Peyton Manning will be looking to add to his record four MVP awards.
The Indianapolis Colts are coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints, but oddsmakers aren’t predicting a hangover. That’s despite the fact that only three of the last 11 Super Bowl losers returned to the playoffs the next year.
The Colts are minus 175 NFL betting favorites to win the AFC South at Bodog.com. Tennessee (plus 350), Houston (plus 400) and Jacksonville (plus 1000) follow significantly behind.
Quarterback Peyton Manning and president Bill Polian both have a lot of experience losing big games and they always seem to bounce back. Indianapolis has won the AFC South six of the last seven years.
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Manning is showing no signs of slowing down at 34 years old. His completion percentage (68.8) was the highest of his career and his 4,500 passing yards the most since 2004. Manning was rewarded with his record fourth MVP award.
Manning can’t be thrilled about not having a contract extension and neither is teammates Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis. However, do not expect a decrease in motivation or performance from any of them.
There are receiving options galore for Manning. Anthony Gonzalez is back from his knee injury and he joins Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and tight end Dallas Clark. Garcon and Collie came out of nowhere last year, proving again that Indy can develop talent internally.
The running game ranked last in the football betting season with 1,294 yards, but much of that was due to the pass-first nature of the offense. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown are a talented one-two punch who can get tough yards when needed.
Indy’s defense was ranked 18th in yards allowed (339.2), but just eighth in points (19.2). Linebacker Gary Brackett was re-signed and first round pick Jerry Hughes added depth at defensive end. Safety Bob Sanders played just two games last year, but he’s healthy and always a difference maker on the field.
The Colts’ regular season win total is 11, with the ‘under’ minus 130 juice. They’ve won 12 or more regular season games for the last seven years.
The Tennessee Titans finished 8-8 in the regular season, but that was an accomplishment after starting 0-6. Quarterback Vince Young was inserted in the lineup in Week 8 and resurrected his career by leading the team to an 8-2 mark.
Young got good news recently. He will not receive discipline from the league for a June strip club incident. He’s improving as a pocket passer and his 7.3 yards per attempt were a career high.
The Titans are not blessed with great receiving threats. Wideout Kenny Britt led them with 701 yards as a rookie. Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards and will continue to be the focal point of the offense. Young will have to tuck it and run for first downs when nothing is open down the field.
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Tennessee’s defense played much better the final 10 games (20.4 PPG) and added first round pick Derrick Morgan. The pass rusher could be one of four new starters for defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, but this unit could jell quickly.
Tennessee’s win total is 8 ½, with minus 115 juice for both the ‘under’ and ‘over.’
The Houston Texans finished 9-7 last season, winning their final four games. It marked the franchise’s first winning season, although it has still never made the playoffs.
Coach Gary Kubiak received a contract extension. He’s at least gone in the right direction (6-10, 8-8, 8-8, and 9-7) in his first four seasons. The former NFL quarterback had the league’s top-ranked passing attack last year led by quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson.
The Texans see improvement in their running game with Arian Foster likely grabbing the top spot. Second round pick Ben Tate will fill in along with the underachieving Steve Slaton. Having consistency on the ground will make the passing game even more lethal.
Houston crept up to 13th defensively in total yards (324.9) after ranking 22nd in 2008. Most of the key players are back except for cornerback Dunta Robinson. First round pick Kareem Jackson should take his place. Linebacker Brian Cushing will miss the first four games after being suspended for substance abuse.
Houston’s win total is eight-games, with the ‘over’ heavily favored at minus 135.
Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio is in the opposite situation of Houston’s Kubiak. He was rumored for the USC college job and is clearly on the hot seat with a 7-9 record last year (5-11 in 2008).
David Garrard is a good, but not great quarterback. His quarterback rating was in the low 80s the last two years. He was sacked 42 times last season as Jacksonville started two rookie tackles in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.
The offensive line will be improved and running back Maurice Jones-Drew remains one of the NFL’s best. However, Mike Sims-Walker is the only receiver that puts a scare into opposing defenses.
Defensively, Jacksonville generated just 14 sacks, worst in the league by far. That really affected the pass defense, even with decent cornerback play. Defensive end Aaron Kampman signed as a free agent and first round defensive tackle Tyson Alualu will help too.
The Jaguars shouldn’t expect much improvement from the 23rd ranked defense (352.3 yards per game). Their win total is seven with the ‘under’ minus 125.