AFC South Division Bet
The Colts will look to ride Jonathan Taylor to an AFC South Division title and we like their chances.
The Colts really caught fire at the end of the season last year but were ultimately cut down short of the playoffs. It really was remarkable they managed to finish with a 9-8 record considering they started the season off 1-4. Perhaps even more impressive was their ability to overcome the constant mistakes and poor decisions that were made at the quarterback position by Cason Wentz. The Colts took a really smart and forward thinking approach to this situation and cut their losses after one year of Wentz. A lot of teams would be scared to admit their mistake and might force the situation but the Colts took a more pragmatic approach.
They brought in Matt Ryan, which isn't really a splash move or something that moves the needle a whole bunch. Matt Ryan has been anything but impressive since his Super Bowl collapse against the Pats. But...I can promise you that Matt Ryan won't throw multiple left handed passes including a left handed pick 6 out of his own end zone à la Carson Wentz. So you'll have much better decision making at the QB position, more importantly less mistakes. Also the offensive lines that Ryan played behind in Atlanta were criminal, he was under so much pressure on every down that he unable to ever get comfortable. Not to mention their porous defense put even more pressure on him to try and score points.
Matt Ryan should have no problem relying heavily on the run game, he has enough knowledge and poise to get the offense in good spots and unlike in Atlanta when they get the ball inside the 10 they will be able to run the ball in the endzone. Then to go with an elite offensive line, Ryan, and Taylor they have Pittman who looks like a legit #1 receiver if he can stay healthy. Also Parris Campbell who has shown some promising flashes along with a number of other really intriguing pass catchers including two picks from this year's draft that they have on the roster.
The defense was a bit of a concern last year although they did manage to force a lot of turnovers to bail themselves out frequently. While that may not be super sustainable they have some nice pieces on that side of the ball too. Darius Leonard is an absolute beast at LB along with Deforest Buckner who is a top 5 DT who is a handful for any offense. They added Stephon Gilmore at corner and Ngakoue at DE which should help even though both of them are getting older. They have some young talent as well with Kwity Paye and Kenny Moore.
More than anything though, their defense will also benefit from addition by subtraction, this time in the form of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Now many people really like Eberflus, so much so that he got himself a head coaching job in Chicago. Now he may go on to be a great head coach, but his defensive scheme is outdated, predictable, and outdated in today's NFL. Teams know how to attack that soft zone style and it showed last year with how much trouble they had limiting other teams offenses. They bring in Gus Bradley, and you might say doesn't he run the exact same type of scheme with that old Seattle zone concept. He did, for a long time and it was a disaster in Atlanta and Jacksonville but last year he did something that many coaches can never do...he changed. Last year in Vegas he mixed up his coverages, he played more zone and mixed looks and really turned around a Raiders defense that lacked significant talent. Then, maybe just as important as the Bradley hire, they also brought in John Fox as Senior Defensive Assistant. He is a coach who know the importance of changes and adjustments as well as just about anyone else around the league. And in fact he's shown an ability to adjust and adapt to the ever changing culture of the NFL. This is a combo that we love and think will really elevate the defense to another level. Then you have Frank Reich bringing the whole thing together and continuing to build an elite culture in Indy.
To quickly look around at the rest of the division. Jacksonville and Houston are so far away from relevancy that it would be very surprising to see either team make a run at the division. So your main competition is the Titans who do have a formidable team led by Derrick Henry and Mike Vrabel who has proved to be a really good coach. But losing AJ Brown hurts them as he was a real playmaker and now their receiving core isn't going to scare anyone. Also you still have Ryan Tannehill at QB who really isn't going to elevate the play of anyone around him and really doesn't seem like a viable long term solution. The defense still has a lot of holes and they really didn't do much to improve themselves in the offseason.
We think Indianapolis has the most upside of anyone in the division and really has the highest floor of any team as well. We'll take a shot at a plus money price on the Colts to take down the AFC South this season. We'll also take a shot on the over 9.5 as we think they will be at least one game better than they were last year with Wentz.