NFL 2018: AFC South predictions, Jaguars hold off Texans

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 10: Calais Campbell #93 and Dante Fowler #56 of the Jacksonville Jaguars talk with Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans after a play in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 10: Calais Campbell #93 and Dante Fowler #56 of the Jacksonville Jaguars talk with Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans after a play in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The public is firmly behind the Houston Texans, but our AFC South predictions for the NFL 2018 season are more reasonable. Jacksonville holds off Houston.

The 2018 NFL season is around the corner. With it come predictions for where teams will finish. Super Bowl odds are obviously the biggest ticket item, but finishes within divisions are worthy of monitoring as well. Let’s continue our divisional exploration with the AFC South.

The two South divisions are the hardest to predict in the league. The AFC’s version houses two playoff teams from a year ago and two of the biggest quarterback stories in the sport. Those four squads represent an awful lot of unknown. Will we have a new team on top this season?

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate the NFL 2018 in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

Todd Salem:

I was ready to immediately throw — as Jonah Keri always quips — some gummy bears on the Houston Texans coming off of a last-place finish primed for a rebound. Then the odds came out, and Houston was actually the early favorite! It’s not overly surprising that people would think the Texans are the most talented team in the division, but it still struck me that they were placed first off a 4-12 season.

None of the four teams have very long odds, and Houston isn’t an overwhelming favorite by any means. This is in the discussion as being the most even division in the sport top to bottom, which also makes it death to bet on. There isn’t even an easy team to rule out as definitely finishing last.

The only leg I have to stand on is putting Indianapolis as the worst team, using the news surrounding Andrew Luck as a bad sign that he is going to be his old self in 2018. If he is, the Colts could certainly win the South. If he’s not, though, they are certainly the worst team here.

After Indy, I would put Tennessee third behind a coaching overhaul. I just don’t love the talent here, and the Titans overachieved to get to 9-7 a season ago. The biggest question is between Houston and Jacksonville for first place. My deduction is going to use similar logic to that of the Colts’ future.

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If Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt are 100 percent healthy this year, I think Houston is the division’s best team. But what is the likelihood that both remain at 100 percent for 16 weeks, or even start at that point? That is really what we are betting on by picking the winner of this division. The Jaguars feel like the safer selection thanks to that defense and running game, though their ceiling is certainly lower.

If I was picking one squad to win 12 or 13 games, it would be Houston without a doubt. Picking one team to win the division, though, brings me instead to Jacksonville.

Dan Salem:

I don’t agree with your logic at all, but our conclusions are eerily similar none the less. The Jacksonville Jaguars remain the best team in the AFC South because little has changed to sway me from how they finished last season. Jacksonville still has a great defense and strong running game, paired with a game managing quarterback who makes plays when needed. This is a recipe for success, meaning another division rival must do better in order to topple them. I just don’t see it happening. The Jaguars are the best bet and the best team in the AFC South for this 2018 season.

Houston completely fell off a cliff last season when Watson got injured. That was before he showed any rookie growing pains or faced significant adversity. Watson shined to start the season, but since he has yet to play a full year in the NFL, this will still be his rookie year in part. Perhaps he is the rare unicorn who makes zero rookie mistakes, but more likely he has some ups and downs leading the Texans.

I love his potential, but until he’s proven that he can star and stay healthy for an entire season, I’m not counting on Houston to win this division or more than nine games. Assuming Watson retains his health, I believe the Texans are a year away from serious playoff contention. They can easily top the Titans this year, but will not touch Jacksonville in the standings.

I’m not as down on Tennessee as you are, but they still feel like an 8-8 team and firmly behind a healthy Houston. Because this is such a competitive division, if the Texans move up then the Titans move down. Someone has to drop a peg. What is not changing is the state of the Indianapolis Colts.

Perhaps it’s simply been too long, but I’m not a believer in Andrew Luck being able to completely turn around what was a very weak team last season. Indianapolis could never protect him up front, but he needs that protection now more than ever. I still have the bad taste of 2017 in my mouth and Luck is still rehabbing. This prevents me from betting anything on the success of the Colts this season.

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Unlike last year, I believe the AFC South has only one playoff team in the 2018 season. Considering their odds are better than expected, the Jaguars are the best bet and most likely winner in my mind. Defense still wins championships.