By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts overachiever
We look forward every year to seeing what the boys in Las Vegas think of the NFL's teams by way of their season over/under totals.
We look at all eight divisions with our predictions on the overs and unders of it all, continuing today with the AFC South. (over/under lines courtesy bodog.com). If you missed the AFC East, well, here it is!
Indianapolis Colts (Over/Under: 9.5)
Last year: O/U 11 (UNDER, 10-6)
THE CASE FOR OVER
Because Brett Favre is going to quarterback them in September!
We kid. At least we hope we kid – Jim Irsay would have some major splainin’ to do if he ever brought the grim spectre of Old Keller to Indy. While Favre’s career ended in disgrace on the field and off, it’s more or less impossible to see a similar ending for Peyton Manning. He’s 35 now, and injured, but you know when he does come back it will be strong – and when he ceases being strong, he’ll probably hang it up in a respectful, even presidential fashion. For the few negatives the Cold, Hard Football Facts have pointed out in Manning’s game over the years, there have been hundreds of positives, and the idea of Favre as a Colt only added to the respect you have for Archie’s kid. In other words, Manning = 10 wins, bet the ovah!
The Colts always win more than they produce.
We refer to pro-football-reference.com
a lot, and for good reason – for NFL historians like us, it’s more or less the Holy Grail. But they also do a great job with advanced stats, like “Expected W-L Record.” Basically, a formula is used to translate point differential into wins. About half of the teams win more than you’d expect by their total points, and about half of the teams win less. The Colts ALWAYS win more. For eight straight years, they’ve overachieved in the win column in relation to their point differential – eight straight years!
THE CASE FOR UNDER
The Colts can lose anyone on this roster for any length of time and still expect 10 wins … unless one of them is No. 18. If he was coming into the season healthy, there’s little doubt the Colts’ over-under number would be higher. Still, we’re a little bit puzzled by this 9.5-win number. Is this the same Colts team that has won 10+ games nine years running? The same Colts team that plays in a weak AFC South? It’s quite a tribute to Manning that the mere thought that he could miss a game or two more or less downgrades Colts stock to AA status.
Listen, it’s OVER 9.5
, and we’re not even sure there can be a debate. Are there flaws on the Colts’ roster? Sure. Is the run defense going to struggle? Probably. Is the offensive line going to be good? Probably not. But the same could be said of all the Peyton Manning teams, and they all consider 10-6 a bad year. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are back, there are receivers aplenty – this is a quality football team that will win more than it’s supposed to. Vegas, we’re very disappointed in you.
Houston Texans (Over/Under: 8.5)
Last year: O/U 8 (UNDER, 6-10)
THE CASE FOR OVER
Yes, Wade Phillips will make a difference.
Adding Phillips as a defensive coordinator was a good thing. The Texans have never, not once, allowed fewer than 20 PPG in a season, but Phillips has had plenty of strong defenses over his 29 years as an assistant and head coach. His Bills were No. 1 in 1999 in scoring D and No. 3 in 2000, and the Cowboys were No. 2 overall in 2009. There’s a lot of talk about how the Texans will adjust to a changed system, specifically Mario Williams, but when you’ve been as bad this long, changes have to be good. Adding safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph doesn’t hurt either, since Phillips is unlikely to be playing in the Texans’ nickel packages.
Sounds overly simple, and maybe it is. But there’s a sense that this franchise has been more unlucky than poorly run or undertalented, and there are examples in recent history of teams that emerged from maddening mediocrity to break through big time. The Houston/Tennessee Oilers went 7-9 and then 8-8 three years running from 1998 before magically becoming the 13-3 Tennessee Titans in 1999. Maybe a name or uniform change is in the cards. Houston Astronauts anyone?
WHY TAKE THE UNDER
They don’t know how to score touchdowns.
There’s an awful lot of talk about how Andre Johnson is the best wide receiver in the game, which has never sat well in our cardboard box headquarters. Consider the man’s year-by-year TD totals: 4, 6, 2, 5, 8, 8, 9, 8. Call us crazy, but we like our “best receiver in the game” to be capable of scoring 10 in a season. Jerry Rice did it nine times. So did Randy Moss. Andre Johnson? Zero. It’s no coincidence that the Texans have ranked third, fourth and third in yardage the past three years, while finishing ninth, tenth and seventeenth in scoring. (Note: To be fair, Johnson had eight TDs in nine games back in 2007, but got hurt.)
If we were actually betting our hard earned money, we wouldn’t touch Houston. They have the talent to win nine games, maybe even 10 or 11 or 12. But they had the talent to win last year, too, and managed to go 6-10. We hate to bring up the Gary Kubiak Face again, but too many Texans games have ended with their coach looking like the spokesman for Preparation H. With good arguments on both sides, we’ll err on the side of talent over history and say OVER 8.5.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Over/Under: 6.5)
Last year: O/U 7 (Over, 8-8)
THE CASE FOR OVER
They’re a classic .500 team under Jack Del Rio.
It’ll be interesting to see how Jack Del Rio’s coaching career will be viewed in the long term. Unless his Jaguars get into the playoffs or at least over .500 this year, he’ll likely be fired, but a 65-63 record over eight years is nothing to sneeze at – especially since he’s never had elite talent and Jacksonville is the worst NFL city. His Jags have never been really good (one playoff win), but they’re always competitive, and 8-8 is always a pretty good possibility.
THE CASE FOR UNDER
The defense was horrible last year, and didn’t get much better.
Jacksonville’s problems were obscured by an 8-8 record that reeked of respectability even though the defense simply reeked. The Jags were 31st on the Defensive Hog Index and 31st in Defensive Passer Rating – a combination that should have put them in contention for the No. 1 overall pick, not the playoffs. Their response? Why of course, they went quarterback-guard-receiver with their three top picks in the draft. They did add Paul Pozluzny and Dawan Landry to the back seven, but this unit needed an overhaul, not a tuneup. Bonus note: the Jags’ defense has allowed more points than the previous year every season since 2005, from 269 to 274 to 304 to 367 to 380 to 419. Next stop: 1,000.
The Jaguars lost their No. 1 receiver, added no help to this year’s team through the draft, and can’t play defense. Their best offensive weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew, is battling injuries. They don’t have a fan base, and their coach could be on the way out. Sounds like UNDER 6.5
. The Jaguars have never been a bottom-five team since their earlies of expansion days, but this could be the year.
Tennessee Titans (Over/Under: 6.5)
Last year: O/U 8.5 (under, 6-10)
THE CASE FOR OVER
Thirteen of the last 16 years, this franchise has won at least seven games.
Yes, all 16 of those seasons took place under Jeff Fisher, but it’s still a testament to a well-run organization that there would be so few truly bad years. Even in 2010, when they were as bad as anyone by season’s end, they actually outscored the opposition on the year (356-339). Matt Hasselbeck is an upgrade over Kerry Collins on paper, and the Titans added more to their defense than they lost. All you’re asking from the Titans to win seven games and go over is to be a little bit better than they were a year ago, and to keep up the franchise’s usual standard. Doesn’t seem like a tall order.
Rob Bironas will win it if it’s close.
Bironas is doing things as a kicker that would have seen him burned at the stake in the 1950s, when oafish linemen routinely missed 14-yard field goals. Since the start of 2007, Bironas is 31-of-34 from 40-49 yards and 12-of-15 from 50-plus. That is truly amazing stuff, even in an era where kickers have become robotlike in their accuracy. He’s also a strong kickoff man who had 22.4 percent touchbacks in 2010 – likely to go up to 75 percent if the NFL goes through with its new kickoff rule (remember where you heard it first when they change their mind before the season starts).
THE CASE FOR UNDER
Chris Johnson is a pulled hamstring waiting to happen.
Johnson had a “bad season” in 2010, if you can have such a thing while amassing 1,609 yards from scrimmage and scoring 12 touchdowns. He’s holding out for more money, and more power to him – go get the cash, young fella. But Darrelle Revis found out last year what holdouts have been learning for years – the longer you avoid camp, the more likely you are to be hurt. Backup Javon Ringer was solid last year (4.7 YPC), but this team needs Johnson at his peak.
Take OVER 6.5
, and feel pretty good about it. If Hasselbeck is rejuvenated (or just better than Kerry Collins), Kenny Britt is sane and Johnson is in uniform, opponents have some pretty significant stuff to worry about, and this team could sneak up on the league. The Titans have averaged 22.6 PPG since drafting Johnson, and teams that average 22.6 PPG don’t usually have much trouble finishing .500 unless the defense is just terrible – which Tennessee’s may or may not be.