Deshaun Watson's ACL injury clouds an already wide-open race for the AFC South. Is a third straight division title out of the question for the Houston Texans, who are now led by Tom Savage? Our AFC South reporters weigh in with their outlook for the division the rest of the way:
Sarah Barshop, Texans reporter: The Texans are only a game back of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, but the injury to rookie quarterback Watson likely makes this a two-team race for the AFC South title. The Texans were below .500 with Watson throwing 16 touchdowns in his last four games in part because the defense has not been able to keep up with Houston's high-powered offense. Now, the Texans will have to rely on a defense that looks little like the unit that finished No. 1 in yards allowed per game last season en route to their second straight division crown. Unlike years past, there are two other good teams in the AFC South and 9-7 may not win the division. With Houston taking a step back, the Jaguars will win the division with the formula the Texans have used the last two seasons -- a team led by a dominant defense that can make up for the shortcomings of its offense. The Titans will keep it close, but the Jaguars have the NFL's easiest remaining schedule compared with the eighth-easiest for Tennessee and that will give them the edge the rest of the way. Prediction: Jaguars.
Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter: The AFC South is now a two-team race between the Titans and Jaguars. It's the Titans' offense vs. the Jaguars' defense. Tennessee clearly is better at quarterback, receiver, and tight end than the Jaguars. The key for the Titans is making sure Marcus Mariota remains healthy. He's missed time with injuries last season and already this season, and the Titans can't afford to rely on Matt Cassel for a significant period of time. The Jaguars have the best cornerback duo in the NFL with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and lead the league in sacks (33), pass defense (161.7 yards per game), and scoring defense (15.7 points per game). The addition of NT Marcell Dareus should help improve their one glaring defensive weakness (the Jaguars are last in run defense). The Jaguars also have an easier schedule than the Titans, which includes both of the NFL's winless teams (0-8 Cleveland and San Francisco) and just one team (5-2 Seattle) with a winning record. Even so, the inconsistency of QB Blake Bortles may be the equalizer and the division title likely will come down to the final game of the season when the Jaguars play at Tennessee. That would seem to favor the Jaguars since they've been so good on the road so far this season (3-1). Prediction: Jaguars.
Mike Wells, Colts reporter: The Colts' opportunity to win the division ended as soon as Scott Tolzien threw the first of his two pick-six interceptions in Week 1 and was sealed with Andrew Luck being placed on injured reserve on Thursday. For the Texans, their chance went away on Thursday afternoon when Watson unfortunately suffered his knee injury. So that leaves the Jaguars and Titans by default. I badly want to pick the Jags because of their defense, which is ranked sixth in the NFL, but two words are keeping me from doing that: Blake Bortles. The quarterback will have to bail his team out and win a game for them at some point this season. I don't have faith that he will do that because he doesn't get to face the Colts (330 passing yards in Week 7) every week. Mariota doesn't have Jacksonville's defense playing with him, but Tennessee's defense is adequate enough (16th in the league) to go along with the running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. It won't be a pretty race, but the Titans win the division at the end. Prediction: Titans.
Cameron Wolfe, Titans reporter: The Watson injury largely takes the two-time defending AFC South champs out of the race, narrowing a three-way AFC South battle down to the Titans and Jaguars. The AFC South is laid out for the Titans to take, and I'd argue it's their division to lose now. Mariota, along with almost the entire Titans roster, is healthy. Mariota should be a better quarterback over the second half of the season, and he'll have rookie Corey Davis back to add more juice to their offense. Tennessee played its best football around this time last season, and we should see a heavy dose of a healthier Murray and Henry down the stretch. The Titans have an offensive line that can match the Jaguars' front, and a defense that can handle its own. Jacksonville's stout defense, with two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates, keeps them in it. But we'll soon see if they can win a division in spite of Bortles. I'm a little pessimistic that they can keep that up. The Titans gave a glimpse of the Jaguars' potential downfall earlier this season in their 37-16 win when they held Leonard Fournette to 40 rushing yards and forced Bortles to beat them. Tennessee plays host to the Jaguars on Dec. 31, a rematch that could decide the AFC South. Prediction: Titans.