AFC SOUTH REPORT

The award winners in the division at the halfway point of the season

Deshaun Watson's injury derailed s remarkable season. Tim Warner/Getty Images

We have reached the midway point of the season!

Injuries have completely derailed Indianapolis and Houston. While fans of Jacksonville and Tennessee remain cautiously optimistic that their teams may be playoff bound.

Time for some midseason AFC South Awards!

Best Offensive Player: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

It’s nothing short of a tragedy the way Watson’s season was cut short with a knee injury. The star rookie from Clemson had thrown for 19 touchdowns and rushed for another two. More importantly, he led the Texans to three wins and showed tremendous promise in three shootouts against New England, Kansas City and Seattle.

Best Defensive Player: Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

This one is not even close. Campbell has been one of the best defensive players in the league. While the Jaguars defense has been on the rise the last few seasons, Campbell has exceeded all expectations. His league leading eleven sacks has anchored a unit that has given up only 14.6 points per game. If the Jaguars are going to return to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Campbell’s leadership will carry them there.

Rookie of the Half-Year: Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

It would have been easy to give this award to Watson but, despite them both being in their first year in the league, only one of them seems to be acting like a rookie. After narrowly escaping a serious leg/ankle injury three weeks ago, Fournette was a late scratch against the Cincinnati Bengals. The reason for the benching was reportedly for skipping out on a team photo. If Fournette can keep it together for the final eight games, he has a chance to put together one of the best rookie rushing seasons in league history.

Most Reliable: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

In good times and bad, Hilton continues to shine. Now in his sixth season out of Florida International, the durable wide receiver has steadily amassed stats that have him on a borderline Hall of Fame trajectory. With over 700 yards this season, he has been producing nearly identical stats with or without Andrew Luck.

Coach of the Half-Year: Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars

When a team hasn’t won more than five games in a season since 2010, and now the talk around town is whether there is an opportunity for a top seed and a bye, that’s a pretty impressive turnaround.

The 5-3 Jaguars still have to play the Browns, the 49ers, and host the banged up Texans and Colts. As crazy as it sounds, the Jaguars finishing 9-7 would actually be a disappointment to fans in North Florida.

We’ll learn a lot more about the Jaguars on Sunday when they take on an improving Chargers team. With former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley at the helm of LA’s defense, it will be fascinating to see what kind of schemes he throws at quarterback Blake Bortles.

Most Disappointing: Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

This may not be entirely fair. Multiple injuries have sidelined Davis for much of the first part of the season. However, after Davis set all time receiving records at Western Michigan, I think it was fair to expect immediate contributions. If Tennessee can outlast Jacksonville for the division, Davis will certainly play a part in that success.

Man of the Division: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Man of the division? Sure. Why not? He's already wrapped up the NFL Man of the Year and possibly Man of the Decade if such an award is given. Watt’s contributions off the field have been immeasurable. It's a shame that it won't be until fall of 2018 before we see him on the field again.

Most Improved: Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans

I’m not sure anyone in the league has made a bigger jump from their rookie to second season. Byard is playing like an All-Pro. He's leading the league with six interceptions but also has ten pass deflections. Without his three interceptions against Cleveland, the Browns would no longer be winless.

Most Invisible: Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

While this may seem like a dig at Bortles, it has been a welcome relief for Jaguars fans. Bortles really hasn't been good or bad. He's not making any great plays but he's also not losing any games on his own. If Bortles was an emoji, he'd be the “meh.” That sort of indescribable unenthusiastic acceptance of something completely mediocre. Although, with a defense like Jacksonville’s, maybe meh is all they need? One can argue Peyton Manning wasn't much better than meh during his second Super Bowl run.

Drew Brees and the Saints escaped with an ugly win. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Saints have effectively wrapped up the NFC South with their 25-14 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. Here's how I saw things:

The Good

-Michael Thomas got himself going this week after a subpar performance against the Cowboys last week. He finished with 11 catches for 98 yards. More of note was his record of most catches in first three seasons. He surpassed Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on his second catch, his 289th of his career. I hope people take notice and realize how great of a player he is.

-Taysom Hill once again proved his worth as just a football player. He blocked a punt the Saints recovered at the Tampa 30 yard line. It helped set up their first touchdown. Hill is listed as the third string quarterback, but plays running back, wide receiver, and special teams. He also drew a double team penalty on a kickoff.

-Drew Brees is known for his pinpoint accuracy throwing the ball. However, his athleticism is underrated. He notched his fourth rushing touchdown on a 4th and goal play in which he leapt over the line and extended the ball across the plane. The Saints took the lead early in the fourth quarter on that play.

The Bad

-Right before the half, Brees threw an interception that set up Tampa's second touchdown. When this team is rolling, they are the ones scoring before the half when they're getting the ball back after the half.

-They totaled just three rushing yards in the first half on nine attempts. The longest run was from fullback Zach Line at four yards. Another component of this team's success is predicated on the run game.

-Alvin Kamara was held in check. He was limited to 87 yards on 17 touches. His 76 yards on three kick returns were a help, but this team needs him to get going running and catching passes in order to operate at full capacity.

The Ugly

-This was the second game in a row that the Saints failed to score a touchdown in the first half. It could be a sign of teams catching up to them, or it could be a sign of a team that's feeling complacent. Either way, they need to get their offense going again to start games. 24 plays and 104 yards of offense that produced only three points in the first half.

-On their opening possession of the second half, Brees was stripped in the pocket and the Bucs recovered. The pressure came from the left. Missing starting left tackle Terron Armstead is becoming more and more of a glaring issue.

-Brees was limited to less than 270 yards passing, while they also totaled less than 130 yards rushing. Being held below their season averages on offense and still winning is the definition of winning ugly.

The Saints are now 11-2 and firmly in second place in the NFC. Now, they sit back and hope the Rams drop another game down the stretch. They own the tiebreaker over the Rams and need to finish with the same record to get homefield throughout the NFC playoffs. Saints fans will be Bears fans tonight, as well as Eagles, Cardinals, and 49er fans the rest of the season. This is what happens when you drop games you should've won.

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