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Last year, Deshaun Watson seemed to improve every week until a devastating knee injury, in practice, derailed his and the Texans season. Watson, who had 21 total TDs in just six games, will look to improve upon his rookie campaign and get the Texans back in the AFC South contention again. I have to believe that they are the co-favorites here simply based on his potential. They have virtually no running game due to a lack of quality backs and a poor offensive line. The defense will once again start as a strength, but health will be a factor. Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are three of the best at their positions but they have all suffered long term injuries over the last two years. In the secondary, Houston added Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu to bolster the core. Provided Watson and the D stay healthy, coupled with a fourth place schedule, they should contend for the South title.
The Blake Bortles experience seemed to take a giant step forward last. Going from 3-13 in 2016 to 10-6 last year earned the QB another year, as Jacksonville exercised his rookie option. Many are still not sold on Blake a legitimate starting QB. Me? I’m on the fence. This year Jacksonville will be playing a first place schedule, so Bortles will definitely have to remain consistent and work hard to reduce turnovers and not leave his great defense in bad spots. They bailed him out a few times last year but they can’t do it forever. The WR position is incredibly mediocre, as the presumed #1 coming into camp is Marqise Lee (maybe Donte Moncrief?). Leonard Fournette will be back to man the ground game. The defense will be strong as usual with everyone coming back except Aaron Colvin (Houston) and Paul Posluszny (retired). Tough home games against New England, Houston, Philly, and Pittsburgh coupled with road matchups against KC, Dallas, and Houston will test how real last season really was.
Marcus Mariota is coming off of his worst year as a pro. Hopefully Mike Vrabel and the new coaching can help him rebound. That being said, this team made the playoffs last year at 9-7, and they definitely got better. After DeMarco Murray retired, Dion Lewis was added to be a true receiving threat, complimenting bruiser Derrick Henry. On defense, the Titans built on an already impressive unit adding Malcolm Butler and Kenny Vaccaro to the secondary. That unit could be one of the best in the NFL. The front seven, which was already pretty strong, added Rashaan Evans from Alabama in this April’s draft. The schedule is tough for Tennessee this year though. They are only favored in 1 of their first 5 games, then they get Dallas and New England back to back after their bye week.
What to say about the Indianapolis Colts, other than they are a dysfunction at the moment. However, a healthy Andrew Luck is elite enough to mask a lot of issues. I’m sure TY Hilton can’t wait for Luck to return; as he led the league in receiving yards the last time Luck was healthy. Will Luck play this year? We think yes, but when? The Colts beefed up their O-Line, drafting Quenton Nelson and signing Austin Howard. The defense will be just average at best, but none of this really matters if Andrew Luck is still sidelined. If he plays, they are able to be a middle of the road contender. If the stars align, they could be 10-6 and have a shot at the division.
In my opinion, in full health, all these teams are virtually within one or two wins of each other. I believe that Vegas believes, that Andrew Luck is healthy and will play the whole season. Otherwise, their odds should be nowhere near 4/1. So, for my money, take the value and play the Colts. If they can start well, the back half of their schedule is not incredibly hard.