Article written by Spencer Smith
JJ Watt out for the rest of the year.
Season ending back surgery.
The absolute core and stud of the Houston Texans defense is gone.
What happens to the AFC South?
There wouldn’t be a question if the Houston offense decided to show up but the Brock Osweiler-led unit is averaging 18 points a game. To call the offense lackluster would be appropriate, maybe even complementary with Osweiler showing he’s not worth anything near the 4-year/$72 million contract he is cashing at the bank of his choice. This definitely isn’t to count out the Texans, as their defense alone carried them to the playoffs last year, but with no Watt and currently no offense, how real are the Texans? And what happens to the AFC South, where one team has to win. Let’s look at the candidates:
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3):
The Jaguars have been underwhelming to say the least. They finished last season with a 5-11 record, but looked to be on the rise with a young QB in Blake Bortles, who has numerous weapons on O and an athletic defense with extreme upside. To add onto this, post-draft, many experts had the Jaguars winning the draft with the picks of Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. After what looked to be an extremely promising first game against Green Bay in which they lost by just four and had a chance to win in the closing seconds, the Jags have completely floundered. They got taught by San Diego and outmaneuvered by Baltimore before beginning a current two-game win streak by beating Indianapolis and Chicago, two mediocre-at-best teams. Blake Bortles has regressed this season, therefore Allen Robinson hasn’t not looked himself either, and the defense has not made stops when they have needed to. Though the Jags are riding a high, if you will, it hasn’t been pretty and they’ve topped a 2-4 team and a 1-6 team by the skin of their teeth. Is this team really improving, or are these wins just a result of slightly better play and poor competition?
The case for the Jaguars:
The talent is overwhelming, the season is still just five games in and the sample size is too small to completely count them out in the South. Who knows what can happen down in the AFC South, where inconsistency reigns supreme?
Tennessee Titans (3-3):
The Titans are probably one of the more positive surprises thus far this season. Their second year Quarterback Marcus Mariota showed signs of inexperience throughout the first couple games and overall hasn’t been amazing, but over their last couple games he has shown signs of brilliance. It’s important to keep in mind that this is just the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s second year, so no Titans fan should be sweating it. However, there have been two surprising parts of the Titans that have played legitimately well; the run game and the defense. No one really pegged the Titans as a top defense but they boast a top-10 run defense and top-12 scoring defense. The addition of Dick LeBeau as Defensive Coordinator has proved effective in his second year. The other surprise has been the resurgence of DeMarco Murray, who has rebounded greatly after an absolutely awful season with the Eagles totaling not only rushing yards but also some receiving. He currently is fourth in rush yards this season with 526. Having beaten mediocre teams and not having lost by more than nine points, this team has already amassed more wins than all of last season and is climbing out of the depths of the league.
The Case for the Titans:
The Titans have exceeded expectations so far, and if their defense and Demarco Murray stay constant, they can turn some heads in a weak division.
Indianapolis Colts (2-4):
The Indianapolis Colts should in no way be in the contention conversation: they have a 33 year-old running back, underperforming wide receivers, a subpar offensive line and a defense that is comparable to a dumpster fire. Yet, for some reason they’re in the talk every year as contenders. That reason has a name, and that name is Andrew Luck. People need to understand what Luck has done for the Colts. They went from literally the worst team in the NFL at 2-14 to 11-5 the next year because of one man. He then proceeded to make the playoffs three years in a row with a below average supporting cast and last year was injured due to the Colts’ inability to have put out an effective offensive line. Luck is again playing with an awful team but him alone, and maybe T.Y. Hilton, is subconsciously giving people hope that the Colts could make a run into the playoffs. This past Sunday night, in a huge divisional matchup at Houston, the Colts had the game won. Then they managed to out Osweiler Osweiler himself and ended up falling in overtime. That could’ve been a positive turning point in Indy’s season, but instead it just continued their downward spiral. I truly believe that if you stuck Andrew Luck onto any NFL team right now, they would be a contender, he’s just that great. But without Luck, and you stick any of 20 other quarterbacks onto this team, Indy would merely be another story mark in the worst division in football.
The Case for the Colts:
One man and one man only make the Colts have a case, otherwise the Colts would be looked at like the Browns are looked at. Well, maybe not that bad. But something not too far from that. Luck is an absolute monster and a finisher. He can win this team the division single-handedly.
Overall, the AFC South is anyone’s best guess at this point about a third through the season, and in the coming weeks it’s going to be an absolute war for who rises to the top and who falls to the bottom. Right now it’s Houston’s division to lose, but it would be foolish to say they have it locked up in October. All you need to know is that one of these four teams will make (stumble into) the playoffs, and ultimately could all make a splash.