THE FRIDAY STOOTS 6-PACK

AFC playoff picture tightening up midseason

Andrew Luck and the Colts have a big game this week. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Texans have a bye so a look at the rest of the NFL with an emphasis on the AFC is on deck. 

1. It seems likely the Texans will head out of the bye with a lead of two games in the AFC South. The Titans play host to the Patriots and the Jaguars play the Colts on Sunday. Indianapolis and Jacksonville's winner will be 4-5 and if Tennessee loses they will be 4-5. With an easier schedule than most and all their division games being at home it would seem the Texans would have to shoot themselves in the foot to not make the playoffs. 

2. The Chargers at 6-2 complicate the AFC playoff picture to a great degree. Either they or the Chiefs will win the AFC West and the other will end up seeded fifth and going on the road. That will be a tough out for the team who is seeded fourth in the AFC. Pittsburgh is on a roll right now and by virtue of their tie instead of a loss, they have a slight advantage over the Texans in the eventual final AFC standings. The likelihood the Texans play the loser of the AFC West seems fairly high at this point. The idea of hosting either the Chiefs or Chargers is exciting, but a daunting task should the standings shake out that way. 

3. Cincinnati enters their second half of the season in very interesting waters. They're healthy at running back again but A.J. Green is set to miss time. Tyler Boyd has been excellent this year but how will he handle the top receiver spot? Andy Dalton is playing much better than his recent seasons and the Bengals defense is playing good enough to keep them in the hunt. They are likely the favorites to be seeded sixth but they could easily be in a fight with the rest of the pack if they hit a rough patch. First up out of their bye is a showdown with the Saints and then a divisional match with the Ravens. 

4. Miami is 2-2 with Brock Osweiler starting and they need him to play better to stick in the AFC hunt. They still have both games against the Bills left but their schedule is pretty tough. If Osweiler falters and Ryan Tannehill isn't yet ready the Dolphins may be sunk. The Ravens, Titans, and winners in this weekend's Indianapolis and Jacksonville game will be nipping at their heels. They are all, of course, trying to catch the Bengals. 

5. The NFC picture lacks clarity compared to the AFC. Nine teams are .500 or better and Green Bay is 3-4-1 which could help them in a tiebreaker situation. Atlanta is streaking right now. The Seahawks have played better after a rough start. The defending Super Bowl champions loom in the middle of the pack in a division that isn't dominated by the current leader Washington. It's shaping up to be a fun race. 

6. It is likely the Texans will come out of their bye with just two of their remaining opponents owning winning records. Washington and the Eagles seem poised to be those teams. With the poor opponent records, the Texans likely won't be seen as legitimate contenders with only a couple of opportunities to impress pundits. If there was a playoff committee assembling the eight best NFL teams the would likely leave the Texans out. Thankfully there's not. Still plenty of time to get healthy and then hopefully show off the true potential of this Texans team. 

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Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies have plenty of work to do this offseason. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

After an underwhelming win against one of the worst teams in the nation last Saturday against UMASS, the Aggies looked like they were poised to head into the final game of the year against LSU unmotivated and shorthanded. With rumors of star recruits rushing to the transfer portal, Jimbo Fisher was fighting an uphill battle to topple the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers. In his first year with the Tigers, head coach Brian Kelly has already gotten his squad to the SEC Championship game. That certainly has got to rub Coach Fisher the wrong way as his best finish in the SEC to this point has been second in 2020. But instead of laying down and dying, the Aggies capped off arguably the most disappointing season in program history on Saturday with a signature win for Jimbo Fisher and his program.

The win over LSU wasn't just some fluke win, that was caused by LSU shooting itself in the foot over and over again. The Aggies were just flat-out the better team on Saturday. They won the turnover battle, time of possession, had more passing and rushing yards and were more effective on third downs. The Ags took playing for the seniors like Demani Richardson, Connor Choate and Max Wright to heart and pulled out an impressive and gutsy win. Unfortunately, that performance left a question on the table, where was this all year? To answer that, I want to go back to the first article I wrote this year and dive into how the Maroon and White faired in what I thought would be the key areas.

The three main areas I was watching closely on this team were quarterback play, how many freshmen contributed and how DJ Durkin, the new defensive coordinator performed with his new schemes. First up, quarterback play. The Aggies saw three different starting quarterbacks in the 2022 season. First, Haynes King, who was benched due to performance and injuries. Then Max Johnson, who was knocked out for the season due to injury and finally, Connor Weigman. Weigman only missed one game due to illness but showed in every start that he is worth those five stars he got as a recruit. The position was overall a disappointment but the future is bright going forward with #15 taking the snaps.

Next up, freshman impact. Of the 30 total true freshman on A&M’s roster 16 of them saw significant playing time in 2022 and 23 of them got on the field at some point during the year. With a team so decimated with injuries, many of them got on the field maybe a little sooner than expected. However, they did not disappoint. Many of them had an instant impact, such as Connor Weigman, Donovan Green, Evan Stewart or Bryce Anderson. Not to mention that defensive line… if Jimbo can keep these guys on campus and keep them out of the transfer portal, this team will be dangerous in 2023.

Finally, the new defensive coordinator DJ Durkin had some big shoes to fill in 2022 with Mike Elko’s departure. His unit struggled at times during the year, mostly against the run. As of this writing, the Aggies rank 124th in the nation in run defense. That's not good. But against the pass, they are up in 1st. So for Durkin in his first year, it was the middle of the road. He was far from the biggest problem with the dismal 5-7 season.

With all that being said the 2022 season is in the books. A&M will not go bowling for the first time since 2008 and Jimbo Fisher will have a lot to work on this offseason to get the ship righted. He has already relieved offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey of his duties in what is expected to be the first of many staff changes. Recruiting will be interesting to follow as well, the Ags are not projected to have a recruiting class anywhere near as impressive as last year. All these factors aside, the Aggies will most likely be a preseason top-10 team in 2023 and believe me, I have already started counting down the days until the Aggies take to Kyle Field to face New Mexico on September 2nd.

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