AFC South's horrific start could mean big changes ahead for all four teams
The current crop of AFC South head coaches: Chuck Pagano, Ken Whisenhunt, Gus Bradley and Bill O'Brien. Will any of them still have a job in 2016?
Indianapolis and Houston, the South's two anticipated favorites before the year began, both lost Sunday—the Texans trailed the Dolphins 41-0 before stringing together some garbage-time TDs; the Colts were down 27-0 to the Saints prior to a mini-rally. The Titans lost, too, with backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger unable to find much traction against Atlanta.
Only Jacksonville's wild London victory over Buffalo kept the division from a winless weekend. At 2-5 the Jaguars now sit a mere game out of first place.
This is bad. Perhaps even historically bad.
Just twice in NFL history has a team won a division with a sub-.500 record—Carolina (7-8-1) last season and Seattle (7-9) in 2012. Through Week 7, the Colts stand alone atop the South at 3-4, their only three wins coming within the division.
And they may have the most unstable coaching situation of all, amid reports of Chuck Pagano's internal rift with GM Ryan Grigson. The Colts have been able to take advantage of their rivals' struggles the past two seasons, winning the division title by four games in 2013 and clinching it with a Week 15 victory over Houston last year. That relative lack of competition is the best news going for the Colts in 2015. Were they not somehow in first place, Pagano might have been shown the door already.
Remarkably, Indianapolis has been worse with Andrew Luck on the field than when Matt Hasselbeck had to step in with Luck hurt. Luck fired two interceptions Sunday, giving him nine in five games played—matching his total for all of '13 and putting him more than halfway to his '14 count.
The rumored Pagano-Grigson headbutting could be causing issues for Indianapolis, to be sure. That still doesn't excuse Luck's struggles, though, nor the underachieving nature of the team as a whole. Pagano likely will take the fall, even if the Colts right the ship.
O'Brien cannot be feeling all that comfortable in Houston, either, certainly not after another humiliating effort Sunday. He may be given some leeway considering that the Texans still do not have anything resembling a starting QB (though, how much of that is of O'Brien's own doing is up for debate). The Texans' 9-7 finish last season also marked a significant step up from their 2-14 mark a year earlier.
Still, save for DeAndre Hopkins' almost inevitable emergence, the Texans have regressed across the board, including on defense—an unthinkable development with J.J. Watt joined by Jadeveon Clowney and Vince Wilfork up front.
At one point during Sunday's game, the Texans had zero yards of offense to Miami's 275. Tack that performance on to a home loss against Hasselbeck and a 27-point setback in Atlanta, and Houston's compete level has to be called into question.
Effort may not be the prevailing problem in Tennessee and Jacksonville, so much as a still-lagging talent base.
The Titans actually pushed Atlanta to the limit Sunday, despite playing without injured QB Marcus Mariota. Whisenhunt's 3-19 record as the Titans' coach is becoming difficult to ignore, though, as is his 48-70 showing overall. His saving grace may come from Mariota, once the rookie QB gets back in the lineup. Mariota has flashed his immense promise at times this season, albeit contrasted with a host of forgettable moments. Whisenhunt's reputation as a sharp QB mind could encourage Tennessee to give him more time, although a two- or three-win season will make his seat rather hot.
Bradley was the lone winner in the division Sunday, his team blowing a 27-3 lead before striking back late to knock off the Bills. The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported before the game that “coach Gus Bradley is considered safe this year AND next year. Team understands patience.”
There is no question that the Jaguars are playing the long game. The season-ending injury suffered this past summer by first-round pick Dante Fowler set the wheels in motion for another long year.
But, as with Whisenhunt and O'Brien, is there enough evidence of progress?
Blake Bortles and a talented passing attack, led by the likes of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, has put in some strong work on occasion—Bortles and Hurns connected on a beautiful game-winner Sunday. Elsewhere, the rebuild has been grueling, at best. Bradley is 9-30 with Jacksonville.
The AFC South has been terrible thus far in 2015, and things only appearing to be getting worse for the division's supposed contenders. As a result, big changes could be in store for everyone involved.