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NFL betting: Are the Titans the sharp pick to win AFC South?

·Betting analyst
·4 min read
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The Tennessee Titans won their first division title in over a decade last season with an 11-5 record. Ryan Tannehill continued his ascension in offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's play-action-heavy scheme while workhorse running back Derrick Henry bulldozed his way to 2,027 yards on 378 carries. The Titan's offense was powerful and efficient, ranking fourth overall in scoring while converting 74% of its red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Success in the NFL is a double-edged sword. Smith was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and the Titans will now go to battle in 2021 with Todd Downing running the offense. The architect of Tannehill's ascension will be missed, but there are still significant reasons to believe the AFC South crown will remain with King Henry in Tennessee.

The Titans added more explosiveness by trading for Julio Jones. Coupling Jones with A.J. Brown gives Tannehill a formidable WR tandem in an offense that ranked in the top seven in average yards per completion. Much of Tennessee's success gets credited to its former offensive coordinator, but Tannehill led all quarterbacks in passing success rate on early downs. Henry's presence in the backfield with another outside weapon in Jones should be enough to enable Downing to enhance the offensive formula that made the Titans so efficient. Tennessee threw on a low-league 43% of early downs in 2020. The pairing of Brown and Jones gives Downing the ability to be less predictable and more explosive this upcoming season.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11), quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) and Julio Jones (2) take a break during NFL football training camp Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Titans receiver A.J. Brown (from left), quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receiver Julio Jones take a break during training camp Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Let's look at the landscape of the AFC South. With Jacksonville and Houston approaching 2021 as a rebuilding year, the Indianapolis Colts (+105 at BetMGM) are the betting favorites to overtake the Titans. Indianapolis' biggest question mark centers around the most impactful position on the field: quarterback.

Ex-Eagle Carson Wentz reunites with coach Frank Reich after coming off the worst season of the quarterback’s career. Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 31st in adjusted sack rate allowed, ahead of only the Houston Texans. Wentz should receive better protection as the Colts return four starting lineman. His challenges in Philadelphia stemmed from indecisiveness, which can make an offensive line's job more difficult. The quick release of Philip Rivers could be sorely missed in Indy.

One of the most important aspects of evaluating a team's outlook is the schedule. The Colts start the season with five games against teams that won at least 10 games last season, including traveling to Tennessee. That is a far from optimal start to the season, considering how critical it is that Wentz rebuilds his confidence and establishes credibility in the locker room, two areas he’s struggled with throughout his career.

The two teams' strength of schedule is relatively similar, but the Titans clearly have the more favorable start. Over the first five weeks, the Titans rank in the top 10 of least difficult schedules based on overall win totals and pass defensive efficiency, per Sharp Football. This is great news for a team that will look to lean on Tannehill while Downing incorporates Jones into the offense and matures as a play-caller, a luxury the Wentz-Reich partnership will not have. If things start poorly in Indianapolis, does Wentz have the mental fortitude to overcome them? I'm betting he does not.

Tennessee's price point of +110 at BetMGM implies there is a 47.62% probability that the Titans repeat as AFC South champs. While acknowledging the defense is a liability, I think the Titans are undervalued. Tannehill is in a prime position to take ownership and elevate the offense to new heights. The Titans can build momentum early in the season while the Colts face a grueling schedule.

Betting Tennessee at plus money is an opportunity that I am willing to invest in. I expect the market to shift in their direction once the season begins, so the time to bet on the Titans is now before the market adjusts to Tannehill's fast start in 2021.

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