The AFC South is a three-horse race.
After a brutal start to the year, the weakest division in the conference had a big Week 3 going 3-0 against the vaunted AFC West and nearly going 4-0 across the board (nice one, Houston).
The Colts enjoyed yet another offseason of media love and adoration, the clear favorites coming in (Vegas still likes them, by the way). Now, the Jaguars have suddenly become the darling of the division, getting two consecutive blowout wins and looking like a legit threat.
I was curious about what the public thought after three weeks, so I asked my Twitter following. Here were the results:
As a Titans reporter, my followers are obviously skewed towards the hometown team. But the hype for the Jaguars seems to be real to just about everyone.
I went back and watched both Jacksonville and Indianapolis in their Week 3 wins, and I was left with some takeaways I’m not seeing anywhere else in the media. Here is what I think these two teams showed us in Week 3, and what we stand to learn about them in Week 4:
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1)
The Jaguars discourse lately has been far too polar.
The national media is falling for them fast. And on the surface, you can understand why: a sophomore QB who was the golden boy coming out, competent coaching, some real talent on the roster, a weak division, and a couple of big wins in a row.
Titans’ and Colt’s apologists, on the other hand, aren’t having it just yet. They know what the Jaguars have always been; a disaster. They’re understandably not yet ready to believe this franchise is on the rise to prominence.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Let’s start by looking at what this team has clumsily managed to do over the past couple of years.
Being absolutely terrible for multiple years in a row pays dividends eventually. While Jacksonville isn’t exactly known for its sharp draft skills, the sheer number of dart throws they’ve had recently has resulted in some real talent joining the team.
Trevor Lawrence was the chosen one coming out of Clemson, and he’s started to make his second-year leap as a quarterback already. Other first-round picks such as Josh Allen, Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, and C.J. Henderson are making a real impact on their defense.
But what have they truly proven yet in 2022? A close Week 1 loss to Washington was understandable, but certainly not impressive. Blowing out the Colts in Week 2 was seemingly a big statement, as was blowing out the Chargers in Week 3… but are we sure these wins are really that impressive?
Indianapolis looked dreadful in their first two games, and historically they play particularly badly in Jacksonville. The Jaguars handled them thoroughly, but I think that should’ve been expected.
Their Week 3 win in LA is a massive paper tiger in my eyes. Yes, they killed a team on the road that is supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. But look at the state of disrepair the Chargers were in:
A healthy Chargers team doesn’t get beaten like that, not by them. Could this Jaguars team be the truth? It’s certainly possible. Through three weeks, however, I’m not compelled by what they’ve shown me to crown them a certified contending football team just yet.
Week 4 will go a long way in showing us what this Jaguars team is truly capable of. On the road against the only remaining unbeaten team in the league, the Eagles will be the ultimate test for this ascendant squad. Philadelphia is as hot as anybody to start the year, and if the Jaguars can handle them, then I’ll be truly impressed and ready to make them the new division favorites until further notice. But I don’t expect things to be so easy for them in Pennsylvania.
The Titans and Jaguars don’t meet each other until December, first in Nashville for Week 14 and then for the Week 18 season finale in Jacksonville. Tennessee has dominated Jacksonville lately, winning 11 of their last 13 matchups and currently riding a five-game win streak.
The Colts-Titans series wraps up this year very early, and the Titans-Jaguars series is very late. In the preseason, this seemed like an annoying scheduling quirk. This division was supposed to be the Titans versus the Colts, after all. These series should’ve been flipped!
Well, it’s quickly looking like the schedule makers got it right after all. If the division comes down to the Titans and the Jaguars, we’re positioned for some fantastic late-season drama.
Indianapolis Colts (1-1-1)
The Colts have been by far the ugliest of these three AFC South teams so far this year.
Managing to tie the Texans in Week 1 and then get blown out by the Jaguars in Week 2 was about as ugly a start as you could imagine, and boy did they look bad in doing it. Nothing about this team was clicking. They looked poorly coached, full of roster holes, and completely disjointed.
Upon watching the replay of their Week 3 win over the Chiefs, I frankly came away with a lot of the same feelings.
This game was the ultimate false flag outcome. The Chiefs did everything in their power to lose, and the Colts barely managed to steal the victory from them. The Chiefs were a special teams nightmare, Patrick Mahomes looked off, and the usually fantastic Kansas City September coaching was lackluster.
The Colts, for their part, look like a team with good defense and not much else. Matt Ryan has looked washed to begin the year, though his surroundings aren’t ideal. The offensive line is shaky at best, his weapons have been anything but threatening, and I think his coach stinks.
The Titans have no excuse not to win this weekend in my eyes, and another win over Indianapolis would do more than hurt their record.
An article came out this week by Zak Keefer, who covers the Colts for The Athletic. Titled “Why Colts owner Jim Irsay will be fired up for the Titans on Sunday”, it details a closed-door, in-person, “come to Jesus” meeting called by Colts owner Jim Irsay a year ago.
Indianapolis had just come off an uninspiring loss in Nashville, falling to a dreadful 0-3 start with new quarterback Carson Wentz. Irsay was understandably upset, but the topic of his meeting was more specific than their pitiful start; it was to address the Titans’ dominance over his franchise recently.
“Do you like being dominated?” Jim Irsay asked them that day, one of those rhetorical questions that are best left unanswered. “Because you’re getting your ass kicked. “Oh, we have to get past Tennessee?” he continued. “Well, we don’t. Not until somebody stands up and does something about it.”Zak Keefer, The Athletic
The Colts spent years owning the Titans with Manning and Luck, but their fortune has shifted since then. Ryan Tannehill is 4-1 against his division rival, winning all three of his games in Indianapolis. Not only has Tennessee won this rivalry on the road lately, but they’ve also done it in explosive fashion. Mike Vrabel’s offense has dropped 31, 34, and 45 points on the Colts in their last three trips up north.
The Titans and Colts play this Sunday in Week 4 and then again in Week 7 on October 23rd. Tennessee has the chance to kill Indianapolis’ division hopes before Halloween, as they did last season sweeping the series in the final weekend of October. A Titans sweep in 2022 would send the Colts to, at best, 1-3-1 in the division and a 3-3-1 record overall, and their division championship hopes would be scuttled before the midpoint of the year.