The AFC South has an extremely different face this year compared to last. Winners are now losers, losers and now winners, and the mediocre yet good are now mediocre yet bad. Let's take a look at the state of the division.
The Indianapolis Colts:
The bottom-feeder Painter, Orlovsky and Collins Colts were reeling at the loss of their beloved captain Peyton Manning and won the Andrew Luck race to the worst record in football at 2-14. That seems to be panning out to be a pretty good investment as the young Stanford slinger has led some cardiac comebacks with poise and leadership late in games that the team was starving for in 2011. The 2012 Colts are an impressive 9-4 going into week 15 after a stuttering first half of the season.
Luck already through 14 weeks is a few completions from besting the entire quarterbacking committee of 2011 (303), thrown for way more yards (3792) to 2011’s (3223), has a better QB rating (74.2) to 2011’s (72.2), more touchdowns (18) to 2011’s (14) and more interceptions (18) to 2011’s (14)…oh wait forget the last one because hey, he’s fun to watch.
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The defense has slightly improved from there horrendous 2011 campaign by learning to tackle…somewhat against the rush, but still giving up huge numbers in the air in the shootouts that they’ve gotten into this year. Their new coach has been ill which has been both an obstacle and an inspiration to a wiry young Colts team as they look to possible ride their momentum into the post-season. The fans are eating it up, Luck jerseys are flying, people are coming up from Kentucky and down from Gary to see their Colts, and I’m sure there is a collective “I told you so” to all the Peyton-loving naysayers who thought they would come out just as flat as last year. There is definitely, however, a sense of involvement and dues-paying as the fans had to endure a God-awful 2011 crusade.
The Houston Texans:
The Texans entered the season a major question mark for the league and its pundits. Would they be the team they were late in the season and into the postseason that was strong enough on defense, special teams, and in the run game to compensate for a 3rd string quarterback? Or would they return to the Texans who could always run the score up until it mattered. Last year the Texans traded wins and losses going .500 before firing off a 7 game win streak before losing the last three games of the season. They then won a wild card playoff game decisively before losing to the Ravens in the Division Championship. This year the Texans started off on fire, have looked sluggish in the last 4 weeks and now will…win the last three games of the season? I doubt it. If they look anything like they did against the Jags, in Detroit, or in Foxboro Luck will for sure split the two games with them if not lead some heroic drives to victory for the Colts after throwing 3 picks as they face Indianapolis twice in three weeks. Sandwiched in-between those two games is a tough one against a very scrappy Vikings team that had their share of winning even while compensating for second year QB and former Colt Curtis Painter’s coming of age. At this point, with the playoff spot clinched, the Texan fans are anxiously anticipating what will happen in the postseason with Schaub under center and their team hopefully returning to early season form.
The Tennessee Titans:
Poor Nashvillians, or Tennesseans for that matter. They are handed stacked decks year after year. The cycle of overpaying players with a low shelf life and underpaying promising talent has led to years of solid mediocrity including both last year’s season and this year’s. Last year the Titans looked good one week and terrible the next in typical Titan fashion and posted a couple more in the win column going 9-7 with a pretty strong finish going 5-3 to end the season. This year after a 3-4 start they have looked abysmal in some games, and instead of trading punches of road losses to home wins, they have moments of relevance against good teams that look more like one-time flukes. Their team is holey, wholly unmotivated, and “holy cow” are they bad on defense. Their numbers aren’t the league worst, but the arm tackling and soft secondary hitting reminds me of WAC college games and are equally “whack.” It’s definitely not the disciplined brand of football that came from a consistent to a fault Jeff Fisher, that led them to multiple winning seasons even if the play was too conservative to get them a ring.
A flash-in-the-pan Jake Locker and promising Ken-Doll Wright have been some of the only things for Titan fans to appreciate this year. However, seeing Wright show promise will likely be followed by seeing him leave the Titans when they don’t pay him in the future. The fans in Tennessee are a loyal and knowledgeable bunch, and they deserve much better. A Monday Night Football matchup against the Jets will likely be one of those moments when the Titans look like a decent club, followed by a game at Lambeau that they will likely get schooled in, but by Titan tradition in the last few years they would beat the Jets, play Green Bay tough, and then get blown out by the Jaguars. Moving forward all I really want to see is more balls thrown from Locker to Wrights, and some offers being talked over with some less-conservative head coaches.
The Jacksonville Jaguars:
Phew. Where do I start with the Jaguars? Last year they were pretty awful, and may have done better for themselves by joining in the Andrew Luck race. Gabbert was throwing the ball all over the place last year, and a “never abandon the run” attitude netted a 1600+ yard season for Jones-Drew. This year MoJo unexpectedly got injured, and the team struggled to fill the void left by a back that looks and runs like a bowling ball (how do you injure a bowling ball?). Jacksonville has been hard to watch, save a handful of OT games and a Colts win that came early in the season when Luck and Hilton were still lacing up the cleats. Moving forward I and a few others will surely be seeing if they add a few more to the loss column and grab a very high draft pick in the “Gino Smith Race” which has nowhere near the prize of the Andrew Luck race.
A high draft pick may even whet the appetites of possible relocation suitors in Los Angeles in the new Governator Stadium, or possible some Jag-oo-awrr FC action at Wembley (international teams are closer than you think). They do play New England in week 16, but will likely be Ryan Mallett fodder once Brady takes a seat and ponders what secrets Victoria has waiting for him. There haven’t been many bright spots, maybe a “good for him” or two as Chad Henne poked his head out of the mud a few times. The thing to really look for is how many empty seats there are to end the season, and how pointless the arm flap to quiet the crowd will be when Henne is leading a 4th quarter drive to cut the deficit to 20.