It’s a three team race in the AFC South for the division title, but it really feels like two. Can the Tennessee Titans overtake the Houston Texans for the crown?
Inconsistency has defined the AFC South this season, yet three teams remain in striking distance of the playoffs via a division title. The Houston Texans currently lead the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, but each team’s remaining schedule is vastly different. Who wins the South division?
The best team doesn’t always come out on top. If you had to pick one AFC South team to win a playoff game, which team would you take? Is it the same team that ultimately wins this division?
Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem discuss the AFC South race in today’s NFL Sports Debate.
Task the first: Determine who is going to win the AFC South. Task the second: Tell me who you would feel most comfortable backing in the first round of the NFL Playoffs if you needed an AFC South team to actually win a playoff game. The two selections may align, or they may not. That is up to you as long as we agree that the Jacksonville Jaguars are the answer to neither question.
The rest of the division is as tight as tight can be. Houston is in first place at 6-5. Tennessee is 6-6 with the Indianapolis Colts at 5-6. Along with being in first place, the Texans also currently hold tiebreakers over the other two squads thanks to head-to-head wins. However, they have another matchup pending with each. They certainly had the best chance of making the playoffs prior to Week 12, but then the Texans lost to San Diego at home.
Interestingly, Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranked Houston as the worst of the four AFC South teams heading into Week 12. Yes, that’s right, worse than even the Jaguars thanks to horrendous offensive and special teams numbers and just a mediocre defense. On the plus side, Houston’s remaining schedule is pretty favorable, though it does have road games at Indy and Tennessee left. I can see an easy road to a ninth victory just by happenstance.
Tennessee has the final bye of the season, followed by back-to-back games against Denver and Kansas City. This doesn’t bode well. It has been a slog for the entire AFC South to hang with any other AFC team this season. Collectively, the South is 4-14 against the rest of the conference. Yikes. The Titans, currently 6-6, are staring 8-8 right in the face.
The Colts also have a semi-difficult schedule, with three road games remaining, including a trip to Oakland. They are also already a win behind both the Texans and Titans. Their ceiling would appear to be eight wins. That leaves me with selecting Houston to take this division title. However, I do not select Houston as the best bet to win a playoff game. That has to be the Titans.
Tennessee is the only team in this division with a real strength. It is a fearsome offensive team thanks to an elite running attack and maturation from Marcus Mariota behind center. The most inexplicable thing is how the Titans lost twice to the Colts, scoring only 17 points in the second game. That loss was the only time in the span of eight weeks where they scored fewer than 26 points and it could single-handedly keep the Titans out of the playoffs.
We once again have a quagmire in the AFC South. Let me answer your second question first, since its the easiest and we agree. The Tennessee Titans are the team to pick if a playoff game is on the line. The Jaguars are eliminated from the conversation and I do not trust the Texans offense or the Colts to play up to their competition. Only the Titans have proven they can score a lot and defeat potential playoff teams.
Tennessee has beaten both the Lions and Dolphins, two teams on course for the postseason. While Houston also defeated the Lions and Chiefs, their offense makes me very nervous. This brings me to the winner of the AFC South this season. We must eliminate the Colts after their abysmal performance against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. Indianapolis must win four more times to win the division and its not happening. They can beat the Jets and Jaguars, but they will not defeat the Texans, Vikings and Raiders in succession. Only their matchup with Houston is a home game, putting the Colts at 8-8 at best this season.
I must also eliminate the Texans, despite their current place atop this division. It’s true that the Packers and Bengals are not good football teams right now, but I believe three division games are too many for Houston to conquer. They need three more wins to secure this division and I don’t see them in the cards. This team has failed to show up too many times this season. I believe the division will come down to week 17 at Tennessee where the Titans take home the trophy.
Tennessee is playing well enough to beat the Broncos at home in week 14, following their bye. More specifically, I love their chances of defeating either Denver or Kansas City, making their week 17 matchup with Houston a winner takes all for the AFC South. The home team wins and that is the Titans.