Remember when the AFC South was the Colts and several also-rans? Remember when Indianapolis would lock up their division title 3/4 of the way through the season? Well, the Colts will not be doing that this year, and it’s not because they aren’t playing well. The AFC South is currently out of its mind with talent. 5 weeks into the season, you’ve got a cadre of 4 teams that has lost very few games to non-division opponents.
You kind of have to feel for Houston. A bastard child of the AFC all its short life, the Texans are actually turning into sombodies this year despite several key injuries (Andre Johnson, Ahman Green). Although there’s a good chance they will struggle to a .500 record and finish dead last in their division, this is a team who would be playoff bound in the NFC.
These teams will end up beating up on each other and putting tallies in the loss column (yes, even for the Colts). Do they then have a chance to send more than one team to the postseason? Absolutely. Even though it’s a tough division to claw one’s way out of (similar to how people thought the NFC East would be last year), and even though there are playing their games in the certainly more brutish and tough band of teams in the AFC, this division will have something to say about the wild card race. In fact (you can take this to the bank if you’d like, the repercussions of me being incorrect are extremely minor), I contend that both the wild card spots will go to the AFC South. That’s right, 3 of 4 teams will be playoff bound.
This calculus is part an expression of the talent there, and part the realization that although the AFC is tough, there are not too many teams that will stand in the way.
By making this prediction, I am currently assuming that the Colts will win the division, and the Titans and Jaguars will take the wild card spots.
Don’t think much of the Jaguars? That’s because no one has any idea who the hell they are. Nonetheless, this is a team that’s brutalizing teams with their run offense and stout defense.
Think the Titans are a fluke? They’ve won 9 of their last 11 (their sole loss this year was to Indianapolis), and in recent weeks have been able to get it done without requiring Herculean efforts for Vince Young.
Who stands in their way? There will be no team in the East that finished within 4 games of the Patriots. That’s just life. In the north, the Steelers will manhandle the rest of the division. The Bengals simply don’t have a defense that is effective. In the past weeks they literally didn’t even have enough linebackers to put three on the field. The Ravens have an offense that makes the Bengals defense effective (no small task).
In the west, it looks like it’ll be either a tag team of Tomlinson and Gates pulling the Chargers in, or the Broncos reverting to recent form and being just good enough to make the playoffs to lose in the first round. And while betting against Denver’s running game is never a good idea, they will loose the league’s top rusher, Travis Henry, to suspension, and it will hurt them. Look for them to in the stretch some as they did last year.
Peyton Manning has been the big brother who picks on his younger siblings in the AFC South for a long time now. However, it looks now like all that harassment has paid dividends for these teams, who can win tough close games. Although I’m not ready to claim that Tennessee or Jacksonville will take down the Pats, Steelers, or Colts in the battle for AFC supremacy, I do think that they’ll be there until the end. You heard it here first.