Thus far the AFC South has been among the most competitive (or mediocre) divisions in football depending upon how you look at it. But the question remains, after being picked by many to win the division in the preseason should the Tennessee Titans still be AFC South favorites? By examining the AFC South playoff picture, and then the Titans own performance, the rest of the season paints a favorable picture for the Titans.
Should the Tennessee Titans be favored in the AFC South?
The Titans Performance Through Six Weeks
DeMarco Murray has been a colossal letdown so far this season. After 1,287 yards last season he has just 313 yards through the first six games. Derrick Henry has been hit or miss. He had 92 yards in the win at Jacksonville and 131 yards in the win on Monday night over Indianapolis. His running style is disappointing at times, for example, in the second half on Monday night when he bounced a run out to the left instead of running over the Colts defensive back. This isn’t college and he can’t just outrun everyone; he is a big back, that needs to use his size to run over people.
Marcus Mariota missed one game and has just been inconsistent so far this season. Even in the win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night he was inconsistent with his accuracy, tending to sail balls just like we saw in the preseason. Some part of it may rest on the fact that the wide receivers on the outside are still trying to develop chemistry with their quarterback.
However, the wide receiver corps is doing a respectable job. Eric Decker is becoming a reliable possession receiver while tight end Delanie Walker takes care of the mid range routes so Rishard Matthews and Taywan Taylor can make the big plays. Injuries have derailed Corey Davis so far but once he gets back it’ll be another dimension to this offense. It’s up to Mariota now to get everyone in sync and allow them to make plays.
The offensive line so far has done a pretty good job. While they have allowed 11 sacks so far, eight of them were taken by Matt Cassel, which is more telling about Cassel than the line. With an average per rush of 4.8 yards, they are built to move guys off the ball and have done so.
The Titans pass defense needs to show more. While the secondary has had some inevitable growing pains, the run defense has been pretty good. They are only allowing 3.8 yards per rush to their opponents.
Part of the problem with the pass defense is a lack of a consistent pass rush. So far Derrick Morgan leads the team with three of the team’s nine sacks –Jurrell Casey and Wesley Woodyard have two a piece. Brian Orakpo has not shown up this year like he did last year and Kevin Dodd is not up to speed from his injury plagued rookie year with just one tackle.
In terms of points this is one of the lowest rated units in the league, largely because of the 57 points hung on them by the Houston Texans. But even in the win over the Seattle Seahawks they allowed 27 points and Russell Wilson gauged them for 373 yards and four touchdowns. Even Jacoby Brissett looked like he had all day to throw on this secondary despite his pedestrian numbers.
About the only signature performance they have had so far is limiting Leonard Fournette to just 40 yards on 14 carries. That allowed them to get two interceptions of Blake Bortles in the dominating win at Jacksonville.
Rest of the Division
So far the Jacksonville Jaguars has been the surprise contender after expecting a ho-hum 5-6 win season from them.They had talent on defense and Fournette was expected to be good, but not this good. Moreover, the defense is outstanding.
Unfortunately, Bortles still stinks. While he is there they may not be capable of getting over .500. Especially without Allen Robinson, who was lost for the year in week one. Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee are solid players but neither of them are a true number one target.
Ever since the Houston Texans put Deshaun Watson in it’s like they have become an entirely different team. They’ve put up over 30 points in four straight games and Watson is largely leading the charge. Unfortunately, he has been sacked 14 times behind their porous offensive line and an average running game with Lamar Miller averaging under four yards per carry.
On defense, losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to season ending injuries will be hard to overcome. But they have talent on that side of the ball, led by Jadeveon Clowney. Benardrick McKinney and Vanderbilt product Zach Cunningham are a very good duo at middle linebacker.
If Andrew Luck returns quickly, then maybe they will be challenging for the division crown. However, after news this week, Luck may not play this year. Outside of the quarterback, this is one of the bottom ten rosters in the league with a bottom five coach.
Should the Titans be favored?
Emphatically, yes! The Titans have a quarterback that can be relied on and a more forgiving schedule the rest of the way. Their toughest road games are against two inconsistent teams in the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite what Watson is doing in Houston, the Texans face a daunting schedule the rest of the way. The only teams they face with losing records are the Colts twice and 49ers. Trips to Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Baltimore Ravens populate their second half. They have six of their last ten on the road overall.
Jacksonville has a more forgiving schedule with just one team left that is currently over .500 (Seattle Seahawks). However, their loss at the New York Jets could cost them big time. Even with Doug Marrone, a head coach that is actually competent, leading the show they won’t emerge this year.