Crunch Time In The AFC South

Crunch Time In The AFC South
Reading Time: 5 minutes.

It has been a fantastic season in the AFC South and now it all comes down to Week 17. The division has been that good that the Colts @ Titans game has got the honour of being chosen for Sunday Night Football. Whatever happens that game will be knockout matchup. However, just how much it means depends on what happens when the Jaguars visit the Texans.

If the Texans win they will close out the division and could potentially still get a bye week or even the #1 seed. However, if the Jaguars win then the winner of Colts against Titans will win the division. They also could still get a bye week but right now thy will be dreaming of the division and playoffs rather than a week off on Wildcard weekend.

Let’s break down the keys for the two games.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

This game is relatively simple for me. If the Texans score 20 or more points I expect them to win but if they Jaguars defence can hold them under that then it could be a really close game. The Texans will be buoyed by the return of Lamar Miller, as their run game struggled last week.

They cannot afford for this Jaguars defensive front to pin their ears back and come after Deshaun Watson all game long. If they do not get the run game functioning that is exactly what will happen, and this offensive line will struggle. The offensive line needs the help of the Jaguars being on their heels and having to be wary or the play action.
The last time these two teams met the Texans rushed for over 140 yards and it was one of the keys of the game.

The other key as always will be turnovers. The Texans rank third in the league in taking the ball away and first in forcing fumbles. In fact forcing two Blake Bortles fumbles in key areas was the biggest difference maker last time out. Since their bye week the Texans have just four turnovers in six games, and have forced 12. Their turnover last week was their first wince Week 12.

What about the Jaguars offence?

The Jaguars have Bortles back under centre this week and he is somewhat fighting for his career. That could mean we see the on fire Bortles we have seen previously against the Patriots or it could mean we see the risk taking Bortles who will make this easy for the Texans. Expect the Jaguars to run the ball a lot in this game to try and take the onus off of Bortles. If the Texans can stop the run game this should be a fairly one sided game.

Overview

The Texans opened as 10 point favourites but that has closed to 6.5. The second line makes much more sense as I expect this to be a relatively tight game in large parts. The Texans generally only open up when they have to. In this game they will know the best way to lose is by letting the Jaguars defence force turnovers. I expect a heavy dose of the run game for the large part with them throwing solely when they need to. The matchup I am excited to see in this game is Jalen Ramsey against DeAndre Hopkins. That could be the key to whether this is a three point game or a 10 point Texans blow out. Hopkins will have his opportunities but if he can be kept under 100 yards and out of the end zone more than once then the Jaguars could upset the Texans.

The over/under on the game is currently 40 and I think this game goes under. I cannot see the Jaguars scoring over 20 points and somewhere in the region of 13 or 14 is most likely. I also do not see the Texans completely blowing them out. If the Texans win “big” then I see a 23-13 type scoreline. If it is a tight game I expect it will be 17-14 or 14-10.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans

This is unlikely to be the thrilling Sunday Night Football game we might want. However, I do expect a closely fought game which will come down to the second half. If this was being played in Indianapolis then I think we are looking at a big Colts win, similar to what happened earlier this season. However, in Tennessee, in prime time, this should be an interesting game in terms of the scoreline late in the third or even into the fourth quarter.

The key to the game for the Titans is Marcus Mariota. If he is healthy and functioning as a a duel threat he opens so much up for them. The reason Mariota is key and not the running of Derrick Henry is that Henry is somewhat blunted if Blaine Gabbert is under centre. If Mariota is under centre he makes people respect the pass game a little more. However, he also takes a defender away from the run support as someone has to account for Mariota running the ball himself.

In the last three games Henry has rushed for seven touchdowns and 492 yards. Last week against the Redskins was disappointing but he lost Mariota in the second quarter. Also early in the game you could see the Henry effect. The Redskins were loading up on the run and the Titans had some easy passes to move down the field early. Henry being functional this week will be huge as well, but the best shot of that is with Mariota and not Gabbert.

Can the Colts run the ball?

On the road there are generally two keys. Run the ball and do not turn it over. One feeds into the other really as running the ball opens up safer plays in the pass game and lowers the risk of interceptions. With Jurrell Casey out the Colts will be hoping that opens up the middle of the field for their run game, which has been up and down this season.

If Marlon Mack can control the game on the ground then Luck could pick this secondary apart. That group is good but they have been vulnerable at times as well. The loss of Casey should also help with pass protection as it allows the offensive line to focus on the edge rushers. That means Luck should be able to step up in the pocket without that big inside pressure from the very talented Casey.

Overview

The Colts are three point favourites right now and that is I am leaning. If it drops to 2.5 then I will just on the Colts quickly. To me they are the better team with the better quarterback. That is regardless of which player in under centre in Tennessee. However, Mariota has demonstrated he can win these crunch games. He did it last year in Arrowhead and I expect the Titans to try and play a cards close to the chest type game.

The over/under is currently set at 43 and that is right around where I see this game being scored, especially if the Colts win. My feeling is the Colts win by 3-6 points with the scores something in the region of 23-20. If the Titans win expect it to be low scoring and extremely tense. Andrew Luck will have a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter. Last week Josh Johnson could not win with his two opportunities but Luck is going to be a lot harder for the Titans to stop.

Summary

Houston Texans -6.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – Total points under 40

Indianapolis Colts -3 @ Tennessee Titans – Colts (especially if it goes to 2.5)

Image credit: Yahoo

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