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AFC South Division Winners: Are the Jags Set for an Easy Division Title?

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Nick Makowitz

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Now more than ever, the fantasy and betting landscapes are providing a year-round experience for fans, especially when it comes to the NFL. With the advent of best ball and growth of dynasty leagues – plus the explosion of legal sports betting options – casual fantasy players and bettors are no longer waiting until the late summer to catch up and get involved.

 

Still, summer brings with it an enhanced focus on NFL content. Talk shows, podcasts and Twitter timelines are zeroing in on the upcoming season, fantasy drafts and competitions are ubiquitous, and sportsbooks are taking bets on futures like division, conference and Super Bowl champions.

Over the summer, I’ll attempt to satisfy your craving for NFL content by previewing every division. I’ll cover key division storylines, provide a breakdown for each team and give out my pick to win each division.

(Check out the division previews so far: AFC East | NFC East | AFC NorthNFC North)

AFC South Preview

A year after finishing 3-14, the Jacksonville Jaguars went 9-8 in 2022 and captured their first AFC South division title since 2017 thanks to Doug Pederson’s arrival and Trevor Lawrence’s development. The Tennessee Titans collapsed down the stretch, losing seven straight games to close the season after starting 7-3. The Indianapolis Colts severely disappointed with Matt Ryan at the helm, eventually benching the former MVP en route to a 4-12-1 season. Lastly, the Houston Texans finished fourth in the AFC South at 3-13-1 but turned their dark season into a bright future by selecting second and third in the NFL Draft. 

Entering 2023, the Jaguars are the odds-on favorite to repeat as AFC South champions at -160. Next up are the Titans (+380), followed by the Colts (+500) and Texans (+800). Will the AFC South prove to be an easy title for the Jaguars? Or, maybe, one of the division’s new young quarterbacks can step in and propel their team to the next level.

Jacksonville Jaguars

(FanDuel Sportsbook division title odds: -160)

Trevor Lawrence Christian Kirk Jacksonville Jaguars Fantasy Football 2023 AFC South Division Preview

After one of the franchise’s best seasons ever, the Jaguars may lose a bit of production from their offensive line, but that’s about it, and it shouldn’t be enough to halt the progress that the offense made last season under Doug Pederson. In Trevor Lawrence’s second season, Jacksonville ranked top-10 in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Lawrence’s weapons played a massive role in his breakout, most notably Christian Kirk, who lived up to the billing of his massive contract from last offseason.

Now, the Jags can add Calvin Ridley – a second team All-Pro wide receiver in 2020 – to an already-explosive unit. With Travis Etienne in the backfield, Kirk and Ridley on the outside and Evan Engram at tight end, Lawrence has some of the best receiving options in the league, so don’t expect the Jaguars to turn into a pumpkin this fall. They are not the Jaguars of old. In fact, they are in a class of their own in the AFC South and that could put them in position to compete for the AFC title despite the conference’s strength at the top.

Tennessee Titans

(FanDuel odds: +380)

After a surprisingly hot start to the 2022 season, the Titans absolutely collapsed, losing seven straight games en route to a 7-10 finish in what felt like their last real opportunity in the Ryan Tannehill era. As a result, Tennessee drafted Kentucky quarterback Will Levis at the top of the second round and will hope that he’s the answer after last year’s third-rounder Malik Willis seemed overwhelmed every time he stepped into action.

With a handful of aging stars and a murky quarterback situation, the Titans find themselves in purgatory. They aren’t nearly good enough to compete for a Super Bowl, but the roster isn’t nearly bad enough to justify tanking. Mike Vrabel’s power as a culture-builder has been miraculous, but it wasn’t enough to prevent last season’s losing streak, and I don’t see it being enough to carry Tennessee this season either. The best-case scenario for the Titans is that they take a look at Levis, like what they see and are still able to get a high draft pick. The worst case is that Levis is no good, and they’re again left without a future QB.

 

Indianapolis Colts

(FanDuel odds: +500)

The Colts massively failed to live up to their “preseason AFC South favorite” expectations in 2022. Watching Matt Ryan get thrown around like a rag doll wasn’t easy, and the Indianapolis defense took so much of a step back that it couldn’t mask the offense’s problems. After winning just four games, the Colts moved on from Frank Reich and Matt Ryan and will hand the keys over to Shane Steichen and rookie Anthony Richardson (if he wins the job).

Shane Steichen Indianapolis Colts Fantasy Football 2023 AFC South Division Preview

Indy selected Richardson – maybe the most athletic quarterback prospect ever – with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft with the hopes that he’ll provide the Colts with their first long-term answer at quarterback since Andrew Luck. If they elect to play Richardson right away, the season’s hopes will depend entirely on his readiness and development. If there’s a steep learning curve, the Colts could again find themselves at the bottom of the division. If he’s ahead of schedule, he could make the Indianapolis ground attack one of the best in football. Either way, a playoff appearance would be surprising for the rebuilding Colts.

Houston Texans

(FanDuel odds: +800)

In 2022, the Houston Texans found themselves in an unfortunately familiar position – last in the division. However, things are looking up after they selected Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Alabama defensive end Will Anderson with the second and third picks in the NFL Draft. Stroud will undoubtedly have the bigger impact for a franchise who has very rarely benefitted from good quarterback play.

Despite trading receiver Brandin Cooks to the Cowboys, the Texans appear to be adding pieces that will make Stroud’s transition to the NFL a little smoother. They’ve acquired tight end Dalton Schultz, veteran receiver Robert Woods and former Bills running back Devin Singletary. Combining those additions with second-year back Dameon Pierce and an improved offensive line should give Stroud a solid setup for his rookie campaign. They likely don’t have any division title aspirations this year though, as they’re in the thick of a rebuild.

 

The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars

As I stated above, the Jaguars are in a class of their own in the AFC South. Trevor Lawrence is clearly the best quarterback, and they easily have the best offensive weapons. It also helps that every other team in the division is either in or entering a rebuild (unless the Titans really want to hold on). Barring injury, it’s hard to believe any of the division’s new young quarterbacks – or Ryan Tannehill – can do enough to knock off the rising Jaguars.

Wild Card: Tennessee Titans

Despite their presence in NFL purgatory, the Titans still pose a threat to the Jaguars. The offensive line is considerably worse than it has been in the last few seasons, but the rest of the team makeup is similar. If Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo can take the next step as pass-catchers, and if the line can just be average, the Titans could again find themselves in a playoff race. Ryan Tannehill isn’t special, but Derrick Henry has shown that he can single-handedly carry this franchise when necessary.

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