AFC South Breakdown: Week 15

(Nick Bishop, Kellen Barton and Jody Whelan write for Titan Sized, which is FSBs Tennessee Titans blog. Representing the rest of the AFC South are Black & Teal, Naptown’s Finest and Toro Times.)

Week 15 saw the division go 3-1. Not too bad, except for the one. Yeah, that’s us.

The Colts won a surprisingly close game to the still winless Detroit Lions (I assure you that if they’d lost we’d be writing about nothing but that), and, barring a huge meltdown, have a ticket to the playoffs. The Titans loss to the Texans puts their seemingly assured homefield advantage at risk. Next week’s game against the Steelers should, for all intents and purposes, decide which city the AFC playoffs travels through. Finishing the division slate with the “in September this looked like it would have been important” game of the week, the Jaguars came back with a late win against the Packers.

Houston Texans (7-7):

Looking Back: The Texans’ 13-12 victory over the Titans is sure to be the highlight of what has been an up and down season for them. Houston is one of those teams that it’s very hard to get a read on. On Sunday we saw the good version, and Houston won a very close game against the team with the best record in football. It was also their 4th win in a row. Steve Slaton continued his great rookie season, being the first, second and only RB to rush for 100 yards against the Titans this season, and wideout Andre Johnson had the best day of his impressive young career, with 207 yards receiving and a touchdown. That dude is a beast. One of the best five receivers in football when healthy.

Maybe the most impressive NFL stat I’ve seen this year: according to the CBS broadcast of the Texans-Titans game on Sunday, Houston receivers had dropped their 12th pass of the season (less than one a game), which is a good month for T.O.

Looking Forward: Gary Kubiak makes some questionable strategic calls at times, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan looks like he’s all of 15 years old, but the Texans have some serious offensive weapons in Houston. When Matt Schaub is healthy (unfortunately, never a sure bet), this is a very effective unit, with some skill players that many teams would be jealous of.  While this team hasn’t performed exactly to the level that they would have hoped, Houston has continued to play with purpose late into the season, giving them a realistic chance to finish the season .500 or better (which would have seemed impossible at various points this year). Expect Kubiak to be back after this season, and to see the Texans once again be a “chic” playoff pick at the outset of next year.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9):

Looking Back: Congrats “Jaguar Nation” (do you call yourselves that?) for finally showing up this week. For all of those not aware, the Jags won their first game since week 10, and their first win at home since week 4. Not good. But on Sunday, all was good in Jacksonville, as the Jags beat the equally puzzling, equally 5-9 Green Bay Packers. It’s hard to target exactly what happened in both circumstances, but knowing how frustrated Jeanne has been all year, and knowing the expectations that “Packer Nation” (now I know they’ve been called that) has for that team every single year, you know that both franchises won’t stay down for long.

Looking Forward: The Jags have two really tough AFC games left against a poised Indy team looking to solidify the first wild card spot, and an angry Baltimore team that must win out to have a chance at playing into January. A 5-11 season would certainly be a major disappointment after coming into the season as a playoff contender and another divisional “chic”pick (what can I say, we’re a pretty glamorous division) to take that next step this year. Their have been rumors flying around that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to be out after this season, a move that may signal that other heads may roll. Del Rio signed a five-year contract extension this past offseason, so his job is probably safe, but if Williams is indeed the sacrificial lamb here, not only would we welcome him back to Tennessee in some role, it would also show just how uncertain the situation in Jacksonville really is.

Indianapolis Colts (10-4):

Looking Back: Can someone please tell me how this team is 10-4? Indy hasn’t lost since the week 8 Monday night game in Tennessee, but their winning streak might be the least impressive seven consecutive wins in recent memory. While they’ve played a few quality opponents (New England and Pittsburgh), they’ve barely won (and primarily played) against some very “unimpressive” teams. The Detroit Lions, for example, were tied with the Colts in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s contest, which was played in Indianapolis (again, if Indy had lost this game, the first point of every teams’ section would have led with the Colts loss). Finding a way to win close games is often the mark of a champion. Finding ways to almost lose games against teams that don’t belong on the same field as you could be some bad foreshadowing for the postseason.

Looking Forward:
The Colts are nearly assured a spot in the playoffs. Indy hasn’t lost a conference game outside of the division all year: being a game up on every wild card team, coupled with the best conference record of any wild card hopeful means that the Colts can expect to take a trip to Denver or (insert AFC East team here) in three weeks. Obviously, this team can be dangerous enough to beat any other in the league, but (winning streak aside) I’m not sure that Indy should be expected to perform at an elite level week in, week out anymore, and if they are, it certainly shouldn’t be based on any precedent set thus far this year.

Tennessee Titans (12-2):

Looking Back: Really? Do we have to? Alright, fine.

After a surprising defeat (in so many ways) in Houston this past Sunday, the Titans now find themselves at a very pivotal point in their season. They are coming off of a loss that left many Titans fans wondering what team that was out their for the last five minutes of the game. They are staring a down a date at home against the 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers with AFC supremacy on the line. The offense looked downright stagnant against an unimpressive Texans defense and were not to much better on the defensive side of the ball. And now, word is that they wil be without two of their best players until the playoffs (fingers crossed that that’s all the time they miss). It has set up what will certainly be a can’t-miss, must-win game next week here in Nashville, but it also will be the biggest gut-check that the Titans have faced thus far. In retrospect, I guess it doesn’t really matter all that much that we lost to the Texans, as the Steelers ended up clawing their way back into the game (which seems to be a theme with them) and beating their most bitter AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens. We’ll chalk this up as just bump in the road for now, but still, the Titans have only themselves to blame for losing to an inferior opponent (albeit impressive as of late) during a time when the real contenders should be starting to peak.

Looking Forward: What we saw in week 15 was not the not the same Titans team that we have grown to love this season. It’s like seeing the really dark side of a friend or significant other, where you feel like you know this person, and then it turns out they are not that person at all. Sure, I’m overreacting a bit, but it really is discouraging as a Titans’ fan to know that they’ve got that in them. I still have so many questions, but have decided that no matter who’s fault it was (insert disappointed stare towards the “Almighty Mustachio” here), it is best left in the past. The game at LP Field next week will not only be the most important game of the season (for both clubs), but the team on the other side of the field will arguably be the toughest opponent the Titans have played all year. With so much on the line, will we see the Titans team that has steamrolled most of their opponents on their way to 12 wins, or will we see the team that left Titans fans everywhere scratching they heads and asking just “what the ufck” happened on Sunday? We’re willing to bet that it’s the former…

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