AFC South Futures & Best Bets: Value on the Titans to Win the Division at +400 Odds, NFL Futures Friday
It’s never too early to start working on NFL content as we lead up to the beginning of the season, and I’m ramping up the Futures Friday pieces as we build up to opening day. In this article, I’ll break down why I believe the Tennessee Titans offer value in the AFC South. Let’s get to work.
AFC South Best Bets: Divisional Winners & More
Heading into the 2023-24 NFL season, the AFC South is priced like a runaway for the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, I believe the Tennessee Titans offer a ton of value as a dark horse team to win the division. Read on for more information on how to bet the AFC South heading into the 2023-24 season, along with some insight into why there is value on the Tennessee Titans to win the division at +400 odds.
Injuries Killed the Titans in 2022
It’s easy to look at the Titans’ 7-10 record last season and assume they weren’t close to a playoff-caliber team last year. They finished two games behind the Jaguars in the AFC South and ended the season with an 0-7 run.
However, further context is needed. Six of those seven games were against playoff teams last season, and yet the Titans lost four of them by just five or fewer points. That’s despite having arguably the league’s worst quarterback play to close out the season between Josh Dobbs and Malik Willis.
That losing streak to end the year can be mostly attributed to brutal injury luck. The Titans ranked third in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost last season. Ryan Tannehill missed five games, Treylon Burks missed six, and the defense was marred by injuries.
New Look Titans Offense
One of the biggest moves made by the Titans this offseason was hiring new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. The Tennessee offense had its fair share of issues last year, ranking 28th in points per game, but improvement should be expected with added pace, motion, and multiplicity in Kelly’s offense.
Kelly was responsible for much of the red-zone play-calling, where the team excelled. The Titans led the league with a 94% goal-to-go touchdown rate and was the sixth-best red-zone scoring offense. He also reportedly scripted out opening drives in the games, and the Titans ranked sixth in first quarter scoring margin.
Where the Titans really struggled was in the second half as 48% of their drives went 3-and-out, the most in the league. They were one of only two teams over 40%. If Kelly can improve the second-half production, this offense could rapidly improve this season.
Derrick Henry on the #Titans offense under Tim Kelly:
"It's a completely new offense, and I'm just coming in here trying to learn everything, and get used to the terminology. It has changed, and it's getting in, working, and doing what I can.
— Titans247 (@NFL_Titans247) June 7, 2023
There seems to be an overriding perception that the Titans are moving on from Ryan Tannehill due to the draft pick of Will Levis. However, Tannehill ranked fifth in yards per attempt, 15th in adjusted EPA per play, and 18th in PFF passing grades last year, and he won’t go down easy in surrendering the starting role to Levis.
Tannehill will benefit from two ascending pass-catchers, second-year pros Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo. Burks had a tough start to his rookie year, but he gained steam over the second half. Unfortunately, that was when Tannehill was injured, but the early hype from OTAs is real for Burks.
You’re too low on Treylon Burks. pic.twitter.com/kOs75IE1Ta
— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) June 3, 2023
Okonkwo, meanwhile, was highly productive as a rookie. He ranked first among all tight ends with 14.1 yards per reception and 2.61 yards per route run. Okonkwo was also second in PFF’s receiving grades – Titans fans should be very excited about his upside.
Finally, the Titans made moves to improve an offensive line that was among the league’s worst last season. Andre Dillard is an intriguing left tackle who never broke into the Eagles’ elite starting lineup while Daniel Brunskill can provide stable production. Peter Skoronski, the team’s rookie first-round pick, offers a ton of upside, as well.
Derrick Henry also hasn’t shown much decline so far. He forced 69 missed tackles last year, the second-most of his career per PFF, and he had the second-best PFF rushing grade of his career.
Expect the Titans Defense to Bounceback
The Titans’ defense was decimated by injuries in 2022, particularly in the secondary. As a result, they ranked 28th in pass defense DVOA. That was a stark decline from 2021 when they were 11th in that regard.
Amani Hooker missed eight games, and when healthy, he forms one of the best safety tandems in the league with Kevin Byard, a two-time First Team All Pro player. Kristian Fulton is an ascending talent at cornerback, but he only played 11 games last year.
Tennessee added Sean Murphy-Bunting to their cornerback room, and he was ninth in PFF’s coverage grades among qualified corners last year. Murphy-Bunting provides inside-out versatility and possesses the speed that Mike Vrabel has long coveted in his defense.
The bigger addition for the Titans, though, is the return of edge rusher Harold Landry who tore his ACL prior to the beginning of last season. In 2021, Landry had arguably his best season with a career-high 64 pressures and 14 sacks.
— Shaun Calderon (@ShaunMichaels31) June 5, 2023
Landry rejoins a pass-rushing room that features Jeffery Simmons, who had eight sacks in 2022 and is one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. Throw in free agency additions linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and edge Arden Key, and a front seven that ranked first in run defense DVOA in 2022 could be even better.
With a run defense that remains among the best in the NFL and a pass defense that should improve with better health in the secondary, the Titans have every ability to get back to their production from 2021 when they ranked sixth in points per game allowed.
Fading the Jacksonville Jaguars
Anytime you place a bet on a team with longer odds to win their division, you’re inherently fading the favorite in that division. So why are we fading the Jaguars?
Contrary to the Titans who suffered from big-time injury woes in 2022, the Jaguars had the second-fewest adjusted games lost last season per Football Outsiders. They also benefited from a last place schedule after finishing fourth in the AFC South in 2021.
The Jaguars are also part of a growing trend over the past few years. Dating back to 2016, the highest-spending team in free agency has improved by an average of five wins in the ensuing season. However, that has been followed by a decline of an average of 4.2 wins in the year after that.
Jacksonville was a part of that trend in 2017 as they improved by seven wins in the year after a big free agency period before dropping off by five wins in 2018. Could the 2023 Jaguars be the next team to follow suit?
Unfortunately this omitted a 2nd piece of pertinent info. After the improved 1 yr the following yr consistently shows regression
2023 Jags (?)
2022 Patriots -2
2021 Dolphins -1 (w/ extra game)
2020 Jets -5
2019 Bears -4
2018 Jaguars -5
2017 Giants -8
No longterm improvement pic.twitter.com/H45pesuDqG
— Travis D. Holmes (@TravLikesBacon) March 13, 2023
The Jaguars also have a concerning offensive line situation. After losing Jawaan Taylor in free agency, they saw Cam Robinson add a looming PED suspension to his recovery from a torn meniscus. First-round rookie Anton Harrison could be thrown into the fire early, as a result.
Even with Taylor and Robinson last year, Jacksonville ranked just 31st in team pass-block win rate, and things could get even worse. The Jaguars compensated with an offense that empowered Trevor Lawrence to make quick decisions at the line of scrimmage, but they will need to adjust now that the rest of the league has film on them.
Jacksonville has tons of enticing skill position talent with Calvin Ridley joining a group featuring Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and Travis Etienne. However, that matters less if the offensive line sucks, and they’re clearly moving in the wrong direction.
The Jaguars deserve to be the favorites in the division, but the offensive line is highly concerning and the defense ranked just 26th in total DVOA last year. Trevor Lawrence is a rising star, but it might not be enough to overcome those issues, and the price of -160 for Jacksonville is too steep.
Summary – the Case for the Titans to Win the AFC South
The Titans are coming off a down year by their standards, finishing 7-10 after winning 9+ games in the four years prior to that. However, much of that is explained by injury issues and an offense that suffered from poor play calling and quarterbacking.
With a healthy Ryan Tannehill and new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, the offense should bounce back. The defense could also return to being elite with Harold Landry returning from an ACL tear and better injury luck likely in the secondary.
There’s a growing public perception that Tennessee is headed for a rebuild, and while they have some bad contracts to sort out, that idea is overblown. Mike Vrabel remains one of the best coaches in the NFL, and the Titans still have plenty of talent to lean on.
The AFC South is wide open. Two teams, the Colts and Texans, have rookie head coaches and quarterbacks – it’s unlikely they compete for the top spot. The Jaguars have looming regression in a few areas and arguably bigger roster issues than the Titans.
This division is there for the taking, and I’m surprised we can get a price as good as +400 on the Titans to win it. I’d take them at anything +250 or better, and I’ll happily jump on the current value for a team we’ve seen be highly successful in recent seasons.
I don't think I remember a team so unnecessary thrown in as a bottom feeder like the Tennessee Titans have been.
Are they transitioning some things? Sure. But Mike Vrabel has had his entire team turn into a practice squad for 2 straight seasons and still won like 20+ games. https://t.co/r7KyGbh2Vq
— Marcus Whitman (@TFG_Football) June 7, 2023
|Bijan Robinson to win Offensive Rookie of the Year||+450||DraftKings||1||4/27/2023|
|Philadelphia Eagles over 10.5 wins||-150||DraftKings||1||5/3/2023|
|Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South||+300||FanDuel||1||5/5/2023|
|Chicago Bears to win the NFC North||+350||Caesars||1||5/5/2023|
|Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East||+350||Caesars||1||5/5/2023|
|Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West||+275||DraftKings||1||5/5/2023|
|Calvin Ridley to lead the NFL in receiving yards||+4500||DraftKings||0.25||5/26/2023|
|Arizona Cardinals under 5 wins||-110||Caesars||1.1||5/26/2023|
|Tennessee Titans to Win the AFC South||+400||DraftKings||1||6/7/2023|
|New York Jets under 9.5 wins||+120||Caesars||1||6/15/2023|