The AFC South was expected to be a one-horse race with the Indianapolis Colts in charge, whom have won the division for the past couple of seasons. The rest of the AFC South consists of young, inexperience, and rebuilding franchises who did not seem to be ready to make the jump this season. High expectations were made for the Andrew Luck-led Colts, with many experts jotted them down as a perennial contender for a Super Bowl appearance this season. A new arsenal of offensive weapons, highlighted by running back Frank Gore and wide receivers Andre Johnson and first round draft pick Phillip Dorsett, had many thinking that the team was ready to take a big step into being the team to finally challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC. However, things did not turn out the way many expected throughout the first half of the regular season.
Indianapolis Colts: 4-5
Houston Texans: 3-5
Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-6
Tennessee Titans: 2-6
What went wrong for the Indianapolis Colts? Off the field, there has been turmoil between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson that has this team in an uncomfortable position, in midst of reports claiming Pagano taking orders from the front office on gameday decision. On the field, a lack of an offensive line and defensive talent, other than cornerback Vontae Davis, has been the team's downfall after the first half of the regular season. With the lack of pass protection, a twist of fate has prevented Andrew Luck from missing his first games in the NFL, and it was just recently announced that the former first overall selection will be missing the next 2-6 weeks with a lacerated kidney, after stringing in an impressive victory against the formerly undefeated Denver Broncos. The Colts may be sitting pretty at the AFC South however, with wins against every other team in the AFC South. Can veteran Matt Hasselbeck hold down the team when Luck is nursing an injury, just as it seems the team has found its groove once again?
The Texans have had the definition of an up-and-down season, as they come. They had an on-going quarterback battle that played out in the first five weeks of the regular season between Ryan Mallet and Brian Hoyer, which ended up in Ryan Mallet being cut in the end, with Hoyer being the Texans' man until the end of the season, at least. Inconsistent play in the early part of games had the team in holes in multiples game thus far, but the team has racked up three wins whenever they were in games they were in-reach. The question will be if Brian Hoyer can step up to the challenge with the JJ Watt-led defense, as they have already lost running back Arian Foster for the season, once again. DeAndre Hopkins has taken a huge step in his game and has emerged to be one of the best wide receivers in the league this season, and now the rest of the team needs to pull in more consistent performances for a chance to win their first division title since 2012.
For the Jaguars, there has been a certain theme around this team since the season began. The team has lead games into the fourth quarter in five of the eight games the team has played, and have only came out with two victories. The team's young core of players have shined, highlighted by the emergence of “Allen & Allen” (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns), who are the first receiving duo since Randy Moss and Wes Welker to start the first eight games of the season with over 600 yards and 6 touchdowns. However, the team's third down defense and turnovers down the stretch in games have cost the youngest team in the league multiple games in the first half of the season. Blake Bortles and the rest of the Jags needs to cut down the turnovers if he wants to lead his team for a chance at the team's first divisional title since 1999.
The Titans are a team that is currently rebuilding. They drafted a new franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and the team is starting to build a core of young players to lead the way, in the team's future. However, dissatisfaction with the team's current offensive scheme had head coach Ken Whisenhunt fired, and new head coach Mike Mularkey in. In Mularkey's first game as the new Titans' head coach, he made a huge upset in New Orleans, defeating a very hot New Orleans Saints team. Marcus Mariota has already receiving an injury in his first season, however when he's in for the Titans is when the team plays its best football. He will need to stay healthy for the team, as they will have the toughest stretch compared with the rest of the AFC South's schedule, with two of the three remaining undefeated teams in the league in the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers still on their schedule. It will be interesting to see how a Mike Mularkey-led team will end the season and if they can pull a miraculous turn-around of the season, after losing six straight in between their two current victories.
The AFC South currently stands as the worst division in the NFL, but one of the tightest races to end the first half of the season. The question that remains will be if any of these teams will stand out and take over a wide open division. However, each of the four teams need to break each of their bad habits in order to grab the division. Who will come out on top after Week 17? It is going to be a roller coaster ride in a very shaky AFC South.