NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts have a firm grasp on the AFC South, poised to win the division they used to dominate with Peyton Manning.
Now it’s quarterback Andrew Luck and coach Chuck Pagano leading the way.
The Colts have gone from chasing the division leaders to being the hunted, and Pagano said the Colts (6-2) must stay focused to win the AFC South crown.
“The minute you start feeling good about yourself and you relax, you get complacent, then you’re not going to play well and you’re going to lose games,” Pagano said.
At the halfway point of the NFL season, the only sure thing is that the Houston Texan’s two-year reign in the AFC South is over with their six-game skid the least of their worries. The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) just want their first win under first-year coach Gus Bradley, thankfully getting a bye last week to rest up from their trip to London and their latest loss.
The Colts have a two-game lead in the division this franchise won seven times with Manning at quarterback after rallying for a 27-24 win at Houston last weekend despite trailing 21-3 at halftime when Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed. Pagano said that won’t mean anything if they don’t take care of business in the second half.
The Tennessee Titans haven’t won the AFC South since 2008 but feel ready to challenge after surviving the league’s third-toughest schedule through the first seven weeks. The Titans (4-4) are chasing their first playoff berth since 2008 and are eager to stake their own claim on the division with two games remaining against the Colts. Their first chance will be Nov. 14 in Nashville.
“We know we have to make our move,” Titans coach Mike Munchak.
Here are five things to watch in the AFC South in the second half:
REMEMBER THE TEXANS: Kubiak’s collapse from a mini-stroke at halftime of the loss to the Colts is simply the most serious of the many issues Houston has faced this season. The Texans were 2-0 after an overtime win over the Titans before Matt Schaub’s struggles. Schaub was intercepted for a touchdown in four straight games before getting hurt, and even backup T.J. Yates was picked off for a TD when he came in. Now Case Keenum is the quarterback, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is Houston’s interim coach and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is expected to call plays until Kubiak returns. The team that dreamed of a Super Bowl now must try to avoid locking up a losing season before December.
NO MORE INJURIES: Luck and the Colts have proven they can come back, and the defense has allowed only 29 points in the fourth quarter this season. But they can’t afford another start like they had in Houston. They also need to stay healthy having already lost receiver Reggie Wayne, running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmard Bradshaw, tight end Dwayne Allen and starting guard Donald Thomas to season-ending injuries. The Colts also need T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener to prove they can replace Wayne.
RUNNING GAME: The run game the Titans worked on so hard this offseason finally had the big payoff last week with Chris Johnson running for 150 yards and two touchdowns. They must keep it up to help Jake Locker.
WILL THE JAGUARS GO 0-16?: The Jaguars’ best bet to avoid an 0-16 record could be the fact they have yet to play the Texans after losing receiver Justin Blackmon last week to suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
STRETCH RUN: The Colts may have the most favorable schedule with a trip to Cincinnati (6-3) on Dec. 8 and at Kansas City (9-0) on Dec. 22 the only games against teams currently with winning records. The Titans have five division games left, and Sunday against the Jaguars will be the first of two in a five-day span before a quick turnaround before hosting Indianapolis on Nov. 14. If the Colts win in Nashville, that would give them a sweep of division foes on the road this season.
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