The AFC South features two clear AFC playoff contenders and two teams that are in rebuilding mode. The Tennessee Titans appear to be going all-in after acquiring Julio Jones via trade. The Indianapolis Colts are hoping a reunion between Carson Wentz and coach Frank Reich will help them take the next step in 2021.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are far from playoff contention but have hope in the form of Trevor Lawrence. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans don’t know whether franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson will be on the field this season and could be the NFL’s worst team.
Here are my picks for the AFC South win totals:
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All odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Over 9 wins: -140
Under 9 wins: +115
The Titans won 11 games and secured their first division title since 2008 last season. Tennessee was an offensive juggernaut, finishing fourth in points, fourth in yards per play, and second in rushing.
Tennessee doubled down on its high-powered offense by trading for Jones, who will make up arguably the league’s best receiving duo alongside A.J. Brown. While the offense gains an awesome playmaker, the loss of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith could hurt the unit, particularly quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who revived his career under Smith’s tutelage.
With so much star power, this offense should be among the league’s elites. But offense hasn’t been the problem in Nashville. Tennessee’s defense ranked 24th in points allowed and yards per play allowed, as well as 29th against the pass. The Titans posted only 19 sacks and were lousy in the secondary.
Tennessee attempted to bolster its pass rush by signing former Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. It’s a big bet to make on a pass rusher coming off a torn ACL. Plus, it’s fair to wonder whether Dupree’s 19.5 sacks the last two seasons is a result of playing alongside T.J. Watt. Tennessee also took a big risk in the draft, taking Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley 22nd overall. Farley’s immensely talented, but he opted out of the 2020 season and underwent a back procedure in March.
Points shouldn’t be a problem for Tennessee. But I’m not sure the Titans have done enough to keep opponents off the scoreboard. The schedule makers also did Tennessee few favors, as they’ll have to face the entire NFC West and AFC East, plus Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Kansas City.
I would shop around for 9.5 or 10, but I’m going against the grain and recommending the under.
PICK: Under 9.5
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: Lower at 9, but higher at 9.5 or 10
Over 9.5 wins: -150
Under 9.5 wins: +120
From an organizational standpoint, I’m a big fan of both Colts’ GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich. This regime has led Indy to the postseason twice in three years, but Indianapolis needs to break through the playoff wall. And the Colts are betting on Carson Wentz being the guy to take them to the next level.
The Wentz acquisition made complete sense, especially given Wentz’s history with Reich. The former Eagles QB played at an MVP level in 2017, with Reich calling the plays in Philadelphia. And yes, I haven’t forgotten how atrocious Wentz last season. But I also remember that Wentz had no blocking, no weapons, and a coach whose magic had worn off.
Wentz leaves an offense that was depleted of talent to a Colts offense that has a potential star running back in Jonathan Taylor, a decent receiving corps, and the No. 2 offensive line in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The offense doesn’t blow you away with talent, but Michael Pittman Jr. could be a really good receiver. There’s enough here to help Wentz succeed.
Defensively, the Colts are solid. They rank 11th in points allowed, 10th in yards per play allowed, and second against the run. They invested their first two draft picks in improving their pass rush, adding Michigan DE Kwity Paye in Round 1 and Vanderbilt DE Dayo Odeyingbo. Indianapolis mainly retained their own free agents this offseason, bringing back tailback Marlon Mack, receiver T.Y. Hilton and corners Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie.
Indianapolis has a strong roster and a very good coaching staff. I’m buying into the Wentz-Reich reunion and taking the over and taking Indy to win this division.
PICK: Over 9.5
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: High
Over 6.5 wins: -110
Under 6.5 wins: -110
The Trevor Lawrence era has begun in Duval, and the cupboard isn’t as barren as it’s been for other No. 1 overall picks. New Jaguars coach Urban Meyer has some talented pieces to work with, including DJ Chark, James Robinson, Laviska Shenault, and free-agent signee Marvin Jones. Jacksonville also drafted Lawrence’s teammate, tailback Travis Etienne, in the first round of the draft.
Offensively, this team could be a ton of fun. Chark can stretch the field vertically, Shenault is a beast with the ball in his hands and can operate horizontally, and Jones is a productive secondary weapon who can do a bit of everything. The backfield tandem of Robinson and Etienne could be a handful for fantasy football managers, but it could be awfully effective.
While there are pieces to work with on offense, the Jaguars have a ton of work to do rebuilding their defense. Jacksonville gave up the second-most points in the NFL, tied for the league-worst in yards per play allowed, couldn’t stop the run, and posted only 18 sacks in 2020.
The Jaguars signed cornerback Shaquill Griffin to form a solid duo at cornerback with 2020’s 9th overall pick, C.J. Henderson. Myles Jack and Josh Allen also give the front seven some credibility. But this team still doesn’t have enough quality pass rushers.
The schedule isn’t easy, and this isn’t one of my favorite bets, but the Lawrence-Meyer regime could exceed expectations in its first season.
PICK: Over 6.5
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: Low
Over 4 wins: -105
Under 4 wins: -115
The Texans are just a hot mess. Nobody knows whether Deshaun Watson will be suspended as he faces serious legal allegations. The team finally fired Bill O’Brien, only to replace him with 65-year-old former special teams coordinator David Culley.
Oh, and the roster is pretty devoid of talent. Houston’s expected starting skill position players on offense are Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Andre Roberts at receiver, and some combination of David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and maybe Rex Burkhead?
Woof. Let’s talk about the defense, which loses its star in J.J. Watt a year after allowing the sixth-most points and the third-most yards in the league.
Houston’s biggest free-agent addition was backup QB Tyrod Taylor, and the team didn’t make a pick in the 2021 NFL Draft until the third round. This roster is devoid of talent to be hopeful about.
It’s genuinely difficult to find more than four winnable games on the schedule. Games against Jacksonville could be a toss-up. But otherwise, Houston’s only real winnable games will be against Carolina, New England, and the Jets all at home.
If you want to wait until Watson’s legal matters are settled before placing a bet, I get that. But right now, I’m pouncing on this team to fall under four wins.
PICK: Under 4
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: High
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