When it comes to the AFC South, you can compare it directly to the AFC East, except worse. Through the first half of the year, it is clear who will win the division and the biggest question is what order the other three teams will finish.
Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Overall Grade: B+
Offense: The Indianapolis Colts offense revolves around third year quarterback Andrew Luck. The Stanford Grad leads the NFL with 3,085 passing yards, and also leads in yards per game, averaging 343. The Colts receiving corps is very diverse, with Luck spreading the wealth most of the time. T.Y Hilton this season has turned himself into a top-tier wide receiver in the NFL. So far in 2014, Hilton is third in the NFL in receiving yards (937) and his 16.7 yards per catch is the most for any receiver with more than 50 receptions. The Colts have also benefited from a new weapon at tight end, Dwayne Allen. After only playing in one game last season, Allen has inserted himself as a top threat in the offense, catching seven touchdowns already this season.
Defensively, the Colts have been an inconsistent bunch, but a lot of times have been backed up by an outstanding offense. We’ve seen the defense completely shutdown their opponent (shut out Cincinnati Bengals 27-0), but then get completely torched (allowed over 500 yards passing vs. Steelers) all in the span of two weeks. Whatever the case, the Colts defense is ranked 15th in the NFL, which is going to be good enough with the explosive offense they have on the other side of the ball.
The Colts have a huge game this week as they play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, this game has the potential to impact seeding for the playoffs. In the long run, the Colts are a lock to win their division for the second straight year with all three of their division foes currently under .500.
Houston Texans (4-5)
Overall Grade: C
Offense: The Texans have been a ground and pound team on offense with star-running back Arian Foster in the backfield. Foster has already matched the amount of games he played last season (8) and is on pace for over 1,600 yards on the ground this year. Foster has rushed for over 100 yards in six of his eight games this season, and is 2nd in the NFL in yards (822) and rushing touchdowns (7). Under center, the Texans are making a change. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions in their first nine games, but failed to throw for over 230 yards in six out of nine contests. Houston will give Ryan Mallett his first start on Sunday when they visit the first place Cleveland Browns.
On defense, the Texans were happy to get DE Jadeveon Clowney with their first pick, but he was injured in the first game of the season against the Washington Redksins and has not returned (expected to play a limited role this week). Defensive end JJ Watt is the centerpiece for a Houston defense that is ranked 29th against the pass, and 21st against the run. Watt has been an animal all season, even getting MVP considerations. Watt leads the team with 8.5 sacks and has scored three touchdowns this season in three different ways (INT Return, Fumble Return, Receiving TD).
Houston has been an “almost” team this year. They lost three consecutive games in weeks 5-7, all by just one score. If they want any chance of somehow squeaking back into the playoffs for the third time in four years, they will have to play near flawless football from here on out. Four of their final seven games will be against teams with winning records, but their other three will be against the two teams at the bottom of the AFC South, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
Tennessee Titans (2-7)
Overall Grade D
Offense: This was going to be the year that 2011 draft pick Jake Locker was going to be “the guy” in Tennessee. It appeared that this season was shaping up that way for the Titans after beating the 2013 wild card Kansas City Chiefs on the road in week one. Locker was hurt two weeks later in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, which caused him to miss week four. Upon his return to action week five against the Browns, Locker was hurt diving into the end zone and left the game with a concussion. He has yet to return to being the starter. The Titans were led by Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, but was soon replaced in week eight by rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger after throwing for less than 200 yards three times. Mettenberger is 0-2 as the starter so far, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Running wise, the Titans haven’t got production nearly anywhere. Rookie running back Bishop Sankey leads the team with only 357 yards on the ground and the Titans as a team only have four rushing touchdowns.
This was the year that the young gun receiving duo of Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter were going to make a name for themselves, but so far they have been out played by tight end Delanie Walker who is currently the Titans leading receiver with 512 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, the Titans have been to get after the quarterback for most of the season, as they have had three or more sacks in five out of their nine games this season. However, they have struggled against the run, giving up 136.6 yards per game on the ground, 29th in the NFL.
The Titans have an average difficulty schedule for the final seven games of the season, but it’s a little to late. The best they can hope for is that Mettenberger can provide some spark and show that he can lead the offense. So that by next year, there will be a starting quarterback battle between he and Locker.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Overall Grade D+
Offense: The Jaguars used their first round draft pick on UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Three games into the season, Bortles replaced opening day starter Chad Henne and it has been the rookie’s team ever since. Bortles has had some growing pains to say the least, his 14 interceptions are the most in the NFL and four of them have been returned for touchdowns by the opposing defense. With a young group of receivers and a struggling offensive line, Bortles will have to get through this awful season and hope for the best in the future. But this is his season to grow as a quarterback.
The Jaguars went out and signed Toby Gerhart to be the feature back in the off-season, but have been disappointed with his performance, only compiling 154 yards on 59 carries. The saving grace to the Jaguars backfield has been quarterback-turned-running back Denard Robinson. Since taking over the staring role, Robinson has averaged over 100 yards per game and scored four touchdowns. Robinson rushed for a season-high 127 yards in the Jaguars only win of the season against the Cleveland Browns.
On defense, the Jags are an underrated group that has looked great at times. Although they are currently ranked last in the league, the Jags have shown some promise at times this season. The defense allowed just three offensive touchdowns in four games in weeks 5 through 8, but their previous two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, they surrendered eight total touchdowns.
Their is still some promise for this young group of Jaguars. Blake Bortles has the ability to be good in this league if he can limit his turnovers. There is no hope for this season to amount to anything but a building block to future success, but the Jags will try to show their fans in the last part of the year that this team can be a contender in seasons to come.
Offensive MVP of the First Half: IND, QB Andrew Luck
No surprise here whatsoever. If you’ve gotten this far in my article, I already praised Luck for how dominating he has been this season, making this pick a no doubter. Luck has thrown for over 300 yards in every game but one this season.
Defensive MVP of the First Half: HOU, DE JJ Watt
Whenever a team is preparing for a matchup with the Texans, Watt is their number one concern. Each play of every drive, quarterbacks are looking to see wear no. 99 is, most of the time running in the opposite direction. Watt has a knack for finding the ball wherever it is and finding the end zone with it. He shows great strength in getting to the quarterback (8.5 sacks this season) and when he doesn’t get there, he is getting his hands in the air to swat down a pass, and even intercept it like he did against the Buffalo Bills.
Comeback Player of the First Half: IND, TE Dwayne Allen
As I previously mentioned, Allen played just one game last year before being injured for the remainder of the season. He has came back this year and leapfrogged teammate Coby Fleener as the no .1 tight end on the Colts’ depth chart. Allen has seven touchdowns this season and is 14.4 yards per catch leads all tight ends in the NFL.
Let down of the First Half: TEN, HC Ken Whisenhunt
The Titans were ecstatic in the off-season when they signed former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt to be the head coach, with aspirations to duplicate the success he had in Arizona that included a trip to the Super Bowl in 2008. Instead, Whisenhunt has let the moral of his team go completely down the drain, losing seven of the last eight games. If you want an example of a coaching let down, the Titans blew a 25 point halftime lead to the Browns, at home, in week five, losing the game 29-28.
Cover Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Latest posts by Shelby Dermer (see all)
- Super Bowl LI was great, but not the best - February 7, 2017
- Super Bowl LI: A funny thing happened on the way to the podium - February 6, 2017
- A Millennial’s Top 5 Super Bowl Moments - February 7, 2016