AFC South State of the Division – Week 5

It's October and the Colts are atop the AFC South, Houston is fading, Tennessee can't quite finish and the Jaguars suck. Sounds normal right?

After taking a deeper dive into this week's action it's clear that Houston has lost any intestinal fortitude while Tennessee was so close to knocking off Kansas City they could taste it. Jacksonville's debacle continued with more Blaine Gabbert ugliness. At the end of it all only Indianapolis has the look of a team that should be considered a contender.

Indianapolis Colts

If you honestly said that you felt this week was a win when schedules were published I'd be stunned. Seattle came into the season with Super Bowl expectations and have so far demonstrated they deserve that respect. They've been masterful sporting both a lethal defense and an efficient, explosive-at-times offense. Sophomore Russell Wilson is the only young quarterback with as much upside as Andrew Luck. The Seahawks rally around him and Pete Carroll's plucky approach like ravenous wolves approaching the last lamb. They've been nothing short of great this season as expected. Picking the Colts this week would have been tough.

That is until last week. After a weak Houston team took Seattle the distance it was clear that the Colts had more than a slugger's chance Sunday. Seattle, while a very good team who may very well contend for the Lombardi, could be beaten. Indianapolis is clearly a better team than Houston at this point. Further the Colts were coming off two big road wins: the 49ers in a Captain Comeback grudge match and their hated division rival Jacksonville. Seattle had a stutter step and Indianapolis was marching. This matchup couldn't come at a better time.

Sunday Indianapolis was relentless albeit not as polished as I'd like to see. Andrew Luck again lead a 4th quarter comeback although the team effort was amazing. The first quarter, like the first in Jacksonville, was ugly. They were down 12 points and looked bad in all phases of the game. Then veteran leadership took over, they settled down and the slugfest began. In the end, with the game's best comeback quarterback under center, the Colts threw a knockout punch and proved they have killer instinct.

The defense held the Seahawks to field goals in critical spots and that's the real story. Robert Mathis was amazing and joined the 100 sack club as a result. They gave up more than 200 yards rushing but much of that came on Wilson scrambles thanks to solid pressure. Wilson is a terrific athlete and it showed. They may have bent but they sure didn't break–something previous incarnations of this defense liked to claim but never could accomplish. In the end sending Seattle away with 3 points in tough spots was key to this victory.

This is the team Colts fans have wanted for years. Forget that Peyton Manning is having another MVP season: this is the team you've always wanted. This team punches back.

Tennessee Titans

The idea that a questionable call on a hit can change a game must hurt in Nashville. The Titans were a penalty flag away from joining Indianapolis in knocking off an unbeaten team this week.

Given the poor start by Ryan Fitzpatrick, subbing for Jake Locker, and the offensive line's inability to find consistency this was a good outing for the Titans. Fitzpatrick went 0-5 to start and his first three series ended in punts. Fitzpatrick settled down and lead the team to 17 straight points including a terrific third quarter. The Chiefs, behind strong fan support on the road, rallied and turned a key flag on a failed third-down conversion attempt into a game-winning drive. In the end the Titans just weren't good enough to use homefield advantage to overcome a surging Chiefs team.

Next week the Titans face the Seahawks who aren't likely going to be a in a good mood. They may find themselves two games back in a division that is suddenly shaping up to familiar form.

Houston Texans

Matt Schaub's career in Houston may very well be defined by his performance over the last two weeks. His ability to convince us he's a franchise quarterback has evaporated. Mentally it's clear that Schaub has let his interceptions and lack of ability to finish get under his skin. He's shaken and it shows.

This week's pick-six to start the game continues that troubling trend of ball-control issues for Schaub. He's thrown interceptions in 8 straight games including his recent four game interception-for-touchdown streak. He's not on the same page as his young receivers nor is he able to shake the confidence issues he's developed. The fact that the team reverted to T.J. Yates is telling: even Kubiak doesn't trust his quarterback. Schaub doesn't have to be great but he has to protect the ball.

The Texans can't be considered legitimate AFC contenders at this point. Their 2-3 record puts them firmly in a spot where they must sweep Indianapolis to have a shot at the division crown and play well down the stretch. This week they get the Rams and a shot to pick up the pieces.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Bring out the bags Jags fans: there's not another victory on this schedule. The Rams were their last hope.

I can't imagine the Jaguars beating any of their remaining foes with Blaine Gabbert in the stadium. They should cut this guy and make sure he can't even buy a ticket from scalpers. 

The Jaguars haven't had a really good quarterback since Mark Brunnell (a few David Garrard outings aside). Their luck at QB mirrors their in-state foes Miami following Dan Marino's departure. Miami finally has their guy in Ryan Tannehill–will Jacksonville require 20 years to find theirs? Lord knows it isn't Gabbert.

Jacksonville will rebuild. They're not hapless or helpless. They're wasting guys like Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon and Mercedes Lewis at the moment but they're not always going to be this bad. Sure they traded Eugene Monroe who got a mulligan in Baltimore this week. Sure they have the worst starting quarterback in the league. Just imagine what these skilled players could do with a guy like Russell Wilson (who the Jaguars could have gotten rather than punter Bryan Anger). 

The worst news this week wasn't the loss or Gabbert's horrible performance but rather the loss of Luke Joeckel for the rest of the season. The team moved the rookie into Eugene Monroe's spot after his trade. This isn't going to help an offensive line that has struggled. 

Seriously, give GM David Caldwell a chance with his guy and this team can turn around. Jacksonville is historically bad–possibly the worst team in NFL history. That will change.

The change won't happen this week as the Jaguars face the Broncos and are early 28 point underdogs. That's the biggest spread in NFL history. Peyton Manning may play less than he does in the preseason.

Todd Smith

About Todd Smith

Todd Smith is a part-time sportswriter who spends too much time arguing on Twitter. What he really loves is eating poorly and watching football. He got his first Colts t-shirt in 1984 shortly after the Mayflower trucks arrived and has never given up on his hometown team. He also still holds to the belief that Kordell Stewart stepped out of the end zone and thus cheated the Colts.