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.