AFC South Playoff Race Following Week 12 Action

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 26: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 26: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The balance of power within the AFC South once again has changed following Week 12 Results, with Tennessee back on top. Let’s examine the AFC South playoff race heading into Week 13.

After Week 12, the AFC South appears to be somewhat of a two-horse race. Although Indianapolis and Houston still haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs due to a weak AFC, they have been treading water for weeks now and would need a miraculous 2016 Green Bay Packers-esque run along with some help from the other teams currently in the hunt. In reality, the chance that either Houston or Indianapolis makes the playoffs is so slim that both teams are honestly better off jockeying for a draft spot next April.

Surprisingly, the two other members of the division are on a crash course for the AFC playoffs after years of awful AFC South champions “earning” a playoff bid. Both the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars sport 7-4 records, with Jacksonville holding a 2-1 record in the division and Tennessee holding a 3-1 record in the division and an all-important head-to-head tiebreaker against the Jaguars, which could prove very relevant at the current pace.

Tennessee heads into a Week 13 bout against the reeling Houston Texans after a win versus the division rival Indianapolis Colts team. Tennessee hasn’t been the offensive powerhouse many expected they would be heading into the season, but they have shown vast improvement in being able to win the easy games. Though they lack a lot of impressive wins, Titans fans have to be happy after seeing the team fall so many times to awful teams over the last few seasons. Contending teams have to learn to win against lesser competition.

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Evidently, this is a skill that the Jacksonville Jaguars must learn as well after they dropped a game against the lowly Arizona Cardinals to relinquish their division lead. To make matters worse, they lost to third-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert—who was their former top pick that they gave up on—after he managed to put up two touchdowns against their elite pass defense. Sunday’s game spotlights the team’s biggest issue. When the running game and defense don’t win the game, Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville passing attack can not do enough to win. Bortles put up another mediocre day in which he contributed more with his legs than with his arms. Maybe the Jags would consider moving him to RB next season. All joking aside, the Jaguars proved on Sunday that if opposing defenses load up the box and limit mistakes on offense, the Jaguars will not be able to win on the back of Bortles.

Both the Titans and the Jaguars have appeared flawed throughout the 2017 season, but thanks to strong starts and an easy remaining schedule, both teams appear likely to make the playoffs this season. Looking ahead at the Titans schedule, the team should win their next three games against Houston, Arizona, and San Francisco before a Week 16 tilt against the LA Rams. Meanwhile, Jacksonville should win their next three games against Houston, Indianapolis, and San Francisco with a Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks sandwiched in between. After an embarrassing loss against Arizona, don’t expect the Jags to drop another gimme game, but the Seahawks front seven should be capable of limiting Leonard Fournette and Russell Wilson has the talent to put up points on Jacksonville, which combines to create a poor matchup for Jacksonville.

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Based on their remaining schedules, both Jacksonville and Tennessee will likely head into Week 17 with identical 10-5 records, and if Tennessee manages to drop one game back again, then the AFC South will still come down to the Week 17 game between Jacksonville since the Titans would hold a tiebreaker if they manage to beat Jacksonville twice. Based on the rest of the AFC, both Jacksonville and Tennessee appear likely to receive a wild card spot regardless of the AFC South standings, but teams are always looking for a higher playoff seed and a home playoff game. The AFC South playoff race should come down to the wire with two very successful teams competing in an exciting division race, which is a breath of fresh air to a division that is often won by the best of the worst every year. Luckily for Titans fans, the AFC South playoff race has finally become must-watch television and the Titans are right in the thick of it.

Next: More on the AFC Playoff Race