The AFC South is assumed to be a two-team race, with Jacksonville heavily favored over Tennessee. Here are three reasons to pick the underdog Titans.
The AFC South race is thought to be a battle between two teams. But how much of a battle?
You’d think the biggest favorite to win any division in the AFC would be the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs – and you’d be right.
But they’re tied with the AFC South’s defending champions, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Both teams are -160 favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook, but while the Los Angeles Chargers are +290 in the West, the Tennessee Titans are down at +350 as the second choice in the South.
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Here are three reasons why the Titans are worth a wager at that price.
Why Titans For AFC South Winners?
Last Year’s Race Couldn’t Have Been Any Closer
Look at the standings from the 2022 NFL season and the Jaguars are credited with a comfortable two-game margin over Tennessee.
But in reality, the Titans were less than three minutes and only six yards from the division title.
The two teams met in Week 18, with the winner claiming the AFC South and a playoff berth. Leading 16-13 with 2:51 to play and facing a third down that could likely seal the game, Titans backup quarterback Josh Dobbs fumbled.
Jacksonville’s Josh Allen (not this one) scooped up the fumble and returned it for a go-ahead touchdown.
The rest is history – the Jags went to the playoffs, upset the Chargers, and earned a spot as one of this season’s breakout candidates.
The Titans, meanwhile, saw their season-ending losing streak turn into a full-blown meltdown, dropping their final seven contests.
And if not for one fumble, the whole story changes. But the good news? It certainly leaves Tennessee with…
The Titans Have Plenty To Prove
You probably noticed the item on backup QB Josh Dobbs above, but he’s in Arizona now.
Ryan Tannehill, the Titans’ starter, is back and healthy. But he’s 35 years old on an expiring contract and in the NFL that means he has two choices:
- Play well this year, and sign one more deal as a starting QB (whether in Tennessee or elsewhere.)
- Move into the clipboard-carrying portion of his career as a backup QB himself.
We’re thinking Tannehill wants one more payday, and with Malik Willis and Will Levis waiting in the wings on the Titans’ sideline, he may have to leave Nashville to find it. Doing so as a division champion certainly makes his search easier.
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Most offseason attention went to the acquisition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who gives Tannehill a credible star among the receiving corps. But what about the guy who’s been here all along?
In the backfield is star running back Derrick Henry, also on an expiring deal and approaching age 30 – thought to be over the hill for an NFL running back.
But here’s the thing – you may have heard about the devaluation of the running back position around the NFL, and Henry says he’s out to prove not only his value but that of the entire position.
With 349 carries to his credit last season, the former Heisman Trophy winner shows no signs of decline. I’m not ready to bet against a determined Derrick Henry for AFC South.
Are We Sure The Jaguars Are That Good?
I certainly like Jacksonville’s passing game. Trevor Lawrence is a very good young QB with the chance to become great throwing to Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, and Evan Engram this season.
What’s stopping him? Possibly his own offensive line. Jacksonville lost starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the Chiefs in free agency, while fellow tackle Cam Robinson faces a suspension for PEDs.
First-round rookie Anton Harrison is here to replace one tackle, but that brings us to the next issue – drafting.
Travon Walker went No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, and while it’s certainly too early to call him a bust you’ve got to think the Jaguars are looking at that pick sideways, with the performances of defensive standouts Sauce Gardner (fourth overall to the Jets in 2022, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year) and Aidan Hutchinson (second overall to the Lions, 9.5 sacks as a rookie.)
Walker’s just one example of Jaguars defenders who need to step forward and take some of the pressure off Lawrence and his receivers if they want to win the AFC South.
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The Jaguars also have the tougher schedule on paper. With matchups against all of last year’s AFC division champions (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City). The Titans meet only the Bengals of that group.
Also, the Jaguars have a unique road trip in Weeks 4-5, when they play consecutive games in London against the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills. These games are right after a divisional matchup with the Houston Texans and right before another one with the Indianapolis Colts – games you’d expect the Jaguars to win.
But there’s no precedent in the NFL for such a road trip. Also, it remains to be seen how Jacksonville responds.
On paper, the AFC South appears to be Jacksonville’s for the taking. But the odds reflect two teams that are much farther apart than reality.
If the AFC South is truly a two-team race, +350 is a strong price for a team that was six yards from a division title a year ago.
Odds to win AFC South
(courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)