Evaluating the AFC South Division Race
Coming into week 15, the Colts, Texans and Jaguars are all still in the race for the AFC South title. Here are how each of the teams stack up:
Indianapolis Colts (6-7, 3-1 in division games):
They have been in the lead most of the season, but have been a huge disappoint in light of their Super Bowl expectations coming into the season. Matt Hasselbeck has played much more than expected due to Andrew Luck‘s injuries this season. I think all those hits that he took behind bad offensive lines his first three years have finally caught up to Luck.
Some of the veterans that were brought in to help push this team over the edge have not worked out as expected. I’m not sure what the Colts were thinking with the Frank Gore signing because he’s north of 30, the expiration date for running backs. He has averaged 3.6 yards per carry this season. Trent Cole has two sacks this season after a very good start to his career in Philadelphia.
That said, Hasselbeck has played fairly well when he’s been in. The Colts are 4-2 in his starts and his completion percentage has been higher and the turnovers have been less frequent. I’m amazed they have been as good as they have been just looking at their numbers. They are bottom five in rushing yards (no shock), 21st in points per game and 29th in points against per game. They’ve played well against teams like the Patriots, Panthers and Broncos but poorly against the Saints, Bills and Jaguars. Hard team to figure out.
But for them, it boils down to this–if they win on Sunday, they basically win the division. They’d be a game up on the Texans (and one or two up on the Jaguars), with a season sweep of the Texans and a better division record than the Jaguars in the bag. They’d only need a win or loss by both the Texans and Jags to win the division. If they lose to Houston on Sunday, they will have to make up their game back of the Texans by beating the Dolphins in Miami and also likely have to beat the Titans at home in week 17.
Houston Texans (6-7, 2-1 in division games):
They looked dead in the water after starting 2-5, but a four game winning streak got them back in the race. While still being somewhat offensively challenged, the defense has stepped it up in recent weeks and elevated themselves into the top half of the league in points against at 13th with 22.4 allowed per game.
All year, the Texans have had a chronic inability to run the ball. But the effects of that have been not as severe as they could have been because DeAndre Hopkins has been nothing short of brilliant. This was not expected to be a passing offense with Brian Hoyer at the helm, but they have done just that and been fairly successful with it.
Defensively they were supposed to be a top unit with all the big names they had including J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Kareem Jackson joined by newcomers Vince Wilfork and first round pick Kevin Johnson. Through the first third of the season, this defense was anything but a good unit.
This week is do or die in Indianapolis. Should the Texans lose this game, they are basically done. They would need two losses from the Colts and two wins over the last two weeks to get in.
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Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8, 2-3 in division games):
Assuming that the game between the Colts and Texans next week doesn’t end in a tie, one of them goes to seven wins and has pretty much a guarantee to have a better division record than them. The only way that doesn’t happen is if the Texans win and then lose to the Titans in week 16 and then Jags in week 17–both teams would be 3-3 in division games and have a series split. Considering that isn’t likely to happen, let’s just put it this way for Jacksonville–they need to win out and hope for some help.
Next week they face the sputtering Falcons at home, but then go to New Orleans to face the air attack of the Saints. That’s where I think their hopes get erased. They end their season in Houston, which could have a lot more meaning for the Texans than for them. I think they finish 6-10, but there’s no doubt they improved significantly this year. Next season these guys won’t be a pushover. Blake Bortles has 30 touchdown passes, behind only Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. Let’s not forget he’s only in his second year and (unfortunately for the rest of the division) should continue to get better.
Looking back at some of the games they lost and how they lost them, they have nobody to blame but themselves for their current position. Missed kicks, turnovers and other mistakes cost them against the Panthers (missed field goal and extra point left four points on the board, might have given them a chance to tie it late), Texans (interception in the end zone at the end of the first half and a pick six), at the Colts (missed multiple game winning field goals), Buccaneers (fumbled kickoff returned for a touchdown in a seven point loss) and Jets (four turnovers in a five point loss). Without those mistakes, they would easily have a winning record and would be in control of this division. But they didn’t, and the NFL doesn’t keep count of moral victories. What is in their favor right now is they have a healthy quarterback. Houston is likely going to miss Hoyer, which puts T.J. Yates into the starting lineup and the Colts might be missing both Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck this week, leaving Charlie Whitehurst in position to start. Yikes.
Before our eyes, the AFC South is becoming one of the more entertaining divisions in the NFL.