The Tennessee Titans have proven that their surprising run to the AFC Championship Game last season was no fluke, Phillip Rivers has proven he still has something left for the Indianapolis Colts, and both the Titans and Colts have benefitted from the fact that a team expected to contend for the division title – the Houston Texans – has been one of the more disappointing teams in the league this season. Here’s a look at the AFC South at the midway point of the 2020 NFL season.
Titans (6-2) : Picking up where they left off in 2019
The biggest question for the Titans heading into the season was simple: could quarterback Ryan Tannehill do it again? After taking over last season for former starter Marcus Mariota, Tannehill completed 70 percent of his passes – obliterating his previous career-best – and threw 22 touchdown passes in 12 games.
This season, he’s been even better. He’s completing 68 percent of his passes, which would be the second-best mark of his career, and he has 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Turnovers were his biggest issue with the Dolphins, and in 19 games with the Titans, he’s thrown just nine picks in 19 games. He had double-figures interception totals in five of six seasons with Miami.
Tannehill’s production is great, but let’s be honest about what the most critical element of Tennessee’s offense is: Derrick Henry. Henry is running away with the league’s rushing title, with 775 yards through eight games. His eight touchdowns are tied for second in the league and he is a major reason why the Titans are an NFL betting favorite among bettors.
The Titans defense has also helped their dominance. The Titans have forced 12 turnovers, and they’re second in the league with a +8-turnover differential. The Titans are also in a good spot for playoff purposes – they have a win over the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills this season.
Colts (5-3) : Are they for real?
Here’s the biggest question for the Colts: are they for real? Four of their five wins are against sub-.500 teams, and they have a bad loss to Jacksonville, which was the only win of the season for the Jaguars.
They have an opportunity to ascend in the division standings and prove if they’re playoff-ready or not in the next three weeks, though. They play the Titans twice in three weeks, with a tough matchup against the 6-2 Green Bay Packers in between. If the Colts can manage to win two of those three games, they will look like a much tougher opponent in the playoffs.
The team is relying on future Hall of Famer Phillip Rivers, who is completing 69 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Rivers has been solid, but the running game hasn’t come around as hoped. As a team, the Colts are averaging under four yards per carry. Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Wilkins have both had good moments sharing the ball-carrying responsibilities, but they’ve been inconsistent.
The offensive struggles haven’t been as noticeable because the defense isn’t giving up a lot of points – the team’s 160 points allowed is among the best marks in the league. But with the schedule getting tougher, the Colts will need the offense to step up and score more points down the stretch.
Texans (2-6) : The best of the worst?
Despite having two of the biggest stars in football – one on each side of the ball – the Houston Texans have struggled.
Deshaun Watson is among the game’s best young quarterbacks, and he's on pace for arguably his best season as a pro. He’s completing a career-high 69 percent of his passes, on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards despite losing his best receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a bizarrely poor offseason trade, and he’s also on track to throw more than 30 touchdown passes for the first time in his career.
In Hopkins’ absence, Watson has done a good job of spreading the ball around. Will Fuller V, Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks all have more than 30 catches and seven different players have caught touchdown passes.
On defense, longtime star J.J. Watt is still around and recently notched his 100th career sack, but the defense hasn’t been as reliably ferocious as it has in recent seasons.
Still, the Texans have more talent than most other struggling teams in the league. If you’re looking for some of the best NFL odds on a true value pick, then a bet on the Houston Texans to make a second half run at a playoff spot could pay dividends.
Jaguars (1-7) : Playing for 2021 draft picks
After opening the season with an impressive win over the Colts, the Jaguars have lost seven straight and are instead competing for who will have the worst record and get the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Three of those losses have been by eight points or less, so it’s not like Jacksonville hasn’t been competitive. But the Jags are out of it, and are in evaluation mode going forward.
Gardner Minshew seems to have solidified himself as the team’s quarterback of the future. He’s built on a strong rookie season by improving his completion percentage to 65 percent. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Running back James Robinson has also been a bright spot, rushing for nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The team’s rushing attack has been a strength, with the Jags averaging over four yards per carry as a team.
They’re among the lowest scoring teams in the league, though, and the defense has struggled to stop opponents. If Minshew continues to improve and the team can use its first-round pick on a potential defensive star, then a futures bet on Jacksonville for a turnaround next season isn't out of the realm of possibility.