With Andrew Luck out an estimated 2-6 weeks, the AFC South has become more interesting than it’s been in years. The Indianapolis Colts still control the division with a 4-5 record, but without Luck they could become vulnerable between now and the first week of January.
The good news for Indy is that the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans aren’t very good, which is why most of us are still assuming that Matt Hasselbeck will hold things down just enough for Luck to carry the Colts to yet another division title in the early new year.
But one wild card to keep an eye on is Jacksonville, which might be 2-6 but nearly beat the Colts in Week 4, probably should have beat the Jets in Week 9 and has an extremely favorable schedule beyond a tough Week 10 road game in Baltimore.
Falling to 2-7 would hurt, but in a year that might require just eight wins to take this division, could the young, talented Jags have a 6-1 finish in them? Hell, 5-2 might even get the job done. They only face one team with a winning record the rest of the season, and that’s a home date with a sliding Falcons squad that has lost three of four.
The Jags have been right on the cusp of being solid all season. They are no longer a laughingstock and actually rank tied for first in the NFL with an average of 5.5 20-yard plays per game. The young offensive quartet of Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and T.J. Yeldon (none are older than 24) is legit, and the defense is quietly surrendering a league-low 3.2 yards per carry.
There are still holes on both sides of the ball and the Jags are still figuring out how to win, but three of their last four losses have come by a single score and they’re home for four of their last seven games. Beyond Baltimore, they may even be favored in three consecutive weeks against the Titans, Chargers and Titans, and then they get to host the Colts (possibly without Luck) and the Falcons. They then finish up against the Saints and Texans on the road, which isn’t easy, but those two teams might not be playing for much.
If they can win all of those games against the Titans and Chargers (very doable) and split the final four, they’ll finish at least 7-9. And considering it’s doubtful anybody in the South will be better than 8-8, that means Jacksonville might actually have a shot here.