Branded Bets 2019 NFL Preview: AFC South

Degenerate Dan

Well, this is one of the stranger things I ever had happen while writing a column. Last Friday, I completed my full breakdown of the AFC South. I decided not to post the piece over the weekend, and instead running it Monday morning when all of you would be looking for some form of entertainment to help ease your case of the Mondays. While much of what I wrote reflected the fact that Andrew Luck’s situation felt a bit odd and his health could decide who wins the division, I obviously had no idea about the bombshell news that was going to break Saturday night. Then this happened:

So what follows is a revised version of what I wrote last week. A lot of it is still the same; I think every team has significant question marks and I don’t think that Luck’s injury dooms the Colts as much as many others do. But there is no doubt that the entire landscape of the AFC South changed Saturday evening.

Houston Texans

Overview: The Texans came out of nowhere last season after an 0-3 start to win nine games in a row and win the division, finishing with a record of 11-6. They are led by a four superstars; QB Deshaun Watson, WR DeAndre Hopkins, DE JJ Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney. So far, it seems that the Texans are a force to be reckoned with.  However, when you take a closer look, things aren’t that great in Houston. While they did win the division, they were promptly disposed of at home in their first playoff game by the Colts, who had to win on the final night of the regular season to get a Wild Card. It is very likely that if Andrew Luck didn’t spend the first few games of the season getting back in the swing of things after missing the previous season, the Colts would have won the division.

And let’s take a look at that nine game win streak. The streak started with an overtime victory against the aforementioned Colts, in the infamous game when Indy coach Frank Reich went for it on 4th down in overtime on the Colts own side of the field. Reich was playing for a win and not a tie, but this call, and the Colt’s failure to get the first down, essentially gave the game to the Texans. They then won again in overtime against Dallas when Jason Garrett chose to punt on 4th and 1 in the OT session after getting the ball first. So that’s two wins that were handed to the Texans. The next seven came against the dreck of the NFL. While it is always difficult to win nine games in a row, a deeper dive into the streak shows a lot of luck, and a lot of very bad opponents.

Now the Texans will face a first place schedule. Their coach is still shitty Bill O’Brien who has never seen a 4th and 2 he didn’t want to punt on. Clowney is involved in trade talks after not receiving an extension with the team. The team also failed to make any significant signings or additions. They may be the defending division champs, but not everything is rosy with the Texans this season. Look for Houston to underperform. Even with Luck no longer a factor, there is so much more talent on the Indianapolis and Jacksonville rosters, I could see this being a rough year. Bill O’Brien to be the first coach fired has real value.

Spots to Bet or Fade: It might not take long for the wheels to fall off for the Texans. They start the season in New Orleans, then have a home game against the Jaguars who look to be improved from last year, and then go back on the road to face the Chargers. They are looking 1-2 square in the face, and it doesn’t get much easier after that. After a string of tough games, both on the road and at home, the Texans could be in poor shape come week 8. But that week 8 game, a return home to face the Raiders after stops in KC and Indy, could be their best opportunity to take out their frustrations and get their season on the right track. Look for the Texans to struggle out of the gate, but show signs of life against the lowly Raiders. This is the only game I have circled on their schedule.

Season Win total: 8.5 with the under juiced to -155. How crazy is this; they won 11 games last year, nothing major changed in the division, yet their total is 8.5 and the under is juiced. This tells you what you need to know about what the books think of this team; go with the under.

 Tennessee Titans

Overview: This is a very awkward year for the Titans. Former blue chip QB Marcus Mariota enters the final year of his rookie deal without a deal for next season, and you can’t say he has earned one. Mariota has shown an occasional flash of brilliance here and there, but most of his career has been a mix of inconsistent play and injuries. The Titans brought in Ryan Tannehill to, presumably back Mariota up, but there is word out of Titans camp that many people in the organization think he currently gives the Titans the best chance to win.

The Titans roster is made up of a bunch of guys who could be classified as alright but inconsistent. Will WR Corey Davis ever become the superstar the team thought he could be when they drafted him fifth overall in 2017? Can he ever do that with Mariota at the helm? Running Back Derrick Henry was an absolute monster down the stretch, but can he carry a team for the entire season when he’s never been asked to carry a full load before? The problem is they have competent players all over the roster, but no real strengths. There is just very little to get excited about here, as the Titans are probably not going to suck, but also have a very low ceiling.

Spots to Bet or Fade: Week 12 is a good spot to look to play the Titans, as they come off a bye week to take on the Jaguars at home. But don’t sleep on them on Opening Day. The Cleveland Browns are getting all kinds of hype among fans and the media but a lot of the times that kind of hype can lead to incorrect lines. The Browns opened as 4.5 point favorites and the line has creeped all the way up to 5.5. Keep an eye on this, if this gets to six or higher, the Titans may have legitimate value. They are not a pulse-less team, and the Browns are getting an awful lot of respect in that line for a team that has yet to prove anything.

Season Win total: 8 with the under juiced heavily at -165.  This isn’t worth playing; the Titans are the epitome of an 8-8 team, and while I would lean towards the under, -165 is too steep of a price to pay.

 Jacksonville Jaguars

 Overview: BIG DICK NICK! BIG DICK NICK!

The Blake Bortles era is officially over in Jacksonville, and former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is in. While the Bortles era was a crazy ride, most would agree that even if Foles plays at a league average level, he gives the Jaguars a better chance to win than Bortles did for most of his career. The Jaguars are clearly a defense first team, but that defense is so talented that they almost carried them to a Super Bowl in 2017. In fact, only coach Doug Marrone pooping his pants in the second half deprived us of seeing Sir Blake in a Super Bowl. That’s too bad. Actually, it’s not, that Pats/Eagles matchup went on to be one of the greatest games of all time. Which brings us back to….

Nick Foles. The Jaguars invested in Nick to stabilize the offense. His job is to not make mistakes. Foles’ career is extremely interesting. He once put up 27 touchdowns vs two interceptions, and in another year, won a Super Bowl as a backup. Yet, despite all of that, the general consensus is that he is just an “ok” quarterback. When Foles is good, he is amazing, but he also has some games that will have Jaguars fans pining for the days of Bortles. He’s just crazy weird like that. He is also not the type of QB who makes his weapons better, which is worrisome because the Jaguars offensive weapons are not particularly scary. This experiment is going to be extremely interesting.

Regardless of the QB though, this is a team that is going to run the ball a lot, try to sustain drives, play great defense, and let the offense do just enough to win games.

Spots to Bet or Fade: The Jags start off the season at home against the Chiefs. KC is only a four point favorite at the moment, and the public will be all over them. The Jags will be a sharp play for sure, though I am not certain it is a great idea to play them until we see how they look against a real team. One thing I am keeping an eye on; if they do lose to KC, then go on the road to face Houston, and lose again, they come back home Week 3 to face the Titans in a divisional matchup. If this is how it turns out, look to blast the Jags here, as they will be in a great spot to give a dominant defensive performance against a team with little fire power.

 Season Win total: 8. Sounds about right. No feel either way.

 Indianapolis Colts

 Overview: Wow. How do we handle the Colts in terms of preseason props? Last Saturday night, in one of the craziest sports stories of the last decade, it was reported that star QB Andrew Luck will be retiring. The news seemingly came out of nowhere, even though there was some rumblings that his ankle injury could be more serious than people thought. Still, for a 29 year old QB in his prime to up and retire was just insane news.

But how does this impact the Colts’ season? Obviously, it downgrades the a bit, but by how much? The public may be overreacting to this news. Now starter Jacoby Brissett has been widely considered to be one of the better backups in the league, though now that he is expected to carry the load, I don’t think anybody really knows what to expect. With Luck, this was a 10-6 team at worst. But I am not so sure they are not still going to be a strong contender in the AFC South. Their roster is filled with playmakers on offense and a strong defense, to go along with a great offensive line. All I am saying here is don’t count out the Colts thriving without Luck from being one of the big narratives of the 2019 season

Spots to Bet or Fade: Let’s see how the team plays without Luck before we start projecting individual week plays.

Season Win total: Here is where it gets fun. This total had previously been 9.5, and I liked the over. When the Luck news broke, almost every book took this line off the board. It popped up at some spots on Sunday at 6.5, which is insanely low. Since then, most shops that have resumed taking action on the colts have put out the number 7.5, with their odds to win the division now at +400.

I am going to die on this hill: Even without Luck, the Colts are the best team in this division. The hate has gone way too far with the public overreaction. This is still a team that will be able to score points with Brissett at the help. Remember, he has been practicing with the starters all offseason as Luck was dealing with nagging injuries, so its not like he hasn’t had time to build chemistry with his receivers. I’m using this crazy situation to my advantage; there is a ton of value in the Colts now, both with the win total over 7.5 and to win the division at +400.

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