The Colts find themselves in a bit of a hole as they enter week 6 of the NFL season. They’ve been in every game they’ve played, with the exception of the Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Attrition Bowl they participated in on Thursday.
Still, at 1-4, the team will face a tough climb to become relevant again. The good news is that they aren’t all that far behind the competition in an AFC that has been more toughly contested than many anticipated. The Titans and Jaguars sit atop the division at 3-2, with the Titans holding a 2-0 record in the division, but the Colts have all their remaining divisional games coming after their week 8 bye, which means they have a chance to get fully healthy before playing out some really important ones.
At this point, the pressure is on the Colts to start making some moves and getting wins if they hope to compete in the division, but let’s look at the other teams in the division and see where they stand and what they face in the coming weeks.
Despite topping the division, the Titans haven’t been without their struggles. A slew of injuries have hit their offense, including tackle Taylor Lewan, Delanie Walker, and Marcus Mariota. As I wrote in the preseason, Delanie Walker is the best tight end in the division, and his loss is not a small thing. Marcus Mariota has struggled with nerve issues that have left his hand numb. Not what you want from your quarterback.
However, the Titans defense has continued to play well and they are averaging 17.2 points per game allowed, which is tied for 2nd in the league with Jurell Casey having a great season so far. They haven’t exactly faced any truly potent offenses through this point in the season, but the fact remains that they are getting the job done.
What is more significant for this team is the fact that their new coaching staff is doing a great job of raising the level of this team and getting them in position to win games. They have been well coached, which hasn’t been the case for the team in years past. I don’t expect the Titans’ play to dramatically drop of, because they have a talented defense and a good coaching staff. If they can put their offense together, they’re a tough team to play.
Having said that, they’ve got a pretty tough slate of games up ahead, hosting the Ravens this week then heading on the road to face the Chargers and the Cowboys before finishing out the next four weeks with a week 8 bye.
As many people thought would happen, the Jaguars aren’t having a defensive year like what they did in 2017. It isn’t that their defense is bad-far from it. It also isn’t the dominant force that was the defense from 2017. That performance was always going to be tough to replicate. The truth is that the Jaguars have only faced one truly potent offense, and that occasion resulted in a convincing loss. Still, they find themselves at 3-2, 0-1 in the division.
On offense, the team is up and down. They have been without Leonard Fournette for a while, and lost RB Corey Grant for the season during their game against the Chiefs. T.J. Yeldon has been dealing with ankle injuries, and all these injuries have left the running back room a bit bare. That’s a big problem when you don’t have proven receiving weapons and you have to put TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins on injured reserve. Even though Seferian-Jenkins will be eligible to return late in the season, that leaves a long stretch of season where you are asking Blake Bortles to carry an offense without a lot of talent. That is not ever going to end well.
The schedule ahead could be a tough one for Jacksonville, going on the road to face the Cowboys should be a winnable game, but then they’ll host the Texans and Eagles and both should be tough games against offenses capable of putting up lots of points. They will then have their bye week to recuperate.
The Texans have put together two tough wins in two weeks, and they’ve come in large part due to the return of the defense, led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, to full strength. They don’t have the best defense in the league by a long shot, but when they get that pass rush going they are a tough team to beat.
On the offensive side of the ball, the connection between Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins is strong, and Hopkins continues to be a devastating weapon on the outside, taking over the game last Sunday and getting his team in position to kick a game winning field goal. They will continue to struggle down the stretch on offense, because they simply cannot protect Watson or run the ball effectively with such poor offensive line play.
The clear indicator after looking around the division is that the Colts have not been alone in being decimated by injury. The whole division is suffering from significant injuries. What may be the deciding factor in who wins this division is what team is able to either get back to a healthier place, or simply find playmakers who can stand in for those lost due to injury.
The Colts face a critical next few weeks. If they aren’t able to put together some wins over the next 3 weeks, it won’t make any difference that they have a slate of divisional games in the back half of their season. They have to keep themselves within striking distance for that to be matter. If they can get some of their players healthy, they might stand a chance.