SCOUTING THE DIVISION

AFC South playoff health check

Marcus Mariota seems to have regressed. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A look at the teams in the AFC South as they prepare for the stretch run:

Tennessee Titans 7-4

Symptoms: In now his third season, Marcus Mariota has appeared to regress at the quarterback position. With just nine touchdowns and a dismal 79.1 rating, the Titans have been very fortunate to squeak by with close victories against the Browns, Ravens, Bengals, and Colts.

Diagnosis: Despite inconsistent play on both sides of the ball, the Titans find themselves tied on top of the division with five games to play. From a statistical perspective, their road to 7-4 has been far less impressive than Jacksonville. However, it’s Tennessee who’s also responsible for the Jaguars biggest loss of the year with a 21 point throttling back in September.

Treatment: A healthy dose of Derrick Henry could catapult Mariota and the offense out of its extended malaise. Of his 520 rushing yards, 448 of them were gained during the seven victories. In last week’s victory against Indianapolis, Henry was critical down the stretch accumulating 78 4th quarter rushing yards.

Prognosis:  The path to a wildcard berth looks a lot more likely than a division championship but, both are very much still in play. The Titans’ remaining schedule consists of: TEXANS, @cardinals, @49ers, RAMS, JAGUARS.

If Tennessee can stay within one game of Jacksonville, then a New Year’s Eve showdown will decide the division.

The Rams and Cardinals will certainly be tough challenges to overcome. Although, it’s looking more and more likely that nine wins will be enough to edge out the Bills or Ravens for a playoff spot. The Titans may be thankful come tiebreaker time for their three point victory over Baltimore.

Houston Texans 4-7

Symptoms: It’s one thing to overcome a key injury or two, but what do you do when every star player gets hurt? That’s essentially what Houston has dealt with for much of the season. It doesn’t get much better on Sunday with Will Fuller ruled out with a rib injury.

Diagnosis: Tom Savage clearly has chilled. Last week’s final two drives pretty much summed up the season, a fumble followed by an interception. It was a game they desperately needed and they showed nothing at all in the final quarter.

Treatment: Find a way to win them all! While it seems unlikely, they at least have a shot. If Houston can grind out a win against Tennessee, they then return home for a very winnable contest against the 49ers.

Prognosis: Much like the Packers in the NFC, this team just appears to be snakebit. While they are not technically eliminated, there are no other paths to the playoffs outside of the proverbial running the table. While the future looks bright, I don’t see a realistic postseason opportunity in the coming weeks.

Jacksonville Jaguars 7-4

Symptoms: Blake Bortles.

Diagnosis: This is the fourth season the fans of Jacksonville have suffered through a real nasty case of the Bortles virus. While the record may appear impressive, Bortles arguably has played well in no more than three games this season. The dominant defense has been able to mask many of the side effects of having the former third pick overall under center. The biggest question for the Jaguars is how to put their quarterback in a position to not lose any games on his own. The ship has long sailed on any thoughts that Bortles could help propel the team to victories.

Treatment: Win the games you’re supposed to win. This means knocking off the Colts, 49ers, and the Texans for a second time. That alone will secure a playoff berth and possibly be enough to win the division.

Prognosis: The Jaguars really blew a big opportunity in Arizona last week. I expect them to rebound with three straight home games. A statement win against Seattle should position this bunch to be competing for a possible bye.

Indianapolis Colts 3-8

Prognosis: Nope. Not happening. Head Coach Chuck Pagano couldn’t have seemed more defeated after last week’s loss to Tennessee. The only drama left for this season is whether Pagano makes it through the final few weeks.

 

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Houston's magic number stays at 2

Astros drop series finale to Mariners after rough start by Greinke

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With their magic number at 2 to secure their spot in the 2020 MLB postseason, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park in Seattle for this three-game series' finale and rubber game. Here are the highlights from the game:

Final Score: Mariners 3, Astros 2.

Record: 28-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Nick Margevicius (2-3, 4.57 ERA)

Losing pitcher: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

Greinke unable to complete five innings

While the Astros were being held scoreless, the Mariners were putting up runs on Zack Greinke. They took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles followed by an RBI-double with one out. Greinke would stop the damage there, then looked to settle in over the next few frames.

He allowed just one baserunner in the second through fourth innings, a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth. Then, in the fifth, the Mariners would knock him out of the game by getting a one-out single that would come around to score on a two-out RBI-double, followed by an RBI-single to extend the lead to 3-0. Greinke faced one more batter, allowing a single before Dusty Baker would take the ball and move to the bullpen. His final line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 92 P.

Astros try a late rally, come up short

On the other end, the Astros were unable to break through against Nick Margevicius, getting just one hit and two walks through the first four innings. They had a chance to get on the board in the top of the fifth, starting the inning with back-to-back singles before a walk loaded the bases with one out to turn the lineup over. They'd come up empty, though, with George Springer striking out before a long flyball to center by Jose Altuve to end the inning.

After finishing the fifth for Greinke, Andre Scrubb returned for a scoreless sixth, working around a one-out walk. Still 3-0, Blake Taylor took over on the mound in the bottom of the seventh, erasing a leadoff single and two-out walk to keep Seattle from extending their lead. Houston had another chance to score in the top of the eighth, getting two runners in scoring position, but again would strand them.

Cy Sneed was the next reliever out for the Astros, working around a two-out walk to send the game on to the ninth. The Astros would avoid the shutout, getting a two-RBI single by pinch-hitting Josh Reddick in the top of the ninth to make it a one-run game at 3-2. That's as close as they'd come, though, as the Mariners would eventually get the final out to take the series and keep the Astros' magic number stagnant at 2.


Up Next: There is one series left in the regular season for Houston, and it awaits them in Arlington with a four-game series against the Rangers, who are well eliminated from playoff contention. The first of the four games will start at 7:05 PM Central on Thursday with a pitching matchup of Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53 ERA) for Texas and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33 ERA) for the Astros.

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