With four weeks left in the 2016-2017 season, the question is: does anyone actually want to win the AFC South? Just a few weeks ago, the division looked like it belonged to the Houston Texans. But through the first week of December, there's a three-way logjam of teams with a 6-6 record. Who is going to emerge from this proverbial Battle Royale? Honestly, the first team to win nine games -- or even as few as eight -- might be the one who walks away with the division crown.
If the objective of football is to score more points than the opponent, then Houston: you have a problem. The increasingly anemic Houston Texans offense has only scored four touchdowns in their last three games (all losses). Three-quarters of the way through the season, they're the fifth-lowest scoring team in the NFL. They're averaging four points less per game than they were in 2015, when they won games in spite of the hodgepodge they had at the quarterback position.
At least through year one, Brock Osweiler's four-year, $72 million contract he signed with Houston this past offseason looks like it could go down as one of the worst free agent signings in NFL history. Houston's biggest saving grace is the fact that they don't have to face an opponent with a winning record over their remaining four games. Still, with the way they've been playing recently, if they're not careful, their current backslides could take them from atop the division to out of the postseason entirely.
It hasn't been pretty for much of this season, but Indianapolis has won three of their last four games, and now sits in second place in the AFC South. The Colts are seventh in the NFL in points scored per game (25.9), and as long as they can keep quarterback Andrew Luck upright -- he's been sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL -- he gives them a chance. Luck has thrown for over 250 yards in nine of the 11 games he's played in this year, and a touchdown pass in every game he's played in this year.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is having a spectacular year, currently sitting in second place in the entire NFL in receiving yards (1,088). The Colts defense, however, has some serious question marks. They have the 10th fewest sacks of opposing quarterbacks, they give up the eight most points per game to opponents, and they're a bottom-five team in terms of yards allowed per game. A win against Houston this Sunday would give them a much-needed split in their two head-to-head games. They’ll hold any tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans, since they won both games against them this year.
The Tennessee Titans finished with the worst record in the NFL last year, butnow they're the third team in the three-way race for the AFC South title. Behind head coach Mike Mularkey's self-anointed "exotic smash mouth"-style of offense, the Titans have the third best rushing offense in the NFL. Over the last eight games, quarterback Marcus Mariota is second in the NFL with a 117.7 passer rating, thanks largely to throwing 21 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Running back DeMarco Murray, unceremoniously discarded by the Philadelphia Eagles last season, has the second most rushing yards in the NFL right now, only behind rookie Ezekiel Elliott. With bookend tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin (both of whom were first round picks by Tennessee), the Titans have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews, an unheralded free agent acquisition this past offseason, has caught seven touchdown passes in the last eight games.
Tennessee's problem comes from the other side of the football; namely, their pass defense that's given up the fifth-most touchdown passes in the NFL to date, and gives up the sixth-most passing yards to opponent on average. Their secondary has been an enormous problem for them all season, but the silver-lining for Tennessee is that they won't face a team with a high-powered passing attack for the remainder of the season.
Finally, there's the Jacksonville Jaguars. There's not much else you can say about this team besides the fact that they went from being one of the teams with the most excitement and potential at the start of the 2016 season, to one of the most under-performing and disappointing teams this year. They're currently riding a seven-game losing streak; their last win took place midway through October. Head coach Gus Bradley's career head coaching record of 14-46 gives him the worst winning percentage of any head coach (who's coached in 50 or more games) in NFL history. Instead of taking a step forward in his development as an NFL quarterback, Blake Bortles has seemingly taken multiple (big) steps backward. The only thing left for this team is playing out the rest of the season, and awaiting the inevitable head coaching change that will take place in early January of 2017.