The Tennessee Titans continued to increase their “improbable” division lead this week as they defeated the Indianapolis Colts. While the Jacksonville Jaguars also lost this weekend, the Houston Texans’ decisive victory over the Bengals caught them up with the “other” AFC South teams: tied for second, or last, depending on how you want to look at it. The foot is squarely on the throats of the rest of the division, as the Titans continue to impress. The season is less than halfway over, but with Tennessee’s almost insurmountable lead (which grows by the week), the best the rest of the division can hope for at this point is a wild-card birth.
Looking Back: The Texans thoroughly beat the Cincinnati Bengals for their third straight win. If it weren’t for Sage Rosenfels’ fish fingers at the end of the Indy game, and an OT loss against Jacksonville the week before, the Texans could very well be riding a five game win streak. It’s safe to say that with Matt Schaub back and healthy, Steve Slaton emerging as a legitimate #1 back and a receiving corps anchored by Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels, Houston has one of the better offenses in the league (4th overall, 25 points a game). Now that defense, on the other hand, is giving up more points per game than their offense. That adds up: to a losing record.
Looking Forward: Houston will take a trip to Minnesota to face the 3-4 Vikings. Minnesota’s “vaunted” defense allowed 48 points to the Kyle Orton led Chicago Bears, so on the surface it looks like this should be another high scoring affair. Matt Schaub has more weapons than Orton in Chicago, but the key will be if Slaton can get the run going against a defense that held the Bears to 53 yards on the ground. Adrian Peterson is going to “get his,” but if the Texans D can force Gus Frerotte to make mistakes like he did in Week 7 (4 picks), this should be a close ballgame.
Looking Back: If any team in the AFC hasn’t lived up to their pre-season billing its the Jaguars. Jacksonville has lost some very close games against some top-notch competition, but for the Jags to be considered a legit team, they’ve got to be able to handle the maligned Browns at home. For a team so predicated on the run, 116 yards per game isn’t cutting it. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor need to do more to take some of the load off of David Garrard, who has played well as of late.
Looking Forward: The Jags haven’t had the friendliest schedule so far this season, but trips to desperate Cincinnati and Detroit teams in the next two weeks might be just what they need to get back on track. If the Jags hope to remain relevant in the AFC playoff picture they will need to not only win these games, but must also beat the teams they haven’t been able to up to this point. After the Lions there isn’t a “guaranteed” win left on the schedule.
Looking Back: Indianapolis finds themselves falling once again below .500, further digging their own hole. The Colts looked as if though they might have salvaged their season with their improbable comeback against the Texans a few weeks back, but late game meltdowns against the Packers and Titans have once again put their season in dire straits. The salary cap has really caught up with these guys: Manning, Wayne, Freeney and Sanders are still there, but over 20 guys on their roster are first or second year players.
Looking Forward: After a grueling Monday Night loss at Tennessee, Indianapolis has two more games against division leaders, hosting New England and traveling to Pittsburgh. After opening the floodgates against a tough Baltimore defense two weeks ago, the Colts have yet to duplicate that performance, though Peyton looked much better against the Titans than he did against the Packers. Don’t get us wrong, this can still be a very dangerous team, and there’s more than enough time for anything to happen. The Colts are definitely fighting an uphill battle in trying to make the playoffs, much less win the division.
Looking Back: The Monday night game against the Colts was the first big test (according to the “experts”) that the Titans have faced this season, and to be perfectly honest, they passed with flying colors. Tennessee was able to keep the game close going into the second half, and wore down the Colts as the game reached it’s waning moments. The funny thing though was that the Titans did so through the air, which set up the run that much better (three rushing TD’s – LenDale White with two and Chris “Twitch” Johnson with the third). This is what they call a “statement game” and it will surely give the Titans whatever national exposure they’ve lacked, yet deserved, thus far in the season.
Looking Forward: The schedule doesn’t let up in the upcoming weeks for the Titans with the Packers and Bears looming on the horizon (they’re tied for first in the NFC North). Critics of the Titans’ schedule up this point will be pleased that three of their next four opponents have winning records. It’s definitely worth noting that while the Titans have started off 3-0 in the division (obviously with the undefeated record), all of those wins have come at home. Tennessee still has Houston, Jacksonville and Indy on the road. This team definitely looks like they could be the best in football, but there is still plenty left to prove.