After a crazy week 4, the AFC South is deadlocked in mediocrity. The Texans, Titans, Colts, and Jaguars are all sporting 2-2 records; their seasons have all been rife with inconsistent play, roster question marks, and surprise heroes. But which of these 4 teams is best positioned to guarantee themselves a home playoff game? Let’s take a look at the AFC South teams, ranked from least to most likely to win the division.
4. Indianapolis Colts
A banged-up Colts team suffered a tough loss to the Raiders in Indy, sending them down to 2-2. The Colts began the season with a massive question mark at the QB position following the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck. Jacoby Brissett has been more than serviceable as a replacement, hurling 10 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions and posting a passer rating of 102.1. The offensive line also continues to be a strength, allowing only 6 sacks through the first 4 games. The issue, rather, has been the defense. The unit stepped up big last season, but has taken a step back this season. Part of this is due to injuries (Leonard, Hooker, Sheard), but overall the unit just doesn’t seem to be playing with the same energy as they were last season. They’re giving up more than 25 points per game, making them the 9th worst in the league. The Colts will not be able to keep stringing wins together at this pace. Jacoby is great, but it seems much more likely that he will start trending down rather than up. If the offense loses a step, it doesn’t appear that the defense will be able to keep this team afloat. For the Colts to win the division, Brissett will have to keep up his current level of play and the returns of Leonard and Hooker will have to reinvigorate this defense. Certainly possible, but the path isn’t as clear as it is for the other 3 teams.
Overall Chance: 15%
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Minshew mania is alive and well in Duval, following a close call in Denver. It’s worth remembering that the Jaguars were a two-point conversion away from being 3-1, with their only loss being to the Chiefs. Their relative success has come from a mostly balanced team. The defense is by no means what they were 2 years ago, but Calais Campbell, A.J Bouye, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, and co. form a unit that is capable of competing against any team. Offensively, Fournette finally showed some life last week (and in grand fashion), rushing for 225 yards against a Denver defense that just could not tackle him. Minshew has shown a knack for making clutch plays and good decisions, two qualities which are great to see out of a rookie passer. D.J Chark has done an excellent job serving as a WR #1 (whether he can keep doing that or not is a different story). The main obstacle in Jacksonville’s path is the man who was once their greatest asset, Jalen Ramsay. With the 3 “injuries” Jalen dealt with this week, it’s beyond clear that he wants nothing to do with the Jaguars. Until the situation is dealt with, Ramsay is a constant distraction . Not to mention the gap left in the defense in his absence is massive. It’s impossible to just replace an elite cornerback (unless your name is Bill Belichick). It will be telling to see what happens when the Jags next face a team with a true deadly reciever (something that neither the Titans or Broncos have). This will happen in week 6 agaisnt the Saints and Michael Thomas. If the defense can hold their own, bump the Jags stock up significantly. But until then, the Jaguars will remain the 3rd most likely team to win the AFC South.
Overall Chance: 20%
2. Tennessee Titans
The Titans started the season by dismantling the hyped-up Cleveland Browns. Since then, the offense has been extremely inconsistent and the defense has been dominant. Tennesee is yet to give up more than 20 points in a game, allowing only 15.5 points per game (4th best in the league). It’s been a classic story of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. They have stiffened when they need to and completely shut down 2 offenses that are supposed to be potent (Cleveland and Atlanta). This defense is more than capable of leading this team to a division title. The only thing that can stand in their way: their offense. Mariota is getting sacked 4.2 times per game; not only is this rate unsustainable in terms of winning games, but it’s just setting up the injury-prone QB to miss time. Statistically, Mariota appears to be having a great season (no interceptions, 106.2 passer rating), but the stats don’t tell the full story. The Titans are averaging just 202.8 passing yards per game, 5th worst in the NFL. Mariota has also been overly reliant upon big plays by rookie standout A.J Brown to pad his stats. In reality, he just does not look good. Derrick Henry is having a pretty good year, but is yet to break a run for more than 18 yards. The offense almost feels punchless at the moment. The Titans can win the division by continuing their defensive dominance and by feeding Henry offensively. If they do their job right, Mariota will just have to not-blow the games.
Overall Chance: 25%
1. Houston Texans
On paper, the Texans are the obvious pick to win the division. Houston bolstered their weakest position group during the offseason with the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil from the Dolphins. Paired with standout QB Deshaun Watson and arguably the best receiver in the league in DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans are an offensive juggernaut (at least on paper). This talent is yet to show up on the field though, as Houston is 19th in points scored so far this season. Part of that is facing relatively tough competition, but the passing game should still be going far better than it is for the Texans. Defensively, they’ve done a pretty nice job, allowing 19.5 points per game (10th in the league), but despite a strong defensive season so far, things are just yet to click for Houston. They’re coming off a surprising loss to the Kyle Allen-led Panthers at home (an effort where they only pieced together 10 points). This upcoming week feels almost do-or-die for the Texans, as they will face the (so far) hapless Falcons before travelling to Kansas City. A loss to Atlanta and then a probable loss to KC would almost surely leave the Texans on the outside looking in given how all 4 teams are vying for the title this year. However, a confidence booster win against Atlanta and then a good fight against the Chiefs could be the shot in the arm the Texans need to get back on the right track. Given the talent on this roster, the latter seems more likely. If the Texans can just take advantage of their offensive weapons, they will almost surely win this division.
Overall Chance: 40%