Over the past couple of seasons, the AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football. After securing two playoff teams in 2012, the division came back the next season with three teams with losing records. It sort of rebounded in 2014, but still only produced the division-winning Indianapolis Colts as a playoff team. Here in 2015, the division is ugly once again, as none of the four teams within it hold a winning record through the first 10 games of the season. Despite that, the AFC South is shaping up for an exciting race down the stretch to see who ultimately wins it.
Those Colts were supposed to run away with the division this season, holding some pretty hefty Super Bowl expectations coming into the year. Instead, injuries and other inconsistencies have allowed the other teams to keep up. The Houston Texans are actually tied with the Colts in first place at 5-5, while the Jacksonville Jaguars only sit one game back at 4-6. The only team that you could say is out of this race is the Tennessee Titans, who only hold a thread of a chance at making a run at the postseason with an ugly 2-8 record.
So, with three teams within one game of the division lead, which team will prove its strength over the final six games of the regular season and earn the automatic playoff spot? Let’s break down those three contenders to find out.
Jacksonville has been among the worst teams in the league since 2007, failing to make the playoffs since then and holding a record 34-78 over that seven-season stretch prior to 2015. Their record is still only 4-6 so far this season, yet there is a lot to be optimistic about when you look at the potential on the roster.
Second year QB Blake Bortles certainly isn’t perfect, but he shows why the Jaguars were so high on him in the 2014 draft (they drafted him third overall). Bortles had his struggles as a rookie, and while he still has a pretty high interception total of 12 through 10 games this season, his 20 touchdowns and 2,600 passing yards are a positive sign of his playmaking ability. If he can cut down on the turnovers, Bortles has a chance to be the best QB of his class (which includes Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr).
Outside of their young QB, the Jags have developed one of the best young receiving corps in the entire league. The “two Allens,” Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, each hold over 700 yards and both own seven touchdown grabs. Their running game is still a work in progress, but rookie T.J. Yeldon has an opportunity to turn into a solid back.
The Jaguars defense has some pieces in place, like Paul Posluszny, but it has overall been tough sledding on that side of the ball for this team, as they rank in the bottom five in the league in points allowed. Overall, Jacksonville feels like a team on the rise; one that will likely contend for the postseason as soon as next season when they manage to fill a few holes in their roster. For this season though, it’s tough to expect them to finish with more than seven wins (based on their schedule), which won’t be enough to win the AFC South.
If the Houston Texans had a better situation at quarterback, they just might be running away with the AFC South. As it stands though, the team is locked in a tie for first place and only holds a .500 record through 10 games, in large part thanks to their inconsistencies at the most important position on the field.
First it was Ryan Mallett who had the reigns of the Texans’ offense, but he’s not even with the team anymore after his issues. Brian Hoyer has gotten a majority of the snaps since then, looking decent at times. After suffering a concussion though, T.J. Yates saw some action over the past two weeks, leading the team to two victories (with less than desirable stats however). Now that Hoyer is healthy again, he’ll be under center from this point forward with a great chance to make a postseason push.
You have to like some of the pieces on this team, mainly DeAndre Hopkins. The third-year pro out of Clemson has turned into a top flight receiver in the league, ranking third in yards this season with 1,045. Unfortunately, running back Arian Foster has been unable to find the field for the Houston offense, which has hurt their production. However, their defense has really been picking up the slack of late.
In three straight victories over the Titans, Bengals, and Jets, the Texans’ defense has held their opponents to 6, 6, and 17 points, respectively. J.J. Watt has been a force in that stretch, recording 5.5 sacks in total. The unit wasn’t playing all that well earlier in the season, but now that they have found their groove, the team is starting to play some consistently good football — resulting in some wins.
The Texans are well coached by Bill O’Brien and company and certainly have a great chance of winning the AFC South, especially when you see the issues with the next team in this division.
Everything has gone wrong for Indianapolis (seemingly) in 2015, yet here they are, tied for first in the AFC South and in control of their own destiny. Of course, they are missing their star QB Andrew Luck for the foreseeable future, but maybe that isn’t the worst thing in the world right now. Seasoned veteran Matt Hasselbeck (How many years has he been playing?) actually holds a 3-0 record as the stater in place of Luck this season. While things have been inconsistent for the Colts for much of the season, the pieces are there to make a surge down the stretch.
Receiver T.Y. Hilton is still one of the better pass catchers in the game; Donte Moncrief is developing there as well; and while veteran Andre Johnson hasn’t been great, his experience is invaluable. Frank Gore also knows how to run the ball for that offense. Things could get better defensively, but guys like D’Qwell Jackson and Vontae Davis know how to make big plays and get necessary stops late in games.
Indianapolis also appears to be hitting their stride, beating the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons during their current two-game winning streak. You probably still have to anoint the Colts as favorites in the AFC South. They have more talent than the other contenders in the division, but games against the Jags and Texans in a few weeks will go a long way in determining the winner of this surprisingly competitive division.