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NFL Season Preview: AFC South
By: Staff Writer - StatFox
Published: 8/12/2014  at  12:00:00 PM
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To get you prepared for the upcoming NFL season, we continue our run of all 32 team previews, rolling out two divisions per week throughout August. For complete coverage, download your copy of the 2014 StatFox Edge Football Preview. Up next is the AFC South, with the Indianapolis Colts tabbed as the heavy favorite to win the division again.

HOUSTON TEXANS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 2-14
ATS Record: 4-12
Over/Under: 9-7
Points Scored: 17.3 PPG (31st in NFL)
Points Allowed: 26.8 PPG (T-24th in NFL)

2014 Odds:
(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.com)
Odds to Win AFC South: 3/1
Odds to Win AFC Championship: 25/1
Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX: 60/1
Regular Season Wins Over/Under: 7.5

2014 Preview:
Offense:
Bill O’Brien replaces long-time head coach Gary Kubiak, who brought the highly successful zone-blocking scheme to Houston. O’Brien oversaw a primarily gap-blocking system in New England and he brought in former Falcons assistant Paul Dunn to coach the offensive line, which suggests that this will be more of a mixed scheme up front. Arian Foster is still the starter and will be leaned on heavily with the uncertainty under center. He remains a capable red-zone back, and his reliability should lead to a heavy workload near the goal line.

O’Brien’s offenses have always been multiple and complex, though the biggest highlight of his career was certainly overseeing New England’s dominant two-tight end look. Andre Johnson will continue to be used as a chess piece, likely playing the slot and working underneath more often, with tight end Garrett Graham complementing him. When they throw inside the 20, Johnson has been the logical target for years, but Kubiak’s regime never came up with ways for him to escape attention in the end zone—Graham could end up with the bigger red-zone role. Foster will remain a big part of the passing game as an excellent screen option. DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey are shaping up to be primarily deep threats. Second tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is primarily a blocker.

Defense:
The Texans defense was awful in 2013 but has a great chance to improve significantly with new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and top draft pick OLB Jadeveon Clowney to generate more sacks and turnovers in this new 3-4 scheme. DE J.J. Watt is one of the NFL’s best on the defensive side of the ball, and rookie NT Louis Nix and a healthy ILB Brian Cushing will clog the middle.

Key Offseason Moves:
ADDITIONS
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Titans)
RB Ronnie Brown (Chargers)
OT Tyson Clabo (Dolphins)
DE Ricardo Mathews (Colts)
NT Jerrell Powe (Chiefs)
LB Akeem Dent (Falcons)
OLB Quentin Groves (Browns)
OLB Lawrence Sidbury (Colts)
FS Chris Clemons (Dolphins)
FS Kendrick Lewis (Chiefs)

SUBTRACTIONS
QB Matt Schaub (Raiders)
QB T.J. Yates (Falcons)
QB Tyler Wilson (Bengals)
RB Ben Tate (Browns)
FB Greg Jones (Saints)
WR Lestar Jean (Vikings)
TE Owen Daniels (Ravens)
G Wade Smith (Seahawks)
OT Andrew Gardner (Eagles)
OT Ryan Harris (Chiefs)
OT Brennan Williams (released)
DT/DE Antonio Smith (Raiders)
DT Earl Mitchell (Dolphins)
DT Terrell McClain (Cowboys)
OLB Bryan Braman (Eagles)
ILB Joe Mays (Chiefs)
ILB Darryl Sharpton (Redskins)
CB Brice McCain (Steelers)
SS Danieal Manning (Bengals)

StatFox Take: There's nowhere to go but up for the Texans who carry a 14-game losing skid into the 2014 season. Considering nine of its defeats were by seven points or less, Houston's record will certainly improve with a new coach, new quarterback, healthy offensive stars and a bolstered defense with No. 1 overall pick DE Jadeveon Clowney. The last place schedule and a subpar division also helps, but expecting this team to quadruple its win total is too much to pay the steep minus-150 price for the over. Take the plus money and expect another losing season for the Texans.
Prediction: UNDER 7.5 wins (+130)

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 11-5
ATS Record: 9-6-1
Over/Under: 8-8
Points Scored: 24.4 PPG (T-14th in NFL)
Points Allowed: 21.0 PPG (9th in NFL)

2014 Odds:
(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.com)
Odds to Win AFC South: 63/100
Odds to Win AFC Championship: 10/1
Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX: 25/1
Regular Season Wins Over/Under: 9.5

2014 Preview:
Offense:
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s ground-and-pound power running game never got going last year, due in part to an offensive line in flux but mostly due to the atrociousness of Trent Richardson. It’s a gap-blocking scheme that suits Richardson’s skill set, and the third-year back may just need more time in the offense. The Colts get more run-heavy as they approach the goal line, and they had little success inside the opponent’s 10 last year. Richardson will likely have a monster workload, especially from in close. Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are both coming off major injuries as they battle for the No. 2 job. Bradshaw’s receiving skills could give him an edge.

Hamilton and Andrew Luck are still finding their way in this offense, as they face a lot of third-and-longs early in games and often end up doing most throwing in comeback efforts. They’ll move Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and tight end Dwayne Allen around in formations to create mismatches, especially with Allen spending time in the backfield and flexed out. Coming off an up-and-down year as the primary TE, Coby Fleener will likely go back to stretching the seam now that Allen is healthy. Hakeem Nicks will stretch the field on the perimeter while Donte Moncrief serves as his understudy. Fleener was targeted most often when they threw in the red zone last season, but it could be Allen that receives those targets in 2014. Nicks could be in for a big red-zone role this season.

Defense:
The Colts made great strides last year, and could again finish among the top-10 scoring defenses due to having the NFL’s easiest schedule. It also helps to have outside linebacker Robert Mathis who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks. New DL Arthur Jones and LB D’Qwell Jackson will help, but losing safety Antoine Bethea hurts.

Key Offseason Moves:
ADDITIONS
RB Phillip Tanner (Cowboys)
WR Hakeem Nicks (Giants)
DT Arthur Jones (Ravens)
NT Brandon McKinney (DNP in 2013)
ILB D’Qwell Jackson (Browns)
FS Mike Adams (Broncos)
FS Colt Anderson (Eagles)

SUBTRACTIONS
RB Donald Brown (Chargers)RB Tashard Choice (released)WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Steelers)WR LaVon Brazill (released)OT Jeff Linkenbach (Chiefs)C Samson Satele (Dolphins)G/C Mike McGlynn (Redskins)DE Ricardo Mathews (Texans)ILB Pat Angerer (Falcons)ILB Kavell Conner (Chargers)OLB Lawrence Sidbury (Texans)CB Cassius Vaughn (Lions)SS Antoine Bethea (49ers)

StatFox Take: The Colts have won double-digit games in five of the past six seasons, and there's no reason to think they won't reach 10 wins again in 2014. They have the easiest schedule in the NFL with only two possible cold-weather games (Cleveland Dec. 7 and Tennessee Dec. 28), which will keep Andrew Luck and company cranking in the passing game. If Indy can figure out any semblance of a running game, the club should again run away with the weak AFC South.
Prediction: OVER 9.5 wins (-110)

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 4-12
ATS Record: 5-10-1
Over/Under: 9-7
Points Scored: 15.4 PPG (Last in NFL)
Points Allowed: 28.1 PPG (28th in NFL)

2014 Odds:
(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.com)
Odds to Win AFC South: 20/1
Odds to Win AFC Championship: 125/1
Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX: 250/1
Regular Season Wins Over/Under: 4.5

2014 Preview:
Offense:
The Jaguars will undoubtedly have to abandon the run when they fall behind in games, but until then it’s going to be all Toby Gerhart all the time. Jacksonville made the switch to a zone-blocking scheme last year with mixed results. A second full offseason to implement the scheme should lead to improvement, and Gerhart will likely see a lot of work on inside zone plays. Gerhart will retain his feature role when the Jaguars approach the goal line, but this team went play-action fairly often in this area last year. Jordan Todman will be a seldom-used backup. It’s unclear whether the Jags can figure out how to get anything out of Denard Robinson, whose “offensive weapon” tag was removed.

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch wants to get receivers downfield and put pressure on opposing safeties, with the quarterback making a high-to-low read. But this rapidly devolved into checkdown city last season in the absence of Justin Blackmon and, for a time, Cecil Shorts. They’ll play a three-wide base, with Shorts as the X-receiver to go along with some combination of Marqise Lee, Ace Sanders, Allen Robinson and Mike Brown. Shorts is the field stretcher, but he will likely run more possession routes to make up for the absence of the suspended Blackmon. Gerhart will have a big role as a receiver, as tight end Marcedes Lewis figures to stay in to block often once again. Shorts and Lewis were targeted often in the end zone last season, and that trend should continue.

Defense:
Defensive coordinator Bob Babich improved this unit in his first year with the Jags in 2013, but they still have too many holes to be a feared NFL defense. Former Seahawks defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant will improve a porous pass rush, but this unit will be on the field way too much due to a horrible offense.

Key Offseason Moves:
ADDITIONS
RB Toby Gerhart (Vikings)
WR Tandon Doss (Ravens)
WR Ramses Barden (DNP in 2013)
C Antoine Caldwell (DNP in 2013)
G Zane Beadles (Broncos)
DE Chris Clemons (Seahawks)
DE Ziggy Hood (Steelers)
DE Red Bryant (Seahawks)
OLB Dekoda Watson (Buccaneers)

SUBTRACTIONS
QB Blaine Gabbert (49ers)
RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Raiders)
RB Justin Forsett (Ravens)
WR Jordan Shipley (retired)
TE Allen Reisner (Vikings)
C Brad Meester (retired)
G Uche Nwaneri (Cowboys)
DE Jason Babin (Jets)
DT Kyle Love (Chiefs)
DT Brandon Deaderick (Saints)
OLB Russell Allen (released)

StatFox Take: The Jaguars started off the 2013 season with eight straight losses by an average margin of 22.3 PPG! But they played much better in the second half of the season with a 4-4 record, including three division wins. The schedule appears to be much tougher this season with improvements expected from the Texans and Colts plus difficult non-division games against the AFC North and NFC East. With Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles running a subpar offense, don't get suckered into the minus-220 Over bet, and seek out the plus money with the Under.
Prediction: UNDER 4.5 wins (+180)

TENNESSEE TITANS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 7-9
ATS Record: 6-6-4
Over/Under: 8-8
Points Scored: 22.6 PPG (19th in NFL)
Points Allowed: 23.8 PPG (16th in NFL)

2014 Odds:
(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.com)
Odds to Win AFC South: 13/2
Odds to Win AFC Championship: 55/1
Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX: 135/1
Regular Season Wins Over/Under: 7

2014 Preview:
Offense:
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Jason Michael both spent last season with the Chargers, Whiz as offensive coordinator and Michael as tight ends coach. They had great success with a committee backfield last season, and the Titans’ roster is set up for a similar approach. Offensive line coach Bob Bostad comes over from Tampa, and both he and Whisenhunt have overseen both zone and gap schemes. They’ll likely mix it up here as well. Rookie Bishop Sankey is likely the leader of the committee, a three-down back capable of grinding between the tackles. Sankey and Shonn Greene figure to split time equally in the red zone.

Whisenhunt helped turn Philip Rivers’ career around last season by emphasizing getting the ball out quickly. The Titans are expected to take a similar tact with injury-prone Jake Locker, using shorter drops and more looks for backs and tight end Delanie Walker to create match-up problems. Kendall Wright will likely lead the team in receptions again, working as a Z-receiver and in the slot as more of a catch-and-run guy. Nate Washington and Justin Hunter are both field stretchers, but Locker will likely take fewer deep shots this season. Tennessee will use two tight ends often, with Craig Stevens serving as more of a blocking specialist. Hunter and Walker are the best red- zone targets.

Defense:
The Titans defense is moving in the right direction with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton and the addition of former Broncos LBs Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard. Having the second-easiest schedule in the NFL is a big plus. But this unit is still below average in nearly every facet, especially in the red zone (T-29th in NFL).

Key Offseason Moves:
ADDITIONS
QB Charlie Whitehurst (Chargers)
WR Dexter McCluster (Chiefs)
WR Brian Robiskie (Falcons)
TE Chase Coffman (Falcons)
TE Dorin Dickerson (Lions)
OT Michael Oher (Ravens)
G Eric Olsen (Steelers)
DE/OLB Shaun Phillips (Broncos)
DE Al Woods (Steelers)
ILB Wesley Woodyard (Broncos)

SUBTRACTIONS
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Texans)QB Rusty Smith (Giants)RB Chris Johnson (Jets)WR Kenny Britt (Rams)WR Damian Williams (Dolphins)WR Kevin Walter (released)OT David Stewart (released)G/C Rob Turner (Bears)CB Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers)PK Rob Bironas (released)

StatFox Take: The Titans have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL, but this team is still far from being a playoff contender. The offense has an array of holes, especially with subpar QB Jake Locker, and the defense will remain one of the worst in the NFL. Even money for a 10-loss season is a bet you should pounce on immediately.
Prediction: UNDER 7 wins (Even)

Here is the BetDSI Sportsbook 2014 season preview for the Titans:

All NFL Previews

AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West - Thursday, August 14
NFC East - Tuesday, August 19
NFC North - Thursday, August 21
NFC South - Tuesday, August 26
NFC West - Thursday, August 28

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