Tony Finn’s 2020 AFC South Preview and Predictions

AFC South Betting Preview from Las Vegas

The AFC South has been the lowest-rated division in the Finn Factor rankings for eight of the last ten years. The last time the South was not at the bottom of Finn’s American Football Conference divisional ratings was 2018. Indianapolis was readying for the return of Andrew Luck, and the Houston Texans were confident that a healthy Deshaun Watson would start the ’18-’19 season behind center at 100 percent. Also, Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota figured to rebound from a dismal 2017 campaign. Tennessee GM Jon Robinson upgraded the chances of the team’s Sunday success by parting ways with then-coach Mike Mularkey. Even the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars had hope of finishing the season with a record in the neighborhood of .500 or better with one of the league’s best defenses. As has been the case for most of the last ten seasons, the South lacks a genuine title contender.

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2019 Record: 10-6, first in AFC South

Returning Starters
Offense: 7 | Defense: 7

Projected Starting Quarterback: Deshaun Watson
Backups: AJ McCarron, Alex McGough, Nick Tiano

Texans bench boss Bill O’Brien is one of the most reliable coaches in the league. Reliable in a sense, he is the most predictable play-caller/head coach in the league. If you are a faithful follower of the Sunday Soap Opera known as the NFL, you are acutely aware that O’Brien’s game plan since arriving in Houston has been nearly 100 percent focused on receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Be it double coverage or a defensive bracket by the opposing secondary few variables deterred Watson from delivering the ball in the direction of the team’s All-Pro receiver.

O’Brien has been quoted by the media a large number of times when asked how he was going to use Watson and Hopkins on game day. And during his tenure as the Texan’s bench boss coach O’Brien’s usual response, paraphrased, has been “Open or not, throw it his [Hopkins] way.”

This offseason GM/head coach O’Brien made headlines by trading arguably the best receiver in the league. That receiver is the same one that he has game-planned around for his entire Texans coaching tenure. Hopkins has the talent and the game-day savvy to carry a team on his back.

Without saying one word to the press, O’Brien announced there is a new game plan in H-Town. The overt declaration came to us all when the GM and coach sent Hopkins to Glendale, Arizona. The 2020 campaign will find Hopkins receiving passes from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray. Hopkins will be showcasing his wares at State Farm Stadium playing as the team’s No. 1 offensive option with the play calling of Kliff Kingsbury.

A number of my peers have attempted to argue that the Hopkins trade was necessary to complete the Texans roster with personnel that fits O’Brien’s new offensive scheme. Quarterback guru, offensive play-caller, head coach and general manager of the Texans have drafted a new playbook for 2020. And for the first time in the O’Brien/Texans era, the offense will include a slot receiver (Randall Cobb).

Off the top of your football-shaped head, how many now-NFL head coaches and organizations are attempting to emulate what Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy do with the Kansas City player personnel?

If the truth is known, what Reid and Bieniemy have done with the offense began in 2016 when then-coach Brad Childress held the position of “Spread Game Analyst.” Childress’ job was to chart and access offensive trends that were dominating game analytics at the college and professional level.

Flashback to August NFL Training Camp in 2016 when Kevin Clark wrote a piece for titled “Spread Awakening.” Clark opened the column, “Most NFL coaches are still predisposed to resist the spread offense. The problem? They’re increasingly drafting players used to nothing but, forcing them into an era of hybrid attacks that embrace both spread and pro-style techniques.”

“For the past three seasons, longtime NFL coach and current Kansas City co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress had one of the most unusual gigs in the league” penned Clark. “His title was “spread game analyst,” and his job was to study the trends popping up across all levels of football and keep Chiefs coaches and talent evaluators informed.”

Childress won’t be remembered for his head coaching job in Minnesota. It is unlikely that outside of the Twin Cities and those that are diehard Vikings fans, Childress won’t be remembered for his 12-4 record and near Super Bowl appearance with an aging Brett Favre in 2009. And while most Minnesota faithful remember coach Brad for cutting Randy Moss just four weeks after he arrived in Viking land in a trade with New England. A deal that went bad and mostly for Childress.

Childress told Clark of TheRinger in August of 2016 that: NFL front office and scouting personnel have different takes on the “spread offense” at the National Football League level. The opinions were split on operating and choreographing the ever-popular college scheme. No specific individual spoke glowingly of using all or part of the “spread offense” scheme at the highest level of professional football, the NFL.

To paraphrase Childress and his study he conducted, those in parts or all of 2015 and 2016, he concluded the following;
• The spread poses some problems at the NFL level.
• There are a bunch of spread tactics worth stealing.

Childress liked what he read and viewed in the college container. Teams that operated the spread scheme stretched the field with speed receivers. Toss in an occasional play-action or a west coast extended handoff for running backs, and for all intent and purpose, the moving parts on the field were were fluid and involved.

NFL gamers have a late July and August decision to make concerning Watson’s ability to execute the new O’Brien playbook. It is also necessary to support or discard O’Brien and his staff’s ability to coach what they have drawn up. There are questions about the current coaching staff and their ability to sell specific player personnel a particular scheme.

There will be little to no zone-reads in the new O’Brien scheme. Watson will drop back watch his speed receivers (Cooks, Fuller, and Stills) stretch the field. As a result, the underneath coverage on the running backs (David Johnson) and slot receiver (Randall Cobb) will be much softer than in year’s past. O’Brien’s philosophy of using running backs and tight ends in the passing game has been a part of the Texans offense since he and his staff arrived in Houston.

Houston tight ends produced nine touchdowns last season. Johnson was one of the top pass-catching tailbacks in the NFL just a few seasons ago. In theory, the Texans’ current player personnel fits the change-up that O’Brien is pitching. On paper Watson, Johnson, Cooks, Fuller V, Stills, and the group of tight ends have the opportunity to be challenging to defend. The million-dollar question is, can O’Brien come out of the starting blocks without distractions and possibly without his offense having had any live contact before the September 13th season opener.

O’Brien has struggled in his Houston tenure with assisting in creating an identity for his offense, and their playmakers save Watson and Hopkins. Yes, Houston has earned the AFC South title four of the last five years. Yes, Watson and Hopkins have been voted to several Pro Bowls. But that is as far as the Texans leaders, the coaches, have taken this and previous Houston teams.

The Houston defense will go as far as J.J. Watt can carry them. Also, the quality of the opponent to begin the 2020 season makes registering September victories difficult. The Texans square off against the last two league MVPs the first two weeks of the season. Furthermore, five of the first seven games for Houston come against 2019 playoff teams.

O’Brien and his assistants have failed to meet expectations. The coaches have been unable to carry previous and talented groups further than a division title. A new offense with new moving parts for Watson and company makes it tough to push in on this Texans team staking claim to the South title. That said, the rest of the division has its own set of issues.

Key Additions: WR Randall Cobb, WR Brandin Cooks, K Ka’imi Fairbairn, TE Darren Fells, CB Phillip Gaines, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, RB David Johnson, S Eric Murray, CB Bradley Roby, DB Jaylen Watkins

Key Losses: RB Carlos Hyde, RB Lamar Miller, WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT D.J. Reader, LB Barkevious Mingo, CB Johnathan Joseph, S Jahleel Addae, S Mike Adams (Retired), S Tashaun Gipson

Season Win Total: 7.5 wins (o -125 / u +105) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 21, 2020.
AFC South Odds: +250

2019 Record: 7-9, third in AFC South

Returning Starters
Offense: 9 | Defense: 8

Projected Starting Quarterback: Phillip Rivers
Backups: Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason, Chad Kelly

The Colts continue to stray from the formula that made them successful when Peyton Manning ruled Lucas Oil Stadium. Using an early second-round pick on a plodding tailback that was breastfed by a three-yards and a cloud of dust nipple was not money well spent. Most importantly, the Badgers Jonathon Taylor is not a good fit for the Colts’ direction. That the Colts’ GM Chris Ballard moved up in the second round to draft Taylor was easily the biggest second-round disappointment.

Did I yet mention that the Colts are staking their postseason on a 15-year veteran quarterback that enters 2020 as the Finn Factor’s most overrated player of the year? And arguably the most overrated starting quarterback in the history of the game.

From the “school of Andrew Luck’s retirement” not the team’s in-season injuries created @Colts demise in ’19? Then prepare to rinse & repeat. Vet Rivers throws 10-plus picks on passes that have 20-plus yards of air. Top to bottom ’20 Colts are not as talented as “19 @Chargers

— Tony Finn (@FinnatWagerTalk) July 6, 2020

First and second round tailbacks are players that are versatile and NFL-ready. Neither requirement fits Taylor. To be a running back in the NFL, in the next half-decade, making defenders miss tackles both running and catching the football is critical. Taylor strong between the tackles and his skill set will serve him well as a special teams player and short-yardage option. Only two Power-5 running backs finished rated as Top-10 runners in missed tackles per attempt and missed tackles per reception: Utah’s Zack Moss (Buffalo Bills) and Miami’s Deejay Dallas (Seattle Seahawks).

Have I written that Rivers does not have a Super Bowl ring?

Moss was a third-round selection, the No. 86th player drafted, and the 10th overall running back selected in the 2020 draft. Dallas was chosen in the fourth round with the 144th overall pick. Indianapolis has running backs Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines under contract.

Yes, I know, Rivers has put up some incredible stats in his career, but stats don’t always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Colts head coach Frank Reich spoke to the running back combo of Mack and Taylor both being equally explosive and a nightmare for opposing defenses to game plan for. Coach-speak at its best is unbecoming of Reich. And using the early second-round pick on a backup running back is a mistake.

An example of what Rivers has done his entire career is as follows. In 2010 the former Chargers signal-caller completed nearly 70 percent of his passes while throwing for 336 yards against the Patriots. The surface numbers are impressive. The underlying and most important ones are not. Rivers threw for one touchdown and his team, the Chargers, lost.

An example of what Rivers have made his entire career is as follows. In 2010 the former Chargers signal-caller completed nearly 70 percent of his passes while throwing for 336 yards against the Patriots. The surface numbers are impressive. The underlying and most important ones are not. Rivers threw for one touchdown, and his team, the Chargers, lost.

Taylor was overused at Wisconsin. He gained 2000 yards in a season twice in his college career. His near 1000 carries for the Badgers makes his lifespan in the NFL shorter than the average running back. And running back lifespan in the league is less than five-years. Taylor’s combine 40-yard dash of 4.39 was the highest among running backs. But there are some caveats to Taylor, his ridiculous number of carries in a hard-hitting defensive conference and his 40 times. Taylor is reckless with the football. If he fumbles in the NFL just 25 percent of the time he did in college, he will not be receiving a starter’s workload.

On defense, the Colts acquired the 49ers lineman DeForest Buckner for their first-round draft pick. The Colts didn’t waste time signing Buckner. Indy inked the former 49er to a four-year, $84 million contract extension. Since entering the league in 2016, Buckner ranks third among all defensive linemen in snaps (3,347), second in combined tackles (262), and has recorded 28.5 sacks, which rates him 21st among active defensive lineman.

Key Additions: QB Philip Rivers, OT Anthony Castonzo, DT DeForest Buckner, TE Trey Burton, CB T.J. Carrie, CB Xavier Rhodes
Key Losses: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Devin Funchess, WR Dontrelle Inman, WR Chester Rogers, TE Eric Ebron OL Joe Haeg, DE Margus Hunt, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Pierre Desir, S Clayton Geathers, K Adam Vinatieri

Season Win Total: 9 wins (o -130 / u +110) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 21, 2020.
AFC South Odds: +150

2019: 6-10, last in AFC South

Returning Starters
Offense: 10 | Defense: 10

Projected Starting Quarterback: Gardner Minshew
Backups: Mike Glennon, Jake Luton, Joshua Dobbs

Handicapping American Football involves a large number of variables. Some of the numbers and philosophies are tangible, and others are not-so-much. Take distance, for example. Measurements in inches or feet, centimeters, or meters are, in fact, tangible.

The best way to describe who the Jacksonville Jaguars are is as follows. The 2020 Jags are so far from being a contender for the NFL championship the distance is measured in light-years. The distance between Jacksonville and a division title is a distance that is best imagined rather than written in fear; there may well be young children browsing the world wide web and run across the truth about their favorite NFL team.

The talent in training camp and the locker-room as the Jags prepare for Week 1 season opener on September 13th will find the Jaguars with less ability, lacking that athletic savvy that is poetry in motion with the knowledge that the player in questions truly understands the game,

Jacksonville owner Shad Khan purchased the franchise in 2012. And since Sir Khan first opened the front office doors, the team has been inconsistent. And that inconsistency applies on and off the field. The team as a whole has won more than five games just twice since 2010. The organization has had three head coaches: Mike Mularkey, Gus Bradley, and current coach Doug Marrone. Across the last eight seasons.

The disappearance of the 2017 team has finally come to light. Remember the 2017 Jags defense that fostered Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, AJ Bouye, and Yannick Ngakoue? Jacksonville found their way to the AFC Championship game less than three years ago.

The Jags appeared destined to be competitive with championship aspirations with the young talent on both sides of the ball. The postseason of January 2018 saw the Jaguars lose eventually to the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. It was not difficult to believe that defense could lead the team to playoff appearances for years.

The offense lacks confident playmakers, and the defense has several players that are too quick to be placed on injured reserve. How much of a mess is this Jacksonville team going to make and play like this 2020 season? Looking at the weekly Sunday games and the look-ahead lines, you’ll find that the Jaguars are not a favorite. Not once are Jacksonville’s player personnel favored winning in the first 17 weeks of the regular-season slate in every sportsbook look-ahead point spreads.

Those who are informed have also been convinced that the Jags will most likely be, or already are, worst of this season’s teams. In turn, that result will lead to an overall No. 1 selection in the 2021 draft. And that player is the starting block to a solid franchise foundation. That player? Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

And those outside of Florida that have yet to hear or read what the Jaguars motto is for the 2020 season let it be known that chants of “Tank for Trevor” will be whispered, muttered, and screamed throughout the season.

Projected starting QB Gardner Minshew did enough to impress in his rookie season that he enters 2020 with the training camp no-contact jersey. Defensively the Marone has either traded away or run-off the best of the Jas spot-unit. Defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue wants out of Jacksonville and has yet to sign the non-exclusive franchise tender the organization placed on him.

The Jaguars applied the non-exclusive franchise tag to him on March 13, but he has yet to sign the tender. The Vegas and Offshore oddsmakers have set the Season Win Total for Jacksonville at 4.5 games. And as I mentioned in the early portion of this 2020 team preview, the Jags are not a pre-game favorite in the way-to-early look-ahead lines for any of their 16 regular-season games [at the time this article went to press].

Key Additions: QB Mike Glennon, TE Tyler Eifert, TE, DL Rodney Gunter, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB, LB Joe Schobert, RB Chris Thompson, DT Al Woods
Key Losses: QB Nick Foles, WR Marqise Lee, TE Geoff Swaim, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Calais Campbell, DT Marcell Dareus, LB Jake Ryan, CB A.J. Bouye

Season Win Total: 4.5 wins (o -115 / u -105) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 21, 2020.
AFC South Odds: +2500

2019: 9-7, second in AFC South

Returning Starters
Offense: 10 | Defense: 9

Projected Starting Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill
Backups: Logan Woodside and Cole McDonald

Throw everything and anything away that you have been convinced of or just believe concerning the Titans and their chances of winning the AFC South division this season. Dump the Kool-Aid you have been served to celebrate the arrival of journeyman quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

This Titans troupe has nearly every historical speed bump to climb over on their road to an AFC South crown. The Titans committed the habitual sin that franchises fall victim to when the team, club, organization experiences the taste of postseason blood.

The powers that are in the Tennessee front office issued Tannehill a four-year, $118 million deal, which includes $91 million in guaranteed money. Also, they placed the FranTag on RB Derrick Henry.

Riddle me this; How much does an NFL quarterback deserve for completing nearly 70 percent of his passes in 12 games, averaged 9.6 yards per passing play, throw just six interceptions to 22 TD passes and register a 117.5 QB rating? The Titan’s signal-caller enters his 10th season in the league, and the numbers, as mentioned above, are all career highs, save the TD passes for a touchdown.

History tells us that Tannehill will not repeat his career year that was 2019. He is more likely to regress to the quarterback he was with the Dolphins or be less than his average Miami numbers. Before his career numbers of 2019, Tannehill had posted a Total QBR above 50 just once in his six South Beach seasons.

Henry was tagged and singed his tender during the offseason. No running back has led the league in rushing for consecutive seasons since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07. Henry not only led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards last season, but he also drove in rushes (303) and tied Aaron Jones for the most rushing TDs (16). He was crucial for the Titans’ success, as Tennessee was 8-0, including the playoffs, when Henry amassed at least 100 rushing yards.

The All-Pro running back is entering the first of what figures to be a trio of declining seasons. After the fifth year in the league, a tailback who leads the league in rushing attempts (303) with nearly 33 percent of those coming in the red zone, has repeated their career year entering their fifth year in the league.

The Titans key losses outweigh any and all their key additions. The loss of cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey isn’t a duo that can be replaced. Ryan led the league in tackles (113) in 2019 and was tied for third in the NFL in passes defended (12).

The Titans’ key losses outweigh any of their key additions. The loss of cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey isn’t a duo that can be replaced. Ryan led the league in tackles (113) in 2019 and was tied for third in the NFL in passes defended (12).

Tennessee was the only AFC South squad and one of just five AFC franchises to have a positive Net Point differential (+71) last season. Only the Buffalo Bills (+55) net pts number was smaller than that of  the Titans.

Key Additions: LB Vic Beasley, LB Kamalei Correa, CB Jonathan Joseph
Key Losses: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Dion Lewis (Giants), WR Tajae Sharpe, TE Delanie Walker, OT Jack Conklin, DT Jurrell Casey, LB Wesley Woodyard, LB Kamalei Correa, LB Cameron Wake, CB Logan Ryan

Season Win Total: 8.5 wins (o -125 / u +105) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 21, 2020.
AFC South Odds: +140

Ready to dive into some homework for the 2020 NFL season? Ralph Michaels has released his 24-page NFL Betting Guide, which includes three years’ worth of stats, regular season win totals, power ratings, strength of schedule numbers and much more! The best part? It’s completely free. Just head to Ralph’s page and download your copy today.

2020 NFL Predictions, Odds and Betting Tips: NFC East

When the 2020 NFL season kicks off, the AFC South will have the spotlight as the Houston Texans travel to Kansas City for the primetime opener. How does this division stack up with the rest of the league? The Prez, Ralph Michaels, and Matt “Mid Major Matt” Josephs weigh in with their AFC South thoughts.


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