Week 11 saw two divisional match-ups in the AFC South, both of which seemed to pretty clearly show the trajectory of the division for the remainder of the season. The two victors are poised to play in the postseason, while the losers are pretty much on the outside trying to look into a building without windows. The undefeated Titans have had control of the division for over a month now, and are now inching closer to home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs (at this point a first round bye is almost guaranteed). The Colts win, coupled with a pretty favorable remaining schedule, makes them totally in control of their own destiny; a destiny that should involve the playoffs. The good news for the Texans and the Jaguars? Most of you will still be in the NFL next year.
Looking Back: Well Texans fans, after a nice run during the middle of the schedule (wins in weeks 6, 7 and 8 albeit versus inferior opponents) the wheels seem to have fallen off for the this ball club after losing their last three to much better competition. Losing starting quarterback Matt Schaub to a knee injury in week 9 didn’t help either, as backup Sage Rosenfels has not filled in as admirably as he did last season when Schaub went down. Really though, it’s tough to identify exactly why this team is so bad. The defense has been downright dreadful (giving up over 320 yards a contest and 28 points per game), but the Texans have been more creative in how they’ve lost games (i.e Sage Rosenfels’ costly turnovers in weeks 5 and 10). On second thought, maybe you can pin it on him. We’ll do that just to save time.
Looking Forward: Houston has to feel that they let two very winnable games against Indy slip through their fingers (because they did). Those hypothetical wins would do very little to put them into any real playoff contention, but at this point all they’re really playing for is pride, the chance to screw up someone else’s season, and potentially save Gary Kubiak’s job. Next Sunday: a trip to Cleveland to face the Browns in the “what the hell happened this season?” game of the week.
Looking Back: Early in this week’s game, Jacksonville seemed to carry over their momentum from last week’s win into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium with a 14-3 halftime advantage over the undefeated Titans. At some point during the intermission they must have realized that a win against Detroit doesn’t count as momentum, and it showed on the field. The Jaguars looked very impressive in the first half in shutting down the Titans, but their early success was quickly erased by porous secondary play in the third quarter. The Jaguars did pretty well at minimizing Tennessee’s running game (which they didn’t do in Week 1), but weren’t able to eliminate the “big plays” through the air, blowing some coverages horrifically. Jacksonville’s D and running game just haven’t been there this year.
Looking Forward: Jacksonville is two games back of the current wild card teams in the AFC, with six games left to play. All but one of those games are against teams currently .500 or better, and the Jaguars have shown that they’re nowhere near being a lock to win even the games against the teams that they should be beating handily. The Vikings, Bears, Packers, Colts and Ravens (all remaining on Jacksonville’s slate) are all vying for playoff births in situations where every game is critical for all of the teams mentioned. With the exception of the Texans, the Jags will be playing teams fighting for their playoff survival every bit as much as they are. The odds don’t look too good, but weirder things certainly have happened.
Looking Back: Indy may be one of the hottest teams in the league right now, winning three straight, including two against New England and Pittsburgh. After a rough start, the offense is making noticeable progress and they are getting a lot of personnel back on the defensive side of the ball (Bob Sanders, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea). While the Colts offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders (Manning and Harrisons’ legendary timing just doesn’t seem to be their anymore and their running game is just now starting to look like it might be formidable again), Indy has been able to win tight games against quality opponents as of late. Anyone writing off this team spoke a little too early.
Looking Forward: This team is firing on all cylinders, and with games against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit coming up, the Colts are actually in pretty good shape. If the playoffs were to start today, the Colts are a wild card team, and (excuse the cliché) they’re a team that no one would be looking forward to playing with their season on the line. Make no mistake about it, this Colts team isn’t feared like the squads of recent years, but there is still plenty of time for Indy to improve before the playoffs start. This is still a very dangerous team that will certainly be a factor come January.
Looking Back: Tennessee erased a 14-3 second half deficit against the Jaguars by scoring twenty one unanswered points to bring their record to a perfect 10-0. For the second consecutive week, an opposing defense was able to keep Chris “Twitch” Johnson and LenDale White relatively at bay, and for the second consecutive week Tennessee’s passing game was able to make their opponent pay for that strategy. Kerry Collins has thrown for 519 yards, with 5 TD’s to 1 INT, over the last two games, good for a 110 QB rating. Aside from the 10-0 start to this season, the Titans have won 13 consecutive regular season games, and 7 consecutive on the road.
Looking Forward: Next week the Titans host Brett Favre and the resurgent New York Jets. The Jets have won four games in a row, and six of their last seven, and are coming off of one of the most thrilling games of the season so far in an OT victory against the Pats last Thursday. Favre has been able to minimize his mistakes over the last few weeks, but will face his steepest challenge of the season in Nashville this upcoming weekend. Favre has had the tendency over his career to throw more than his fair share of picks, and this season the Titans have been the beneficiary of more than their fair share of errant throws. It’s a genuinely intriguing match up. In the Getting Slightly Ahead of Ourselves category: If Tennessee wins this week and Detroit loses, the 0-12 Lions would host the 12-0 Titans in front of millions of people on Thanksgiving. And you thought the in-laws were painful.