The Creme is rising to the top and we’re starting to get a picture of how the playoffs will look come January. We’ve looked at the teams in the West and North, now we look South. Here’s our look at the the AFC and NFC South teams have had to show us so far.
Check out the AFC and NFC West ninetynineyards.com/2020/11/15/half-season-report-part-1-the-west and North http://ninetynineyards.com/2020/11/15/half-season-report-part-2-the-north
Indianapolis Colts 6-3 A-
Thursday nights win over division rivals Titans has shot the Colts to the top of the AFC South. Four days after an awkward 10-24 loss to the Ravens where they failed to score in the second half, the Colts flipped the script and kept the Titans scoreless in the second half, winning 34-17.
It was a much needed win after going 2-2 in their last few outings and will give them confidence going into their next games which include the 6-2 Packers and a rematch with the Titans. Philip Rivers’ 306 yards took him to 61,666 for his career. Surpassing Hall of Fame Dan Marino into number 5 all time passing yards.
Despite the feat Rivers hasn’t been at his best this year. He’s on track for 4257 yards and 20 Touchdowns. That would be his fewest yards since 2014 and his lowest touchdown be his fewest ever as a starter. In his defence, he hasn’t needed to be at a career best, much due to… his defence.
The Colts defence are easily one of the best in the league. Only allowing 290.4 yards/game and 19.7 points/game which is 1st and 3rd respectively. They lead the league in Interceptions with 11 and have the lowest QB rating against them at 78.9.
Indianapolis are now in the driving seat in the AFC South and will be eying up a playoff spot. If the old adage “defence wins championships” is true they can hope for a post season run too. -Bryan Dickie
Tennasee Titans 6-3 B-
A 5-0 start gave the Titans real hope of making the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They’ve since gone 1-3, their only win coming to the inconsistent Bears. They failed to score the whole of the second half Thursday against the Colts, falling 34-17 to their AFC South rival.
The Titans are again leaning on their star running back Derrick Henry. He leads the NFL in rushing yards with 946, his 8 touchdowns is tied 3rd. Henry is the only back with over 130 touches to not have a fumble so far this year.
Up next the Titans have the Ravens, Colts and the Browns where they may struggle to pick up wins. After such a strong start the Titans are at a turning point in their season, if they’re not careful they’ll become one of only 5 teams to start 5-0 and not make the playoffs. -Bryan Dickie
Houston Texans 2-6 C
The Texans are a car crash. You can tell things are bad when you are going through a PR fiasco of a season and then fire a much-loved PR director, Amy Palcic, causing a whole new mess. The Texans have already fired HC and GM Bill O’Brien. Since then the Texans have gone 2-0 against the Jags and continued an 0-6 start vs the rest of the NFL.
Deshaun Watson’s rushing stats may be down but he is set for a career year in terms of passing yards, TDs, first downs and yards/attempt. That being said, the numbers may be elevated from playing catchup football. The last four games seem to show that O’Brien wasn’t the only problem in
Houston, though the point differential has gone from -46 over the first four games to +3 over the next four, including an overtime loss to the Titans.
The Texans may as well play to win – it’s not as if they can tank for a top pick with no picks in the first two rounds next year. The offence has been ok – far from what we have come to expect with Watson at the helm – but the defence has been trash. They have allowed third-most yards and fourth-most points. The pass defence has allowed 11th most yards but the rush defence is the worst in the league. As a result, Houston has the eighth worst third down efficiency, getting off the field only 47.7% of the time. When the new regime starts, you would expect them to rebuild the defence, with or without JJ Watt. -Adam Barton
Jacksonville Jaguars 1-7 C-
Similarly to the Chargers there wasn’t much expected from the Jags this term. Having traded away many of their most valuable assets before the season pointing their near future sternly in the direction of rebuild.
It started well with a win 27-20 against the Colts, but they’ve lost 7 straight since, 5 of those by more than a score. Their defence is 31st in both points 30.9 and yards 418.1 per game. Since that game against the Colts they’ve only held one team to below 30 points. That was the 2-6 Texans who put up 27.
2020 May also signal the end of Minshew mania, the former 6th round pick is currently out with an injury and with the Jags currently pencilled in for the 2nd pick in the draft it’s inevitable the talk of picking one of the highly rated college QBs in next years draft. That’s something for the Jags to look forward to in what looks like another painful season. -Bryan Dickie
New Orleans Saints 6-2 A-
The Los Angeles Chargers were the visitors to the Super Dome in Week 5 of the season. The Chargers were unstoppable in the first half of this game as they were 17 points ahead with less than five minutes of the half remaining. The Saints can never be counted out at home and managed to score at the end of the half to go in 10 points behind. As both teams traded blows in the second half, Los Angeles had the chance for an impressive road win as Kicker Michael Badly attempted a 50-yarder for the win. Heartbreak for the Chargers as the field goal attempt hit the upright and bounced back into the field of play. Overtime followed and a game winning field goal by Will Lutz.
After a bye week, the Saints welcomed former Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his Panthers. The Saints were unstoppable on third downs as they converted 12 out of 14 attempts and never had to punt the entire game. As good as the Offense were, the Defense had an off day but they did come up when it mattered as they just knocked the Panthers out of field goal range at the end of regulation although Carolina attempted what would have bean an NFL record 65-yarder. Sadly for the Panthers, the attempt sailed right and New Orleans won their third consecutive game.
After two back to back home games, the Saints were the visitors to Chicago in Week 8. Two closely fought games in the previous weeks indicated that this contest would follow in a similar vein. Despite holding a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter, New Orleans let the Nick Foles’ led Bears team back into the contest as another Saints game ended up in Overtime. Just as he did in the Week 5 Overtime win, Saints Kicker, Will Lutz, converted a 35 year field goal to keep New Orleans winning run going.
The Saints were set-up nicely for their trip to Tampa in Week 9 with the unusual tag of underdogs on their shoulders, the rest is history as they laid the smack down on the Buccs 38-3. Brees and co. are top of the NFC South and looking good for another playoff run. -Stuart Anderson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-3 B-
Dividing the regular season into four quarters each containing our games, the Bucs have lost their first game then followed that loss with three successive wins. In Week 5, Tampa had a shocker in the Windy City as they threw away a road win against Chicago. 13 zip ahead with two minutes remaining in the first half, Tampa somehow gave up 14 points in just over a minute to let the score shy Bears lead by halftime. A second half full of self-inflicted penalties and baffling coaching decisions resulted in the Bucs going home empty handed.
Next up for Tampa was a visit from the then undefeated and red-hot Green Bay Packers. After a shaky first quarter when the Packers were unstoppable, the Bucs totally dominated the game. Started by the rarest of beasts; a pick six from Aaron Rodgers. Tampa were completely unstoppable after this unlikely defensive touchdown as they scored an incredible unanswered 38 points. Just to finish off the surreal encounter, the Bucs even replaced Quarterback Tom Brady with back-up Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter as the game was done as a contest.
With their tails up, Tampa were on their travels again as they took on the Raiders in Las Vegas. Once more, the Bucs Offense struggled to show consistency as they only showed up for two out of the four quarters but it was more than enough to beat the Raiders in their own backyard. Las Vegas did get back to within three points of the Bucs in the fourth quarter but three unanswered touchdowns by Tampa ended the contest.
With back to back wins against the Packers and the Raiders, Tampa were red hot favourites as they travelled to the Big Apple to take on the one win New York Giants. The Big Blue defied their lowly standings by dominating the first half of the game. Sadly for New York, Quarterback Daniel Jones twice turned the ball over unnecessarily as Tampa scored points on both turnovers as they sneaked out a two point victory on the road. A subdued performance from Tampa was still good enough to get to 6-2 for the season for the first time since their Super Bowl winning season in 2002.
After a poor showing last week against the Saints the Buccs will be looking to put that behind them and kick on into the second half of the season. They’ve shown they can be one of the best in the league, can they put it all together at the right time… -Stuart Anderson
Atlanta Falcons 3-6 C-
Week 5 was the end of the road for Atlanta Head Coach Dan Quinn. Winless going into the Divisional clash with the Panthers, the Falcons fifth straight loss to start the season was the final straw for Atlanta. A first quarter touchdown was the highlight for the Dirty Birds as they only managed three field goals over the course of the next three quarters as they walked off on the wrong end of a 23-16 score.
Interim Head Coach Raheem Morris’ first game was a road trip to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in Week 7. The Falcons were unstoppable as they ran out to a 23-0 lead. After trading blows, the Falcons found themselves ahead by 25 in the fourth quarter. Even Atlanta couldn’t blow a 25 point lead in the fourth quarter and held on for a comfortable victory against the Vikings and get their season, and their interim Head Coach’s, first win of the season
If the Falcons fans thought that this was the start of a new dawn, they were soon brought back to earth in Week 8 after one of the most bizarre endings to an NFL game in recent memory. At home, against the Detroit Lions, the Falcons found themselves down 14-12 late in the fourth quarter. With two minutes remaining and on the Lions 10-yard line, Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan is telling his players not to score. The plan being to run down the clock and kick a walk off, game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, Falcons Running Back, Todd Gurley, applied the brakes too late as he waltzed through Detroit’s defense as we all witnessed the ridiculous sight of Gurley trying to stop before the goal-line as the Lions defenders were standing signalling a touchdown. The score was upheld and as is the Falcon way, Detroit strolled down the field on the next possession to score a last-gasp game-winning score.
Revenge was the dish of the day in Week 8 as a quick re-match against the Panthers gave the Falcons an opportunity to wipe out the memory of the earlier loss at home to their Divisional foes. Ahead at half-time, the Falcons kept their noses in front for the remainder of the game. A 4th quarter touchdown run by Todd Gurley finished the game as a contest as the Runningback didn’t have to worry about stopping shy of the goal-line this time.
Aside from the ending of the Lions game, it’s been an exciting start for Raheem Morris. Only time will tell if the Falcons can keep this improvement going under their interim Head Coach. -Stuart Anderson
Carolina Panthers 3-6 B+
The biggest compliment I can pay Matt Rhule and his staff is that they have made the Panthers watchable again. Although they have a sub .500 record, they have been competitive throughout – and they certainly gave the Chiefs a run for their money last time out.
Rookies Derrick Brown and Jeremy Chinn have started to show their worth towards the middle of the season. They both should be foundational pieces for the Panthers moving forward.
Their offence has been without star RB Christian McCaffrey for large chunks of the season, but have been able to scheme around this. Mike Davis has filled in well in the backfield. Robby Anderson is 4th on the receiving yards chart, and is flourishing away from the Jets. But it is the use of Curtis Samuel that has most impressed me – used out-wide, from the backfield and in motion – the ex-Ohio State Buckeye is becoming an excellent playmaker.
The big question for the Carolina Panthers? Can they keep hold of OC Joe Brady, who led LSU’s offence to historic levels in 2019? He is sure to attract some attention on the inevitable head coach merry-go-round come the offseason. -Stuart Taylor