AFC South Over/Unders: Tepid Optimism for the Jaguars

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NFL Offseason – Bryan: Welcome again to Soccer Outsiders’ over/unders for 2022! We’re persevering with our speedrun by means of all eight divisions by leaping to the AFC South simply in time for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ look in tonight’s Corridor of Fame recreation.

Cale: Now we have our work lower out for us with this one as we glance to make sense of an A.J. Brown-less Titans staff that completed on the prime of the AFC, pinpoint how a lot Matty Ice has left earlier than he melts, and decide whether or not Jacksonville backing up the Brinks truck can truly translate to wins. Even the Texans really feel like a slog right here—we all know they’re unhealthy, however how unhealthy can they get? We’re searching for gold splits on this AFC South run-through, so cue the Summoning Salt music!

Bryan: The AFC South is certainly the Glass Joe of the 2022 season—a division which concurrently has the bottom ceiling and lowest flooring. Nonetheless, we’ll see at the very least one playoff staff come out of the pack—I checked the bylaws, and apparently that is a rule—so let’s break ’em down.

Houston Texans (4.5)

Cale: To backwards long-jump our means up the steps of the AFC South, we have now to start out on the backside. Enter the Houston Texans! The Texans are lastly out of the holding interval created by having Deshaun Watson on their roster. They operated as if they had been kicking the can down the highway till he was dealt earlier than they actually started their rebuild, and their roster reveals. Their offense consists of Brandin Cooks, second-year quarterback Davis Mills, and, uh, (checks notes) 32-year-old lead again Rex Burkhead. Yikes. That is what we’re working with right here? You had been going to let Josh McCown run this offense?

Bryan: I am astonished that Mills is not my largest concern, however he was arguably the second- or third-best rookie quarterback final season, relying on which stats you take a look at. The working recreation was a catastrophe, nevertheless, with the fifth-worst rushing DVOA we have now ever recorded. Suffice it to say that I am not offered on Burkhead, Marlon Mack, and Dameon Pierce being sufficient to really present help for a passing recreation which is not robust sufficient to face by itself deserves simply but.

Cale: I do not belief the gamers working it, however Houston followers can at the very least take solace within the truth there shall be enchancment in who they’re working behind. Laremy Tunsil shall be returning after tearing a ligament on this thumb. Tytus Howard ought to achieve some stability and earn extra reps at left sort out, the place he seemed extra snug final yr. Rookie Kenyon Inexperienced initiatives to be a top quality guard, and when you flip a blind eye to A.J. Cann’s 5.3% blown block charge final yr earlier than his MCL harm, he is a strong add that ought to present some depth and stability.

Gah, I am actually scripting this a lot concerning the offensive line as a promoting level?

Bryan: There’s quite a lot of competency on the offensive line! That is a good place to start out discovering credit score for the Texans.

Really, “competency” is a good watchword for fairly a little bit of Houston’s roster, particularly when you precede it with qualifiers akin to “short-term” and “veteran.” For a staff that needs to be rebuilding, there are usually not quite a lot of younger, inspiring prospects on the roster, however they’re higher for the additions of Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison and gamers like that. Since seven wins ensures a playoff spot, the technique makes quite a lot of sense.

Wait, seven wins would not assure a playoff spot? In that case, I am extra confused. It feels just like the Texans have constructed a roster with none large, season-tanking holes, however they’ve completed it with patchwork and spackle and “adequate” wherever they will discover. I am not overly impressed.

Cale: I do not know if this staff has what it takes to actually backside out. Such as you mentioned, there are quite a lot of veteran gamers who, within the brief time period, put collectively a soccer staff. Not each staff within the league can say that. Gamers akin to Hughes and Addison may assist significantly better groups than the Texans. Derek Stingley and Jalen Pitre each actually provide quite a lot of potential upside as rookies on this Texans secondary, they usually may make already-decent gamers in Steven Nelson and Tavierre Thomas look even higher. I imply, this staff was even worse roster-wise in 2021, they usually nonetheless outright beat the Los Angeles Chargers and nearly beat the New England Patriots.

This staff feels higher on paper regardless of their repute, already posted a half-game under their 2022 O/U final yr, and has one among our best schedules headed into the season based mostly on projected common opponent.

Am … am I about to go over on the Houston Texans?

Bryan: As we mentioned yesterday, it takes a staff completely devoid of any type of hope to go beneath a 4.5-win line; it is such a low bar to clear. The Texans are a staff made up of spare components and “eh, adequate”—however beginning spare components and “eh, good enoughs.” With a bit of luck, there’s much less of a circus surrounding them this season, and that may solely assist. I do not know, no concept in any respect, what this franchise’s plan is for getting again into respectability, however I do not assume anybody space of it’s unhealthy sufficient for me to be assured in choosing them at 4-13 or worse. We’re all in on the over for the, oh, 6-11 Houston Texans.

Indianapolis Colts (10)

Bryan: Welcome, Matty Ice! Matt Ryan needs to be an improve over Carson Wentz beneath middle, and doubtless about the identical stage as Philip Rivers was two years in the past. No, Ryan’s not the identical passer he as soon as was, however with a greater supporting forged round him, I believe we’ll see a big bounce-back in his numbers. Jonathan Taylor and the working recreation is any quarterback’s greatest pal, the offensive line needs to be more healthy and higher, and the receivers…

… uh, did the Colts neglect to signal a receiver corps for this season? As a result of I am seeing a depth chart full of Michael Pittman and, uh, not a lot else. Parris Campbell? Second-round choose Alec Pierce? Is it attainable Ryan had higher pass-catchers in Atlanta, at the very least pre-Calvin Ridley’s departure?

Cale: That is completely a chance. I can not actually make sense of that transfer. Perhaps they actually like Ashton Dulin, who had the second-best receiving DVOA amongst Colts huge receivers final yr (seeing a whopping 22 targets). Perhaps they’re betting on Mo Alie-Cox at tight finish, regardless of him ending 30th among tight ends with 10 DYAR regardless of seeing a career-high in targets. Or perhaps they’re hoping to journey Jonathan Taylor for an additional yr after an unbelievable season, and everyone knows leaning on lightning to strike twice on the working again place may be very constant and dependable. Any means you slice it, it looks like Indianapolis is organising Matty Ice for an uphill battle. Hey, at the very least that is most likely the very best safety he has had in a couple of years.

Bryan: In all probability, though that claims extra concerning the Falcons than it does concerning the Colts. We’re nonetheless unsure on who will play left sort out, and neither Matt Pryor nor Bernhard Raimann precisely has me doing backflips. And just about everybody else is getting back from nagging accidents which restricted their effectiveness final season. Truthfully, Ryan would possibly assist them simply as a lot, if no more, than they assist Ryan. I believe the Colts will doubtless be extra constant on offense than they had been final season, however there are too many query marks right here for me to name them good.

And our defensive projections are literally worse, which surprises me. Any protection with DeForest Buckner, Kenny Moore and Shaquille “do not name me Darius” Leonard looks as if it needs to be strong, at a minimal, however our projections have them twenty fourth.

Cale: Yeah, that positively surprises me. Not solely have they got a powerful basis in Buckner, Moore, and Leonard, however additionally they added Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore. Asking Brandon Facyson, Rodney McLeod, and third-round security Nick Cross to fill the footwear of Rock Ya-Sin, Andrew Sendejo, and Khari Willis is a tall process, however not inconceivable.

I additionally assume there’s at the very least some upside in Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, particularly with Odeyingbo getting a full offseason after he tore his Achilles coaching for the draft final yr. I perceive there’s a ton of turnover right here, and there are much more bets on enchancment than one ought to most likely really feel snug with, however bottom-10 feels extraordinarily harsh with the quantity of top-end expertise main the best way on this roster.

Bryan: I believe it is truthful to have questions concerning the secondary as an entire, however I believe we’re on the identical web page right here—the protection looks like it may be the higher of the 2 models, and someplace approaching respectable.

However respectable sufficient to go 11-6 to hit the over on this line? Goodness gracious, no. I get the place it is coming from—the Colts had been 9-8 final yr and theoretically upgraded at quarterback—however I simply do not see Indianapolis getting wherever near 11 wins. I would be a bit of hesitant to take the over on 8.5, a lot much less 10. Below for me all day lengthy.

Cale: On prime of the uncertainty with quite a lot of this roster, there are simply too many scheduling pitfalls for me to map out a world the place this staff sees fewer than seven losses. Their first recreation at house is towards Kansas Metropolis. They head to Denver on a brief week. Their five-game slate headed into their bye is at New England, at Las Vegas, internet hosting the Eagles and Steelers, then at Dallas. Even when we’re being aggressive, discovering 11 wins in here’s a powerful process. The offensive passing recreation—even with perhaps the very best quarterback they’ve had post-Andrew Luck—is an excessive amount of for me to beat. I nonetheless assume 9 or 10 wins may land you the AFC South, so I do not assume an beneath ticket and a Colts division win are mutually unique. May even make for a spicy parlay.

Jacksonville Jaguars (6.5)

Cale: The Jaguars are already higher off in 2022 than they had been in 2021, if solely by eliminating City Meyer. Addition-by-subtraction can generally be the very best transfer for a franchise. That being mentioned, how significantly better did this staff truly get this offseason?

The contract to Christian Kirk virtually broke the Web and actually broke the huge receiver marketplace for a couple of months. With the highest general draft choose, the Jaguars elected to guess on a toolsy but unproven edge rusher in Travon Walker regardless of extra confirmed choices sitting atop huge boards. There’s quite a lot of guesswork we have now to do about Jacksonville’s offseason, however we are able to all agree it is at the very least higher than no matter final yr was.

Bryan: Nothing like a bit of City renewal to make issues really feel a bit of higher, proper?

I do imagine the Jaguars are one of the vital improved groups, at the very least on paper. You’d hope so, contemplating they handed out almost $150 million in assured contracts this offseason, overpaying for guys akin to Kirk, Brandon Scherff, Foyesade Oluokun, Foley Fatukasi, Cam Robinson, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Additionally, and I do know that is projection, I do not assume any of them are going to be usually belittled by a head coach in means over his head, in order that’s obtained to be a plus as nicely.

The issue is, they had been so, so unhealthy final yr, at mainly something and every thing. This offseason wasn’t about constructing a roster; it was FEMA coming in after a pure catastrophe simply to search out what little was salvageable. Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season is mainly a write-off, surrounded by a workers who did not know what they had been doing and placing gamers round him who had been less than NFL requirements for essentially the most half. Actually, they wasted his rookie season totally, and we’re ranging from Sq. 1.

Cale: Constructing a whole offense from scratch is a tall process. Particularly when it’s a must to overpay them to return there. That being mentioned, I’m tepidly optimistic for what this offense can do. We noticed flashes that made Trevor Lawrence a transcendent prospect coming into the 2021 draft, albeit with out anybody round him to actually do something about it. Kirk, Marvin Jones Jr., and Zay Jones are a bunch of WR2s all taking part in beginning roles, but it surely’s not at all the worst receiver corps within the league. Travis Etienne is again from harm, and pairing him alongside James Robinson is a dynamic younger one-two punch at working again. The offensive line, whereas nonetheless a bit of weak, is ample once you mix it with Lawrence’s veteran pocket navigation. The method in how all these guys obtained right here—drafting Etienne within the first spherical regardless of the success of James Robinson as a UDFA, overpaying Kirk, tagging Cam Robinson—is unhealthy, however now that they are all right here, this is not an terrible unit.

Bryan: See, my tepid optimism is on the different facet of the ball. I just like the potential of Travon Walker quite a bit; I believe he’ll be a flexible piece to maneuver throughout the protection sooner slightly than later. Depth was added mainly in every single place, shoring up the muse, particularly in the midst of the protection at off-ball linebacker. The cornerbacks ought to truly get to play of their most well-liked positions, slightly than shunting Tyson Campbell into the slot and asking Shaq Griffin to win by himself in man-on-man protection. I am unsure there are superstars right here, however I believe the items are higher than they had been final season and they will be used extra successfully. If the Jaguars have one good unit this season—and it will be a shock in the event that they did—I would suspect it will be the protection, not the offense, that fights by means of the rising pains first.

Mix each our takes, and we might have a straightforward over, I believe. And but…

The Jags have not topped 6.5 wins for the reason that one-off #Sacksonville yr in 2017; earlier than that, it’s a must to return to 2010 and the years of David Garrard. Perhaps I am letting franchise muck overwhelm my opinion of this season as a standalone advanced, however I am having a tough time seeing Doug Pederson shake all the issues current in Duval for over a decade in only one yr. I believe it is totally attainable the Jaguars are headed in the best route for the primary time in … nicely, fairly some time. However I do not assume it is sufficient to get them to six.5 wins simply but; I am taking the beneath.

Cale: It would not be referred to as playing if we did not take a couple of dangers. 6.5 is steep, and I would really feel far more snug at 5.5 and even getting the push with 6, however I am going over. It feels soiled. This can be a staff ranging from absolutely the basement. However we have now spoken an excessive amount of about tepid optimism to steer me into precise optimism. After every thing we have now mentioned concerning the Texans and Colts, I can see a world the place Jacksonville strings some wins collectively.

I believe some stage of normalcy, coupled with some strong weapons, an excellent coach, a good basis on protection, and a newly motivated quarterback, shall be sufficient to propel this staff from worst within the league to middle-of-the-pack. The AFC is hard, however the AFC South is not, and a fifth-easiest -1.5% projected common opponent DVOA might help this factor money.

Tennessee Titans (9)

Bryan: The No. 1 staff within the AFC! … by win-loss document. The No. 10 staff within the AFC by DVOA. I am going to allow you to guess which a kind of info impacts Tennessee’s line extra. It does really feel just like the Titans had been conscious that they weren’t all their document mentioned they had been, as they did not go all-in in an try to maximise their possibilities this season on the expense of the long run. As an alternative, we’re arrange for what would be the final yr of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry because the engines working this offense. Assuming, in fact, Henry’s engine would not explode from the uber-heavy workload the Titans pin on him.

Cale: The engine at the very least began to sputter final yr. At the least there was historic precedent as to why. No participant who has ever rushed for two,000 yards has come near repeating it the yr after. Both their manufacturing falls off dramatically, or they’re unable to complete the yr as a consequence of harm. For Henry, it was the latter. That being mentioned, Henry was astonishingly on tempo to repeat had he not been sidelined in Week 9. Hopefully, Tennessee can return to leaning on him because the bell-cow again now that he has had time to recuperate.

And oh boy, will they should, as a result of the receiver room in Tennessee appears to be like barren. A.J. Brown was shipped out of city throughout Day 1 of the draft. Left in his stead is Treylon Burks, whose most very best comp is … A.J. Brown. Behind him is, who, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine? I touted the 2020 UDFA as Tennessee’s best-value player in 2021, however seeing him as a WR2 is a bit wealthy for my blood.

Bryan: So, the Titans begin the yr with out Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5 and seven in targets from final season, with Brown being joined by the lack of Julio Jones, Chester Rodgers, Anthony Firkser, and Jeremy McNichols. Clearly, not all these losses are made equal, however that is a lot of targets out the door. Robert Woods ought to assist, however he is 30 years outdated, coming off a torn ACL, and should not be a prime possibility on a staff anyway. We blasted the Colts receiver room earlier on, however the Titans would possibly nicely be worse.

… in truth, contemplating the state of all 4 groups, the Colts could nicely have the very best receiver corps within the division, which is a bit of bit terrifying, however that is neither right here nor there.

Cale: And the Texans could have the very best receiver within the division in Brandin Cooks. This can be a weird timeline we have now crossed into. I am scared, Bryan.

Bryan: The AFC South options in a lot of our nightmares, although usually that is simply J.P. Acosta after watching movie of his Jaguars final season.

Cale: What ought to assist Titans followers sleep at evening is their defensive roster. Jeffrey Simmons broke out final yr in a giant means, springing from three sacks and 21 hurries in 2020 to eight.5 sacks and 34 hurries in 2021. With Harold Landry, who boasted a career-high 12 sacks and 36 hurries, and Bud Dupree, who will hopefully return to type after his injury-hobbled 2021 season, this Titans defensive position has the potential to be one of the vital formidable within the AFC. This does not even point out a secondary led by Kevin Byard and Kristian Fulton, whose breakout 2021 afforded Tennessee the power to launch Jackrabbit Jenkins.

Bryan: Usually, our projection system would hate a staff that jumped from 29th to 12th in defensive DVOA, making the Titans an ideal Plexiglass Precept potentiality, however I believe Shane Bowen’s work final season and the personnel added signifies that many of the enchancment was legit, versus simply year-by-year fluctuations. And yeah, with Dupree again, I may see the Titans sneaking into the underside of the highest 10 in DVOA, if not an excessive amount of larger than that.

I am simply very skeptical concerning the offense. I think Henry will not rebound to his pre-injury self, and I’ve detrimental religion within the passing assault. The division is totally there for the taking once more, however I do not assume the Titans have gotten any higher than they had been final season, they usually will not be as fortunate as they had been final yr, both. Their document shall be extra in keeping with their DVOA, which does not bode nicely for them!

I suppose meaning I am going with the beneath for the third staff within the division. Somebody has to win this factor, however which may nicely be a race to 9 wins! I do assume the Titans are extra doubtless than the Colts to hit their over, and never simply because their line is a full recreation shorter, however I simply can’t discover it in me to again this model of Tennessee attending to double-digit wins.

Cale: I believe I’ve to go beneath. There’s a monitor document of Tennessee defying expectations: they punched means above their weight final yr and secured the highest seed regardless of lacking video games from Henry, Brown, and Jones. I simply do not assume they’ve the gamers to compete with top-end expertise. It actually helps that the AFC South will get to sq. off towards the NFC East this yr. There is a world I can see the Titans going over, however the offensive pitfalls this staff has to recover from to maintain up with groups akin to Buffalo, Kansas Metropolis, Cincinnati, Dallas, and the Chargers is simply an excessive amount of. And if it falls in keeping with my overs on Houston and Jacksonville, these two would most likely have an opportunity to at the very least choose up a recreation towards Tennessee.

That being mentioned, this looks like one other spot the place Vegas is aware of this staff too nicely. The push on 9 wins feels proper on the cash right here. 9-8 to win the division feels gross, however proper. Precisely what the AFC South deserves.


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