The AFC South through four weeks appears to the untrained eye to have accomplished nothing. They currently sit in a 4-way tie for either first or last, depending on whether you’re a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person.
The reality is a bit more complicated than that, however, so let’s take a look at where each of these teams stands in terms of the division.
The Houston Texans are the undeniable favorite of most to win the AFC South. They have a solid defense led by J.J. Watt, a star quarterback, and the best receiver in football. The Texans have been a very up and down group. Their two wins have come by a combined 8 points, and they have losses to the Saints and to a Panthers team without Cam Newton.
They’ve still got major problems on the offensive line, and have allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked 18 times on the season, a rate that would top his total from last year of 62. If he keeps up that pace, he may be the next Andrew Luck in terms of his career path.
They don’t have the depth to withstand a ton of injuries, but with a division win comprising one of their two, they are in a good spot in the division so long as they stay healthy. They still have a fair number of tough games ahead of them in the coming weeks, and when they come to Lucas Oil Stadium in week 7, it will be a critical game for both teams.
Despite the ugly performance last Sunday, the Colts remain in a good spot in the division. A bad kicking day away from 3-1, the Colts have been a solid offensive team. Jacoby Brissett has thrown 10 touchdowns on the season and that ties him with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson for first in that category.
Their running attack has slowed some with Marlon Mack dealing with calf and ankle issues, but is still a strength of the unit, and will be as long as the Colts offensive line remains healthy. This is a group still figuring itself out, and Frank Reich saw his team improve steadily throughout 2018 as they all got their bearings.
It is reasonable to hope the same will be true of this defense, because they are a major question. It is valid to wonder how much losing Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard has hurt this group, and the return to full health of Jabaal Sheard will certainly be an improvement in both pass rush and setting the edge against the run. It is that pass rush, or lack of it, that will determine how far this team is likely to go in 2019, because the defense goes as it goes.
Like the Texans, one of the Colts two wins came against a divisional opponent in the Titans, which sets them up well inside the division going forward.
Minshew mania has hit Jacksonville, as the man with the marvelous mustache stepped in for the injured Nick Foles and has been a solid starter for the Jaguars. Anyone telling you Minshew is the next big thing is getting ahead of themselves, but the guy isn’t making big mistakes and is allowing the defensive team to do its thing. He willingly takes some shots, and won’t kill you.
The bad news, is that the Jaguars already have a divisional loss to the Texans, and their wins come against the Titans and the Broncos, neither of which offer a great deal of inspiration. They’ll face the Panthers, the Saints, the Bengals, and the Jets over the next four weeks, and they have the defense to hang with any of those teams.
Ultimately, this is a team that should be around and in the mix assuming that Gardner Minshew continues to be a steady factor and his connection with D.J. Chark stays open for business. I just have a hard time seeing this team crack the lead for the division with the weapons they have, and there is still the question of what is to become of Jalen Ramsey, who has not withdrawn his trade request.
Leave it to the Titans to do 2-2 worse than any other team in the division. They fooled everyone with a win against the Browns where Baker Mayfield literally threw them the game, and last week against a bad Falcons team that seems to be broken. Credit to them for winning those games, but the problem is the ones they lost. Both were divisional games, and that is going to come back to bite them.
Their schedule isn’t getting any more forgiving either. They’ll face the Buffalo Bills, and the very real prospect that Marcus Mariota might die on the field against their brutal defense. The only consistent thing about the Titans is their inconsistency. They can beat or roll over to just about any team in the NFL, just don’t ask them to do it more than one week in a row.
The return of left tackle Taylor Lewan should certainly help this team, but until they are better coached and have a real NFL caliber quarterback, they’re not a legitimate contender in this division race, whatever their record.