As the Texans will face the Jaguars in their 35th meeting together in Houston, the Colts and Titans square off in Nashville, making this an all-AFC South weekend.
You could easily say this was the strongest division in the NFL last season. No other division had three winning teams and no other had a last place team (Jacksonville) that could claim they beat the Patriots and blanked the Colts 6-0.
This season is already different and it’s too early to predict much, other than it’s still going to be a tough one to win and its teams are going to be difficult to beat as they venture around the league.
Indy went to Los Angeles last week and rallied to take the Chargers into overtime before bowing. Jacksonville lost its starting QB yet still had a chance to cut a once-commanding Kansas City lead to a one-score game had they not turned it over in the red zone in the second half.
Tennessee walloped heavily-hyped Cleveland by Lake Erie. And the Texans led New Orleans late before Drew Brees led his 49th-career comeback win with 37 seconds left.
The Texans are trying to win the division for the sixth time in the last nine seasons. After watching the Colts dominate the AFC South for the first 10 years of franchise history, they broke through in 2011 and have won the bulk of the titles since. That’s not to say the Texans have accomplished what they want. The goals are greater but the division is always step one.
Two of the teams not named the Texans have lost their starting quarterbacks since camp began, as Andrew Luck retired and Nick Foles got injured (but could be back by mid-season).
Before you get excited, that doesn’t make things much easier, historically speaking. In winning three of the last four division championships, Houston is 15-9 within the AFC South. Five of the nine losses were to so-called backup QBs – Jacoby Brissett (2x), Blaine Gabbert, Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Cassel.
Now, maybe it’s unfair to call all these QBs backups, as Hasselbeck went to a Super Bowl, Cassel to the playoffs in K.C. and Gabbert started a lot of games in Jacksonville. Plus, Brissett is now a full-time starter.
On the other side, Houston won 10 of those 15 games with Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, T.J. Yates and Brock Osweiler. You never know how things will play out.
And don’t eye-roll me about the quality of quarterbacks. Two years ago, when Houston went 1-5 and 4-12 overall because of a historic amount of injuries, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles led the Titans and Jags to the divisional round and the AFC championship game, respectively. This division does plenty of damage outside of itself, with or without marquee named signal-callers.
It’s always a wild ride and it’s just beginning for 2019 with an all-division weekend in Week 2.