, but it is not yet clear if Jacksonville will proceed with the rookie in 2014 or if they will give him some time to develop. Jacksonville obviously had many other problem areas last season, but quarterback has been a glaring area of mistakes and limited production in recent seasons. Jacksonville will actually have a somewhat challenging schedule relative to its division foes as they play four road games against 2013 playoff teams and the Jaguars will surrender a home game to play in London. The Jaguars open the season with road games in three of the first four weeks with three of the first four games are also coming against 2013 playoff teams so a strong start to the season seems unlikely.

With the tough early schedule, it might be easy for Jacksonville to slip into a another year of rebuilding and go with Bortles to gain experience for 2015 as contending for the postseason seems like a long shot this season. Jacksonville also has tough road games at Cincinnati and at Baltimore late in the season and they play Tennessee and Houston three times in the final four weeks of the season, negating to chance to catch those division foes early in their transition seasons. Finishing in third place in the division last season also means playing San Diego and Miami, two quality teams that appear far ahead of the Jaguars and far ahead of the fourth place draw that Houston will get in 2014. All in all, the Jaguars were dealt arguably the toughest schedule in the AFC South and it could be another challenging season.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .453 (29/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 9 road/neutral games: 12,125 (includes London)
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 1 (1 Thursday)

Tennessee Titans: The Titans competed very well at times and were barely negative in point differential in a 7-9 season in 2013. After three lackluster seasons, Tennessee made a coaching change and they pulled in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was a prominent candidate for several vacancies. The Titans will feature a brutally tough early season schedule in the transition with three of the first four games on the road and playing teams that combined to go 41-23 last season in the first four weeks. The schedule softens substantially in October for the Titans, but Tennessee has a very challenging road schedule overall this season with four 2013 playoff teams, plus a Ravens team only a season removed from a Super Bowl title. Tennessee has to take on the Chiefs and Jets in the second place draw and they will face NFC East champion Philadelphia on the road as well. Tennessee has another set of tough road games following its Week 9 bye and while the Titans will travel the third fewest miles in the league, it is a daunting road schedule overall.

Tennessee also drafted offensive players in the early rounds including offensive lineman Taylor Lewan in the first round, an area that seemingly already was a strong point for the team. The Titans impressed on defense early last season, but by the end of the year, it was a team that struggled down the stretch and the 7-9 record was a bit misleading as Tennessee won the final two games against Jacksonville and Houston, teams that had clearly mailed in the season and did not want to surrender draft position. The Titans also must replace Chris Johnson at running back and Tennessee has lacked playmakers in the receiving corps in recent seasons. Tennessee seems less likely than Houston to jump to immediate success with the coaching change in this division with the schedule playing a big role. The tough first month could lead to big questions and potential changes at key positions and Jake Locker is yet to prove he can stay healthy.

Tennessee Titans 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .438 (31/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 4,765
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 2 (1 Thursday, 1 Monday Night)

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Re: AFC South Preview

AFC South Betting Preview
By: Micah Roberts

The Indianapolis Colts made major strides last season in their second year under quarterback Andrew Luck and are favored to win the AFC South again this year. But by looks of Super Bowl futures betting patterns, the public is expecting much bigger things than just winning the division or hitting the road for a divisional playoff game. They're thinking Super Bowl.

"Right now, the Colts would be our third worst decision among the 32 teams," said MGM sports book hub manager Jeff Stoneback. "They're right behind the Raiders and Chargers as our biggest risk. We opened them at 22-to-1 -- have been as low as 15-to-1 -- and currently have them at 20-to-1. Overall, we've written the sixth most tickets on them to win it all."

With 10 properties located along the Las Vegas strip, the MGM books have more rooms for visiting guests to lodge than any other and their future write for all sports is larger than any other chain because of all those rooms constantly saying hello to new visitors. Getting a peak at their future action is very indicative of what bettors from all across the country are thinking. While they love Luck and the Colts, they're not too excited about the rest of the AFC South.

"We opened the Texans at 45-to-1 and got some early action on them, dropping them to 30-to-1, but no one has touched them since and because of risk on other teams and lowering numbers, we've been raising their odds quite often," said Stoneback. "They're all the way up to 75-to-1 now and would be our fourth best scenario to win the Super Bowl."

Meanwhile, the Titans have been treated like the plague with bettors.

"We see this every year with the Titans where they are totally ignored, kind of like BYU in football and basketball," said Stoneback, a Seattle native and skeptic of former Washington QB Jake Locker. "Our movement has been almost identical to what we saw last year: we opened at 50-to-1 and have pushed them up to 125-to-1, and still no serious takers. We have the lowest amount of tickets written on them. In fact, the team that is No. 31 on the least amount of tickets written -- the Bills -- have twice as many tickets on them as the Titans."

As for Locker, who has shown signs of being a good field general -- kind of like a Jake Plummer, Stoneback isn't sure he has what it takes to be a consistent QB in the NFL.

"I don't think he has the arm it takes to win in the NFL. I'm rooting for him, but I don't think he's the answer to taking Tennessee to the next level."

The Jaguars have the least amount of expectations among all the AFC South teams, but at such high opening odds, it doesn't take a lot of cash wagered to accumulate risk.

"We opened them at 200-to-1 and have had to drop them down to 125-to-1," said Stoneback. "There's a lot of positives with this team, not so much as to win the Super Bowl, but to be more competitive than what we saw at the beginning of last season."

Indianapolis Colts 4-7
Houston Texans 5-2
Tennessee Titans 9-2
Jacksonville Jaguars 25-1

Houston Texans

Season wins: Open 7.5 OV -145, currently 7.5 OV -150 after some shuffling both ways.

Super Bowl odds: 25-1

2013 record: 2-14 (4-12 ATS)

Key acquisitions: Chris Clemons (S), Andre Brown (RB), Kendrick Lewis (S), Darryl Sharpton (LB). Jerrell Powe (NT), Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB), Ricardo Mathews (DT),

Key losses: Earl Mitchell (NT), Antonio Smith (DE), Ben Tate (RB), Danieal Manning (S), Owen Daniels (TE), Andrew Gardner (T), Lestar Jean (WR), Joe Mays (LB), Brice McCain (CB),

LM Quick Take: Wow, who saw 2013 coming. They went from being Super Bowl contenders to earning the right to the top draft pick. The good news is the talent is still in place defensively to be very good. The bad news is the quarterback question still hasn't been addressed. Are they in a stronger position by grooming QB Case Keenum with the future in mind, or going with the veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick where they know exactly what they're getting? Kenny White isn't the biggest fan of Fitzpatrick, calling him a below-average quarterback, but does offer that he can provide accuracy in the short passing game if given enough time to throw. Tough call, but either way, eight wins seems like a tall task even though the defense will be very strong and the division is weak.

Texans quote: Second-year safety D.J. Swearinger on the Texans defense and how his former South Carolina teammate, first overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney will fit in: “We had some bumps and bruises last year but we've been working hard this offseason and this defense will be a stingy defense,” Swearinger said before training camp began. “I don't predict numbers but I know he's (Clowney) going to wreak havoc for a lot quarterbacks because it's going to be hard to block him and J.J. (Watt) at the same time."

Indianapolis Colts

Season wins: Open 9.5 UN -150, currently 9.5-flat

Super Bowl odds: 18-1

2013 record: 11-5 (10-6 ATS), lost at New England in divisional playoffs

Key acquisitions: D'Qwell Jackson (LB), Hakeem Nicks (WR), Arthur Jones (DE), Mike Adams (S), Colt Anderson (S),

Key losses: Antoine Bethea (S), Donald Brown (RB), Kavell Conner (LB), Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR), Jeffrey Linkenbach (T), Cassius Vaughn (CB), Ricardo Mathews (DT), Mike McGlynn (OL)

LM Quick Take: Look for them to take the next step forward in 2014. Last year, they were the only team to beat the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos. Andrew Luck is destined to be crowned champion one day, and while it may not be this season, they're sure to get at least 10 wins and make the playoffs. White expects the third-year quarterback to jump leaps and bounds this season. "The running game will ease things up for Luck, and I think you'll see fewer sacks, fewer interceptions, a higher completion percentage, and more yards per attempt which will lead to more touchdowns."

Colts quote: Second-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton talks about the tough task opposing defenses will have of defending all of Andrew Luck's weapons: “There's no way you can scheme up ways to take away Reggie and not account for T.Y. and the tight ends, as well as Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief,” Hamilton said. “We have some guys that can make plays for us on offense. I'm really excited at the end of the day to know that any given play we feel we have a potential matchup in our favor.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Season wins: Open 4.5 OV -150, currently 5 OV -115.

Super Bowl odds: 200-1

2013 record: 4-12 (5-10-1 ATS)

Key acquisitions: Zane Beadles (G), Red Bryant (DE), Chris Clemons (DE), Toby Gerhart (RB), Ziggy Hood (DE), Tandon Doss (WR), Dekoda Watson (LB), Deion Belue (CB)

Key losses: Brandon Deaderick (DT), Maurice Jones-Drew (RB), Justin Forsett (RB), Dwight Lowery (S), Taylor Price (WR),

LM Quick Take: They didn't do anything well in 2013, but they may at least come in with a better chance at winning games with Chad Henne entrenched as the No. 1 QB giving them some semblance of stability through training camp heading into the regular season. Even though they had the worst rating ever last season, they still won four games. Six to seven wins wouldn't be impossible. Despite a below-average quarterback, White is reluctant to bet the UNDER because it's such a low number.

Jaguars quote: Coach Gus Bradley on Chad Henne coming into camp as the starter and how it relates to first-round draft choice Blake Bortles: "I think it's been out there that our beliefs and our feelings is that we feel so strongly about Chad and he's going in, I think the team has really rallied around that," Bradley told NFL Total Access at the NFL Rookie Symposium. "Now, it has provided an atmosphere for Blake to really go out there and ask a lot of questions and gain a lot of information from all the quarterbacks that are in. He's doing a really good job, he's having more good days than days that maybe he's struggling, like all rookies have. We're very excited about his development."

Tennessee Titans

Season wins: Open 7 OV -130, currently 7 OV -135

Super Bowl odds: 75-1

2013 record: 7-9 (6-8-2 ATS)

Key acquisitions: Dexter McCluster (WR), Michael Oher (T), Al Woods (DE), Wesley Woodyard (LB), Shaun Phillips (DE), Eric Olsen (C), Charlie Whitehurst (QB)

Key losses: Alterraun Verner (CB), Chris Johnson (RB), Damian Williams (WR), Kenny Britt (WR), Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB),

LM Quick Take: Once again, the entire season rests with Jake Locker being healthy and that appears to be a lot to ask for because his style of play puts him at continual risk. If healthy, they could go to that next level of competing for a playoff spot. If Locker does get hurt, backup Charlie Whitehurst won't inspire confidence for anyone that wagered OVER 7 wins. The big upside with a healthy Locker is getting a chance to see him utilize explosive playmakers Dexter McCluster and rookie RB Bishop Sankey.

Titans quote: The resume of new coach Ken Whisenhunt has his team excited and Whisenhunt himself is pumped about what he's seen out of QB Jake Locker who comes into the season healthy: “Jake works hard,” Whisenhunt said of Locker who didn't miss a session on the field during the offseason. “He's doing a great job as far as studying the offense and understanding his reads, really done a good job with a lot of the little things. His footwork, his technique, we've seen improvement there, and that's really exciting to see.”

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