AFC Midseason Recap and Predictions (4 of 4)
By Dan Lagnado
In part one of the midseason recap and predictions, the AFC East was covered, in part two of the midseason recap and predictions, the AFC West was covered and in part three of the midseason recap and predictions, the AFC North was covered. To round out the AFC, we will head over to the AFC South:
Division Winner: Indianapolis Colts
Last year’s #1 overall pick has lived up to the hype. Andrew Luck once again, is putting together a fantastic season for the 6-2 Colts. Luck has thrown for 13 touchdowns, compared to only three interceptions, and has enabled Colts fans to forget about their last first round quarterback. Luck hasn’t had much of a running game this season either even with the trade for Trent Richardson, who the Colts keep hoping will have his breakout game. Luck leads his team in rushing touchdowns with three. Of course Luck now is without his favorite target, Reggie Wayne for the rest of the season, but he had done well at spreading the ball around to other receivers all season. Look for T.Y. Hilton, another second year stud, Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Coby Fleener to pick up Wayne’s targets and contributions. The defense took a hit this offseason with the departure of longtime pass rusher Dwight Freeney, yet Robert Mathis was eager to take his place. Mathis has 11.5 sacks this season, which accounts for more than half of the team’s total. The Colts secondary has also improved with the acquisition of Laron Landry to go along with Vontae Davis and Antoine Bethea, all of whom rank in the top five on the team in tackles. Look for Indy to keep on rolling into the postseason with a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way.
The Tennessee Titans got off to a roaring start winning three of their first four games. However an injury to starting quarterback Jake Locker and inconsistent play has led to three consecutive losses in their previous four games, dropping their record to 4-4. Locker, despite his injury has put up very impressive numbers this season with eight touchdowns and only three interceptions. However, he has been plagued by a weak running game. Chris Johnson, who a few seasons ago rushed for 2000 yards, had only 366 coming into this week. Against the Rams this past week, CJ rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Still, without consistent production out of Johnson, the pressure has been placed on Locker, who for the most part, has done all he can against tough defenses in the past few weeks. The Titans will look to regain the momentum they had earlier in the season and make a playoff run coming out of their bye week.
The Houston Texans have been one of this season’s biggest disappointments. After a playoff appearance last season, the Texans had high hopes that they could compete for another division title. However, the performance has not been up to par. Arian Foster has been injured all season. Matt Schaub has been uncharacteristically inaccurate. The defense, though very good against the pass, has been porous against the run. This has not been a winning formula as the Texans right now are 2-5. The season started very well for Houston. They had won their first two games against tough opponents. And then everything fell apart. Matt Schaub went through a three game stretch where he threw an interception (nine total INT and eight TD) returned for a touchdown in three straight games and then was injured. Even when Schaub was healthy he was not the starter. Case Keenum is the starter, at least for the time being, for the Texans. Houston has gotten very good things from rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who, along with Andre Johnson, could provide potent weaponry for Houston in the future. This past week against the Indianapolis Colts, Johnson had 229 yards and three touchdowns. However, there were not many targets towards other receivers. Arian Foster has also run effectively when he’s been healthy, as he averages more than 4 yards per rush. Brian Cushing and JJ Watt lead the Texans defense. Watt has five and a half sacks this season, down from his pace of last year, though still on pace for double digits by the end of the season. Cushing leads the team in tackles as well as having one and a half sacks and an interception. The Texans, as a playoff team last year, clearly have the talent to be a potential AFC powerhouse. However, Case Keenum is not the quarterback to lead them to the “promised land” this season.
What is there to say about the Jacksonville Jaguars? There seems to be no end to the suffering of Jags fans. It seems that every year the Jaguars get a high draft pick and every year it doesn’t seem to help. The Jaguars currently are the worst team in the NFL at 0-8 and are in danger of joining the 2008 Lions as teams to go 0-16. The Jags have trailed for 86% of their time on the field and though their schedule is not the toughest, they have not shown the ability to either score, or stop the opposing offense. They are last in points per game and last in opponent’s points per game. Blaine Gabbert has shown that he is not the answer for this offense despite having Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts as weapons. Jones-Drew is a Pro Bowl caliber player. Blackmon and Shorts are young and talented wide receivers, though Blackmon has dealt with substance abuse issues in his short career and now has been dealt a second suspension. If he can manage to stay on the field Blackmon has shown how explosive he is. Until the Jaguars find an effective quarterback they cannot be expected to be much of a threat to anyone this season or in the future. In a draft class that is quarterback heavy, I would look for the Jaguars to try to draft their franchise quarterback once again.
Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995