AFC South Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars on the Prowl

Posted on: August 28, 2023, 09:20h. 

Last updated on: August 28, 2023, 11:23h.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are once again the strongest team in a weak division. The Jaguars are the betting favorite at -155 odds to win the AFC South in consecutive seasons.

Jaguars Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence discusses strategy with head coach Doug Pederson at TIAA Bank Field. (Image: Getty)

The Jaguars moved on from their failed experiment with head coach Urban Meyer during a disastrous 2021 campaign. The franchise crawled out of the AFC South cellar in their first season under head coach Doug Pederson, who was only five seasons removed from leading the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory.

The Jaguars secured their first AFC South title in 2022 and locked up a home playoff game. They defeated the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC wild card, but were picked off in the AFC Divisional Round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Aspirations are running high in Jacksonville, and fans expect their beloved Jaguars to compete with the alphas in the AFC, like the Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Cincinnati Bengals.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Next Leap Forward

  • AFC South Odds: -155
  • Super Bowl Odds: +3000
  • 2022 Record: 9-8
  • 2023 Win Total: 9.5 o/u

As a defending division winner, the Jaguars face a tough schedule, with four home games against 2022 playoff squads, including the Chiefs in Week 2, the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13, and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15.

The Jaguars have a second home in London, which is why they’re often called the London Jaguars. They play two games overseas in 2023 as a part of the NFL’s international series, with back-to-back London games against the Atlanta Falcons (Week 3) and the Bills (Week 4).

Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, took Trevor Lawrence under his wing last season after a tumultuous rookie year. Lawrence has a proper mentor in Pederson compared to the tyrannical Meyer, who did little to prepare the former #1 pick in the draft for the rigors of the NFL.

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley returns to action after serving a gambling suspension by the NFL. His off-the-field drama overshadowed his eye-popping results: Ridley scored 28 touchdowns in 49 games with the Atlanta Falcons between 2018 and 2021.

The Jaguars also have an underrated rushing attack with Travis Etienne, Tank Bigsby, and JaMycal Hasty. Bigsby is part of a strong incoming class of rookie running backs to keep tabs on.

With nine victories in 2022, the Jaguars last season were the only team in the AFC South with a winning record. Three of their division rivals are among the bottom eight teams in Super Bowl odds on the NFL futures board at DraftKings. The Jaguars find themselves in the middle of the pack at +3000 odds to win Super Bowl LVIII, and +1400 odds to win the AFC Championship.

Tennessee Titans: QB Drama Looms in Nashville

  • AFC South Odds: +350
  • Super Bowl Odds: +8000
  • 2022 Record: 7-10
  • 2023 Win Total: 7.5 o/u

The Titans won the AFC South in 2020 and 2021 with double-digit victories in both seasons. They failed to three-peat with a losing season at 7-10 in 2022.

The Titans signed free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after the Arizona Cardinals cut him. Hopkins will be a good compliment to running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing attempts last season (349). Henry racked up 13 rushing touchdowns in 16 games and combined for 1,936 yards from scrimmage.

The quarterback situation is a thorny subject, with no shortage of trade rumors. Veteran Ryan Tannehill believes he still has plenty of gas in the tank. He has a career record of 36-19 as a starter for the Titans, even though he was 6-6 last season.

Tannehill sustained a serious ankle injury in December, which gave the Titans the opportunity to gauge the progress of rookie quarterback Malik Willis. Willis struggled and posted a 1-2 record as a starter. The Titans lacked confidence in Willis, so they drafted Will Levis from Kentucky with an early second-round pick in this year’s draft. The season begins with Willis backing up Tannehill, and Levis as the third-string quarterback.

The Titans are +350 odds to win the AFC South, and they pose the only threat to the Jaguars to win the division, with the other two teams under rookie head coaches. Then again, the outlook isn’t very promising, with a win total of only 7.5 o/u.

Indianapolis Colts: Rebuilding with Richardson

  • AFC South Odds: +600
  • Super Bowl Odds: +15000
  • 2022 Record: 4-12-1
  • 2023 Win Total: 6.5 o/u

The Colts last won the AFC South in 2014, when quarterback Andrew Luck led them to a berth in the AFC Championship game. The franchise has been trying to regain its identity after Luck prematurely retired prior to the 2019 season.

The Colts gave backup Jacoby Brissett a shot at quarterback in 2019, but he only led them to a 7-9 record. The Colts opted to rent-a-vet during the last three seasons with Philip Rivers in 2020, Carson Wentz in 2021, and Matt Ryan in 2022.

Head coach Frank Reich was fired midway through last season. The Colts hired rookie head coach Shane Steichen in the offseason. Steichen excelled as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles in the last two seasons, which included a trip to Super Bowl LVII.

The Colts drafted quarterback Anthony Richardson with the #4 pick in the draft. The team hopes Steichen can get the most out of Richardson and replicate his success in Philadelphia with Jalen Hurts. Richardson edged out Gardner Minshew for the starting job, and the Colts believe they’ve finally found their franchise quarterback.

Running back Jonathan Taylor led the NFL in rushing in 2021 before an ankle injury derailed his 2022 season. Taylor and the Colts were unable to work out a contract extension in the off-season, and Taylor asked out of Indianapolis. The Colts granted him permission to seek a trade. The market is a little thin, but the Miami Dolphins are the favorite to add Taylor in a trade.

With or without Taylor, it’s a rebuilding year for the Colts, with a rookie quarterback and first-time head coach.

Houston Texans: Ryans Tries to Avoid a One-and-Done

  • AFC South Odds: +800
  • Super Bowl Odds: +20000
  • 2022 Record: 3-13-1
  • 2023 Win Total: 6.5 o/u

The Texans have been in shambles since team owner and founder Bob McNair passed away in 2018. His son, Cal, took over, and it’s been a clown show ever since.

How bad is it in Houston? Players and staff often refer to Cal McNair as “Tommy Boy.” The nickname was inspired by the 1995 film starring Chris Farley in which a spoiled man-child inherits his father’s company and nearly runs it into the ground. There’s one exception. This is real life and not a Hollywood movie where the rich kid earns the respect and trust of the company to achieve success. The Texans won only 11 games during three consecutive losing seasons under “Tommy Boy” McNair.

The Texans had back-to-back one-and-done coaches with David Culley in 2021 and Lovie Smith in 2022. They hired DeMeco Ryans as their new head coach, which was a huge step in the right direction. Ryans was considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the league during his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers. Ryans inherits a Texans team that won just three games last season.

The Texans selected quarterback C.J. Stroud from Ohio State with the second pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Ryans named Stroud the starter.

The Texans are a long shot to win the AFC South at +800 odds, and are expected to finish in last place in consecutive seasons. Their win total is 6.5 o/u. The Texans won seven games combined in their last two years, so anything close to their current win total will be considered a success.