The AFC South currently stands as the worst division in the NFL at the moment, if you look at the individual standings in the division. However, things seem to be looking up for every team after nine games have been played by each team. The division is currently stretched two games back from last place, and any team can have their case for attempting to be the kings of the AFC South mountain. How does each team look to attempt to be crowned division winners? Here's a detailed look on how each team can win the most wide open division in the NFL today.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
The Colts are coming off a bye week after upsetting the previously undefeated Denver Broncos, despite allegations of inner turmoil in the organization. However, sobering news came about when it was reported that the may have lost quarterback Andrew Luck to injury for most of the remainder of the season. While their schedule does not seem to be the toughest to end the season, having a 40 year-old quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck in the late stretch of the season could cause concerns, since he is not playing games in the AFC South anymore, as he was 2-0 in games he replaced Luck prior this coming Sunday. They already own divisional wins against every other team in the division, but they need to remain in it over the next few weeks, especially going to Atlanta and Pittsburgh on the road over the next three weeks.
While the Colts may have lost some firepower from Andrew Luck last season, the production has not drastically shifted from last year. The team's leading wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton, has 703 receiving yards and averaging over 16 yards a catch. The team also has found a nice, reliable second target, especially in third downs this season in Donte Moncrief. However, what might be the most crucial aspect of the team going forward is to find a complementary running game, as they have given the ball to veteran Frank Gore 50 times over the last two weeks for 153 yards and a touchdown. A balanced offense was what the team was hoping for in the offseason, and it has not been as explosive, as the team was hoping for to begin the year.
The team's defense has been very vulnerable throughout the season and it needs to tighten up in order to maintain their status as the kings of the division. The team only has 13 sacks in the season, despite getting linebacker/defensive end Robert Mathis back from injury last season, and it has allowed teams to exploit coverage that has been spotty throughout the defense, as they currently stand as the fifth-worst team in passing yardage allowed. The defensive line remains to be lackluster and can have the tendency to be exploited, where teams have shown to exploit the running game, as well, despite having one of the league's leading tacklers in linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (94 total tackles). However, the team does have the tendency to have takeaways with ten interceptions on defense, tied for seventh-best in the league.
Houston Texans (4-5)
The Texans are also coming off a surprised upset against a previously undefeated team in the Cincinnati Bengals, but questions remain if either Brian Hoyer or T.J. Yates will consistently put good performances when it matter down the stretch of the regular season. The outlook for the Texans final stretch of the season will be the toughest of the season, especially the stretch of games starting in December. They will finish out the season against the rest of their division for the final three games of the year and no matter who will be their quarterback, it will be a tough stretch for a very gritty Texans team.
After the quarterback situation between Ryan Mallet and Hoyer, which ultimately ended up with Mallet's release with reports of his effort with the team. Brian Hoyer has played at a high level however, leading the Texans to be the seventh-best passing offense in the league, especially with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins breaking out, this season with 71 receptions, 927 yards, and seven touchdowns. The running game has been very disappointing this season, and it has not helped that running back Arian Foster went down with a torn ACL, after coming back with another injury that sidelined him for the first few weeks of the seasons. The work horse will continue to be Alfred Blue, but he is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry and it will need to improve vastly for a better chance of finally overcoming the Colts once again in the division.
The Texans passing defense has been coming alive throughout the season. They are the fifth-best in the league in allowing the least amount of passing yards and it always helps when you have defensive end J.J. Watt on the defensive line, leading the way for the pass rush. He currently has 9.5 sacks this season, and will continue to wreck havoc on the defensive line. However, the issue remains to be stopping the run, as they are 25th in rushing defense. There were reports of the defensive line missing assignments in plugging in gaps in the running game, allowing rushing yardage to be plentiful throughout the season. A more consistent defense on every aspect will give them much needed support for a spotty offense that has been inconsistent in scoring early in the game.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)
The Jaguars are coming off a wild finish against the Baltimore Ravens that ended in the team's first road victory since 2013, but the team's young roster still have issues of consistency to even consider a postseason run. However, the team's schedule gives the team plenty of hope to finish the season, as it's the easiest throughout the final seven weeks of the season. There is only one team on the remaining schedule that has a winning record in the Atlanta Falcons, but they are also coming off a loss to a Blaine Gabbert-led San Francisco 49ers team. This could be the opportunity the Jaguars need to finally make an impact in the AFC South, especially with four of the last seven games being divisional match-up with three of them coming up over the next four weeks.
Quarterback Blake Bortles may have thrown an interception in the last five games (eight interceptions), but his touchdown production has sky-rocketed, in comparison to last season (13 touchdowns). His turnovers need to slow down, as it has put his team into unnecessary situations backing up his own defense. However, he has two wide receivers that have exceeded expectations in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who both have over 600 receiving yards and seven touchdowns each. The running game may have only scored one rushing touchdown this season, but they seem to enjoy running back T.J. Yeldon in his rookie year, averaging just about 4 yards per carry and 531 rushing yards in the year, but he can also show decent pass blocking skills and dependable hands as a receiver in the backfield, if needed (24 receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown).
The team's defense is currently sixth-best in the league in stopping the run behind linebackers Paul Posluszny and Tevin Smith, combining 161 total tackles between the two men alone this season. However, there are two main issues occurring throughout the season. One is consistently getting to the quarterback, where the team's sack leader is cornerback Aaron Colvin with three and only 16 more sacks throughout the rest of the team in the first nine games of the year. The other is allowing passing yards, where the defense ranks 24th in the league, highlighted by spotty coverage, mostly running throughout the middle of the field. The team has only started gaining more turnovers recently, and that needs to happen more constantly to help a young offense flourish throughout the rest of the season.
Tennessee Titans (2-7)
The Titans made a head coaching change for the rest of the season in Mike Mularkey, who has a road win against the New Orleans Saints, but are coming off against a derailing defeat to the undefeated Carolina Panthers and injuries to wide receiver Justin Hunter and their number one cornerback Jason McCourty. A young nucleus of the Titans have not looked consistent whatsoever, and when they have won games, they have needed to score points and score plentiful. However, there may be a chance to salvage the season, if they gain another hard-earned road win in Jacksonville during Thursday Night Football.
Marcus Mariota has flashed game-changing ability that he showed in Oregon with his unconventional style of play, but he has zipped some passes with ease in his early NFL career. However, his speed is matched in the league, and it has already got him injured once, as he missed two games this season. While still adapting to the NFL game, he has had games where he lit the world on fire, where each of the team's two victories had him throw four touchdowns or more. However, he has already been sacked 20 times this season, and pass protection needs to be key, as the Titans will look for a final gasp for air in any chance for the playoff race. There has not been a rushing support for him in Tennessee so far, where the team is ranked 24th, as former 2014 second round pick Bishop Sankey has been extremely disappointing and losing carries to 2014 undrafted running back Antonio Andrews and flex option Dexter McCluster. While the progression of Marcus Mariota continues to show the rebuild of the team, but there may be a chance to turn it into something more if the pieces fall into place.
The Titans defense has been one of the best in the league this season, ranked as the fifth-best total defense in the league, and they have to thank first-year defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. They are the third-best team in stopping the pass, as it has been heavily influenced by their pass rush, going into the final stretch of the season with 27 sacks behind men like free agent signing linebacker Brian Orakpo and interior linemen Jurrell Casey. However, with the loss of their best cornerback Jason McCourty, it will be interesting how the rest of their young and talented secondary pans out for the rest of the season. Their rushing defense has not followed suit, however, as they are 21st in stopping the run, as it shows their major weakness in the defense being their inside linebackers in the 3-4 formation. The defense, as a whole, needs to continue playing well to keep their young offense the best chance of scoring to end the season with a late season push.
Each team in the AFC South has a compelling argument to make in trying to nab the division title in the 2015 NFL Season. However, talking will not take a team anywhere, as the play on the field is what will matter throughout the two months of the season. The Colts have to face adversity when it comes to leadership and coaching, the Texans still with many questions with its consistency, as well as the Jags' and Titans' youth on each of their squads. When the season is over, who will come out on top in the division? It will come down to the wire, as each team will continue their own path and take issues week-by-week, as the AFC South race will finish as the tightest as it has ever been. It will be an interesting final seven weeks of the NFL season.