Kiefer O'Boyle looks at the AFC South as the 2021 NFL Season reaches its halfway point.
It is hard to believe but we have already reached the midway stage of the season. However, this midway feels a lot different to previous seasons- with still 9 weeks left of the season it really does feel like we’ve a long way to go. No team, bar possibly the Titans, has a stronghold on their division and most divisions look like they will be going down to Week 18. As for the aforementioned AFC South, it’s has essentially been settled if not mathematically then theoretically with the Titans being the in-form team in the league over the last 4 weeks taking care of business against the rest of their AFC title contenders. For the rest of the South’s teams, it has been a mix of the good, bad, and downright ugly so far. Let’s have a look at their mid-season grades.
Tennessee Titans (7-2) – Mid-Season Grade: A
At the quarter season point, I gave the Titans a C+. At that point the Titans were 3-2 and had 2 of the more memorable losses of the season; a week 1 blowout against the NFC powerhouse Cardinals and then losing in OT to the then winless Jets. So, has the narrative changed with Tennessee? Since that point they’re undefeated and have taken care of in order; Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and most recently the Los Angeles Rams in LA without a certain Derrick Henry. That is a seriously impressive resume that the Titans are forming this season and with the division all but sewn up with a 4-game lead (3 inc. tie-breaker) they can look forward to the rest of the season and prepare for the playoffs.
The one area of concern would be that Derrick Henry injury. His status seems to be up in the air, not surprising given his status and importance within the team. The Titans will be doing everything they can to ensure he comes back at some point whether it be January or sooner. He is their best chance of making a Superbowl run. Now that may sound strange after they just beat the supposed NFC contending Rams without Henry, however Henry gives the Titans a league best weapon on offence when things aren’t going well. One looks back at the game against the Seahawks where Henry exploded in the second half to turn a loss into a win.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5) – Mid-Season Grade: C
The Colts have had the ultimate mediocre season so far. They are a mid-tier team that will lose to superior teams and will beat bad teams. While that may have been enough to win the AFC South a few weeks ago, it is not anymore with the Titans steamrolling everyone in their path.
The Colts first 3 games really set the scene for their season to come losing to the Seahawks, Rams and Titans in consecutive weeks and their only wins have come against the turgid Dolphins, Texans, Jets and 49ers. Excluding the 49ers game possibly, those were all games that involved teams in heavy rebuilding phase and already looking forward to the 2022 draft. The hope coming into the season was that Frank Reich and Carson Wentz could take this team to the next level and be perennial AFC challengers. It hasn’t happened and indeed it seems like there has been a level of regression.
Having said that, the AFC is wide open. The Colts still have playoff football in mind and at 4 wins, they are by no means out of the race. The division is over so in many ways it relieves the pressure of having to challenge the Titans. Focus can now turn onto winning 5 of the final 9 games at a minimum and hoping that other team records fall in their favour.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) Mid-Season Grade: F
Yes yes the Jaguars are no longer winless as they were at the quarter season mark. They also finally won a home game this weekend beating the Buffal…*checks notes*…well, hm no point in reading too much into that. That must be one of those downright stupid games that happens every so often. Nobody, not even in Duval County, can argue that the Jags have been anything other than dreadful this season. They beat the Bills? Ok, I raise you- week 8 against the Seahawks. One of the worst games played by any team this season. Devoid of a plan and devoid of potential.
So, why has this season been an F grade thus far? Well - 2 reasons mainly. Firstly, it has become all but impossible to truly evaluate Trevor Lawrence as this is not a functional offence. The player talent around him is non-existent and far too much is placed on his muscly shoulders. We should be able to get a much more accurate view on Lawrence when/if the Jags invest in some offence.
Secondly, coach Urban Meyer has not had a good season. Regardless of off-field events, I’m not sure how much he has shown the Jags to give them the belief that he is the right man to take the organisation forward. Even on Sunday against the Bills, they only scored 3 field goals and would have lost 99 times out of 100. I just have no faith that this team is going anywhere, even with Lawrence. Jacksonville should already be looking towards next draft.
Houston Texans (1-8) Mid-Season Grade: F
Propping up the AFC South predictably we have the Texans. Week 1 against the Jags and the Texans get a W- we were all questioning ourselves…oh maybe the Texans are frisky this season? Nah. They’re exactly who everyone thought they were going to be. That is a team in heavy rebuilding mode, not focused on winning but rather doing anything to rekindle a sense of optimism in a building that has long since abandoned hope. The Texans have played fine in spells, in fact they’ve put together more quarters of good football than the Jaguars but have 1 less win to show for it. I would say that hopefully the Texans play the Bills soon to get a second win but of course that occurred in Week 4 to the tune of a 40-0 shutdown.