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AFC South Roundup

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Week one was a tough one to be in the AFC South. Only the Jaguars escaped with a win, and that was because they played the Texans and so someone in the division had to. Week two doesn’t look much better for the South, and that bodes well for the Colts, who need this division to slog out to a slow start if they hope to have any chance at all this season by the time Andrew Luck returns.

After the week one showing, few Colts fans who have any shred of honesty in them are thinking about the playoffs.

But the first two weeks of the season for the AFC South are particularly relevant to the playoff picture because in consecutive weeks there are divisional head-to-head matchups. Last week saw the Jaguars run away with the game in a surprise win that cost Tom Savage his job and anointed rookie Deshaun Watson the starter, to the surprise of no one who follows Bill O’Brien. The Jaguars’ offseason pickup of Calais Campbell immediately began paying dividends as he set a franchise record for sacks in a game notching 4.

The Texans dropped a home game in the division which really hurts, because they are likely to struggle down the stretch with a rookie quarterback leading the way, no matter how well he performs. J.J. Watt had 1 tackle, and until he proves he has returned to his previous form the Texans should be viewed as a very good not great defense. For a team who has had their playoff hopes come down to the last few games the last couple seasons, this game was a tough loss.

The Titans faced a very good Raiders team in their opener and couldn’t get the win. They should take heart though. A quick look at the box score reveals the same thing that the eye test did. This was not a team that was dramatically overmatched. The stat lines between these teams read very similarly except for one important one: red zone efficiency. The Titans missed one opportunity in the red zone and missed a field goal, and the Raiders did not. This is a team that is built and ready to compete at the top levels of the AFC, and until Luck is healthy, they have the best quarterback in the AFC South no contest.

This week’s slate of games leads off tonight with the Texans traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The Bengals suffered an embarrassing shutout loss to their division rival Ravens, and they’ll be hot about it. The big difference between them and the Texans’ offense is that Andy Dalton has shown he can occasionally be brilliant.

Between A.J. Green and rookies Joe Mixon and John Ross, the Bengals have a lot of weapons they can attack with, and it is unlikely they stumble two games in a row. Andy Dalton may not be able to play as well as he did a couple years ago, but they still have a ton of talent and the Texans didn’t win a game last year when opponents scored 24 points or more on them. I think that is a very attainable expectation for the Bengals at home, despite the egg they laid in week one.

In another head-to-head matchup, the Titans go to Jacksonville to attempt to avoid going 0-2. Jacksonville’s defense might be good, but they won’t be facing Tom Savage and a relatively tame offense. They’ll have to deal with Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ balanced offensive attack. This game has the potential to get ugly, because Mariota isn’t a statue in the pocket like Savage, and you shouldn’t expect Campbell to have the same kind of game he did last week. I think this one has the potential to be a blowout pretty quickly.

Week one proved that we play the games for a reason and that they don’t often turn out like we would expect. However, if these games unfold the way they look on paper, even a Colts loss would leave them just 1 game back in the division. If Andrew Luck doesn’t come back healthy, that hardly matters, but if he is able to return and get back to good form quickly, the division getting off to a slow start would be a big deal.