AFC South 2017 Week 3 Preview & Predictions

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @kongfu4u  AFC South Week 3

HOUSTON TEXANS (1-1)

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

In week 2, the Houston Texans left Cincinnati with a win, 13-9, against the Bengals.

To no one’s surprise, quarterback DeShaun Watson started for the Texans in week 2 and did almost all his damage on the ground with 67 rush yards and a touchdown, but only 125 passing yards with no passing touchdowns.  The good — Watson was sacked three times during the game, but never let the pressure impact his play.  The bad — the Texans offense still needs (a lot of) work, and one of the problems is that Watson hasn’t demonstrated any rapport with his receivers.  He’s shown a tendency to rely on his legs rather than his arm, which might make sense since he was consistently overthrowing his receivers and was unable to effectively read the field.  Okay, Watson is a rookie and the Texans need to score anyway that they can, but last I checked, Watson was a rookie quarterback, not a running back.

In week 3, the Texans face much more difficult challenge traveling to Foxborough to face-off against the New England Patriots.

What can we expect in week 3?

  • Tom Brady vs. the Texans Defense

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots “returned” to being the quarterback we’ve all come to love and hate (depending on who you are), after “experts” speculated whether retirement should be considered after the dismal showing in week 1 (as Brady turned 40).  So, it looks like Jimmy Garoppolo will be warming the bench for another season as Brady’s back-up.

On the other side, there’s no arguing that the Texans have a solid defense.

With J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, Brady and his offense will be in for a battle.  The trio has formed a formidable defensive front line with the ability to put significant pressure on opposing offenses.  With many of Brady’s go-to receivers out or injured, Brady will be looking to TE Rob Gronkowski.  Gronkowski suffered a groin injury on Sunday, but it’s said to be nothing serious.  In week 1, we saw what pressure can do to Brady.  If the Texans can keep similar pressure on Brady and the secondary is able to keep Gronkowski out of the game, like Eric Berry did in week 1, the Texans might just leave Foxborough with a win.

  • The Patriots offense.

The Patriots are suffering from some offensive woes in terms of injuries, but that rarely stops Tom Brady.  In Sunday’s match up, keep an eye on new addition WR Brandon Cooks.  Cooks was brought in as a game changer downfield based on back-to-back 1,000+ yard and 8+ TD seasons in New Orleans averaging a whopping 13.6 yards per catch over his career.  So far, Cooks’ role in New England is undefined and his contributions have been virtually non-existent.  Expect Brandon Cooks to make his presence known in week 3.

Brandin Cooks

  • The History.

The Texans and the Patriots have faced off 7-times in the regular season and twice in the post-season (2013, 2017).  While Brady has been quarterback, the Texans have an 1-5 record (and overall, the Texans are 1-9).  In their last meeting in 2017 (during the post-season), the Patriots won 27-0.

  • DeShaun Watson vs. New England Defense

The Texans offense can be effective at times, but with rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson still learning, a mediocre front line and an offense that is having difficulty getting started, the Texans will surely struggle even against an under-performing defense like the Patriots.

Not to mention, the Texans offensive line has allowed 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception so far this season.

Watching the last two weeks, it’s obvious that the Watson hasn’t been aggressive in the pass game.  In week 2, Watson had just 125 passing yards, completing 15 of 24 pass attempts.  This could actually be a key to victory if Watson decides to throw more than he runs.  Then again, Watson would be smart to stick with what works.  You can count on the Patriots defense bottling up run lanes, while the secondary will focus on covering DeAndre Hopkins.  Watson will need to rely on TE Ryan Griffin, who’s returning from the concussion protocol to a decimated TE depth chart, as well as WRs Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.

Watson likes tight ends when DeAndre Hopkins isn’t available, so expect Griffin to get a touchdown.

The Texans will surely put up a fight, but…

The New England Patriots win.

TENNESSEE TITANS (1-1)

Seattle Seahawks @ Tennessee Titans

In week 2, the Tennessee Titans dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-16.

In week 3, the Titans are home, hosting the Seattle Seahawks and are 2.5-point favorites to win.

What can we expect in week 3?

  • The Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Bound?

For those of you wondering what is happening with the Seattle Seahawks this season, you’re not alone.  The Seahawks opened at 12-1 odds to make the Super Bowl.  But those odds have been slowly declining over the last two weeks, as you can seen in this article that tracks Super Bowl 52 Futures Odds for all 32 NFL teams.

If you’ve been watching them over the first two weeks into the season, you’re probably not surprised.  In week 2, the Seahawks were favored by 13.5-points against the San Francisco 49ers, but they barely squeaked out a win at 12-9.

Although improved from week 1, the Seahawks, known for their ground game, have yet to get a rushing touchdown, even with rookie running back Chris Carson putting up 93 rushing yards against the 49ers in week 2.  Thomas Rawls, returning from an ankle injury, has somewhat surprisingly had little part of the offense, particularly after much hyped offseason acquisition Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch.  And Russell Wilson looks to be having trouble getting the ball downfield.  If the Seahawks had trouble against the 49ers (particularly in light of the fact that the Los Angeles Rams managed 41 points against that same defense on Thursday Night Football), they will surely struggle against the Titans.

Russell Wilson – Getty Images

But, the Seahawks aren’t strangers to tough starts.

In 2016, the Seahawks also started the season 1-1, losing week 2 to the Los Angeles Rams (who, by the way, went on to win only won 4 games in 2016).  Wilson also had

only 1 passing touchdown through the first two weeks, an equally dismal quarterback rating of 33.4 and 27, respectively, but had a combined 156 more passing yards for the first two weeks compared to the 2017 season.

So, there is still hope.

Ultimately, the Seahawks finished 1st in the NFC West division after the slow start in 2016 with a 10-5-1 record, won the NFC Wildcard Playoffs against the Detroit Lions (26-6) and lost the NFC Divisional Playoffs to the Atlanta Falcons (20-36).

History aside, with a struggling offense, the Seahawks will likely have trouble against the Titans on Sunday as they visit Nissan Stadium.

  • The Titans Redemption at Home.

The season opener didn’t go as planned for the Tennessee Titans in week 1 against the Oakland Raiders, losing 16-26.  But the Titans return home, hoping to have a repeat of week 2.

While the Titans offense as a whole has been heating up, quarterback Marcus Mariota, hasn’t performed up to expectation.  In week two, the Titans offense had 179 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns, while Mariota had just 215 passing yards, an interception and a touchdown, essentially winning the game behind Ryan Succop’s 3 field goals.

Marcus Mariota

The Titans defense has been solid, allowing 99 rushing yards, 223 passing yards and 16-points in week 2, compared to 109, 262 and 26-points, respectively, in week 1.  Of course, that’s like comparing apples and oranges, or should I say Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr, to Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles.  The difference between the two games was the opposing offense and the improved performance of the Titans offense.

In week 3, with DeMarco Murray limited by a hamstring injury, Derrick Henry will likely take over most of the work load, coming off a record high game in week 2 with 92 rush yards and a rushing touchdown.

Tight end, Delanie Walker is still Mariota’s trusted receiver with Rishard Matthews (WR), coming in as a close second.  Mariota doesn’t lack for target down field, as rookie tight end, Jonnu Smith, caught the only passing touchdown in week 2.

It’s still too early to tell which team is the “real deal,” but the Titans have shown improvement over the first two weeks, while the Seahawks have continued to struggle.

The Tennessee Titans win.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-1)

Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars

After a strong start against the Houston Texans (29-7), the Jacksonville Jaguars saw an equally tough loss against the Tennessee Titans (16-37).  Blake Bortles suffered under the constant pressure of the Titans defense, and was unable to get the offense going, especially without Allen Robinson.  In week 3, the road doesn’t get any easier as the Jaguars host the Baltimore Ravens in London.

With the first international game of the season, both the Jaguars and the Ravens look to bring back a win.

What can we expect in week 3?

  • The Jacksonville Jaguars Offense vs. The Baltimore Ravens Defense.

The Baltimore defense is best described as spectacular this season.  They have allowed 218.5 passing yards per game, 85 rushing yards per game and an average of just 5 points per game.  In week 1, the Ravens defense held the Cincinnati Bengals scoreless, while in week 2, they held the Cleveland Browns to just 10 points.

The reason might have something to do with the fact that the Ravens currently lead the league in interceptions (8) and have 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.

Luckily for the Ravens defense, they’ve faced two teams that have suffered on the offense side this season, the Bengals and the Browns, respectively.  And, the Jacksonville Jaguars are among those offenses struggling this season.

Bortles hasn’t been very reliable this season, but wasn’t very reliable in 2016 either.  More surprising might be the fact that he’s still starting for the Jaguars.  In week 2, Bortles threw for 223 pass yards, a touchdown and was intercepted twice by the Titans, compared to week 1, where Bortles threw for only 125 passing yards, a touchdown but no interceptions.  Although rookie Leonard Fournette has had a combined 140 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns so far, the Ravens have allowed only 85 rushing yards per game this season.  It’ll be tough for the Jaguars to rely solely on their ground game to beat the Ravens.

Offensively, the Jaguars aren’t completely without hope.  In week 1, Bortles completed a touchdown to full back, Tommy Bohanon.  You might be wondering, who the hell is Tommy Bohanon?  He’s formerly of the New York Jets, is serving his first year with the Jaguars and had his first career touchdown against the Texans.

With no Allen Robinson and a questionable Allen Hurns who will play Sunday (9-out-of-11 catches and total 124 receiving yards), Bortles will probably rely heavily on wide receiver Marquise Lee, whose made 7-out-of-12 receptions in week 2 for 76 receiving yards, and running back, Leonard Fournette.  Of course, there is always full back Bohanon, if needed.

Expect Marquise Lee to get his first touchdown of the season.

  • The Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. The Baltimore Ravens Offense.

The Jaguars might have had their best game of the season against the Texans in week 1.  Setting a record 10 sacks in one game against the Texans quarterbacks, the Jaguars defense only managed a single sack against the Titans.

In week 3, the Jaguars defense face their next challenge with the Ravens.

The Ravens offense has had an average of 156 passing yards per game, 146.5 rushing yards per game and scored an average of 22-points per game.  The Ravens have also allowed only 3 sacks and 2 interceptions in the first two games of the season, though against the Browns and Bengals, both of which have struggled this season and are 0-2.

Sunday should be an interesting match-up.  Neither team has a stellar offense, but the Baltimore defense has made watching the Ravens a little more exciting.  On offense, Joe Flacco has steadily improved from week to week.  He’s thrown for a combined 338 yards, 3 touchdowns, improved in his passing percentage and quarterback rating.  A solid run game with Javorius Allen (combined 137 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown) and Terrance West (102 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown) had kept this offense moving.  In week 3, Terrance West will more than likely be limited with a thigh injury.

In the pass game, Flacco will need to be weary of the Jaguars secondary, including Jalen Ramsey (CB), Barry Church (S), Tashaun Gipson (S) and AJ Bouye (CB).  The set has made it difficult for receivers to complete passes downfield.  Luckily for the Ravens, they can’t be everywhere and Flacco has a number of targets to hit.

  • The History

Since Blake Bortles has become quarterback, the Jacksonville Jaguars have faced the Baltimore Ravens, and Joe Flacco, 3-times, having a 1-2 record.  In their last meeting, September 2016, the Ravens beat the Jaguars 19-17.

The Baltimore Ravens win.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-2)

Cleveland Browns (0-2) @ Indianapolis Colts

Yes, the Indianapolis Colts lost.  However, with quarterback Jacoby Brissett behind center, the Colts proved that they are able to move the ball downfield.  Maintaining the lead for most of the game, week 2 came down to an overtime interception of Brissett, allowing the Arizona Cardinals to win by a field goal.

In week 3, the Colts will host the Cleveland Browns.  Both teams are 0-2, but one will end the week with a win.

What can we expect in week 3?

  • Jacoby Brissett will start.

With Andrew Luck still out, the Colts back-up quarterback, Brissett, will start.  Brissett has yet to throw a passing touchdown in his NFL career, but did have a rushing touchdown back when he was with the New England Patriots.  In week 2, Brissett played all four quarters of the game, passing for 216 yards and an interception.  The only touchdown was by running back, Frank Gore.

What we’ve learned over the past two weeks of Colts football is that the Colts offensive line just isn’t that good.  Add a fairly inexperienced quarterback who spends more time holding onto the ball and scrambling than throwing downfield, and you unfortunately have the Colts.

Brissett will have to get the green light to throw down field if the Colts wants to be 1-2 at the end of week 3.  The Browns have allowed only an average of just 85 rushing yards per game, while they’ve allowed an average of 228 passing yards per game.

  • The Run Game.

With both teams starting unexperienced quarterbacks, they will more than likely rely on the run game.

Frank Gore ended the 2016 season with 1025 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, 277 receiving yards and 4 receiving touchdowns.  This season, Gore has been held to under 50 yards per game and a touchdown.  If the Colts can’t get the passing game going, they will need to lean more on Gore, but if the offensive front line is unable to create any running lanes, Gore may be looking at another week under 50 yards.

Frank Gore – AP Images

The Browns are in a similar situation, where the run game becomes important to win games.  Although Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has been held to a total of 70 rushing yards, he’s had 952 rushing yards and 319 receiving yards and totaled 7 touchdowns in 2016.  As ineffective as Crowell has been this season, with DeShone Kizer behind center, there’s reason to continue running the ball.  Crowell historically has done better with a higher volume of touches, and perhaps getting the ball going on the ground will help Kizer avoid pressure and find receivers.

  • The Pass Game.

With heavy coverage on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, Brissett has developed chemistry with tight end, Jack Doyle, who totaled 120 yards.  Brissett doesn’t lack receivers down field, it’s just a matter of getting the ball into their hands.

Playing at home, expect Brissett to be more comfortable in his second start with the Colts and throw for his first NFL touchdown.

  • The Cleveland Browns.

Quarterback confusion is the name of the game with the Browns.  It’s a new year and the Cleveland Browns are facing another troubled season.  DeShone Kizer started for the Cleveland Browns in week 2, only to go out with migraines and replaced temporarily by Kevin Hogan in the middle of the second quarter.  In his first play, Hogan passed for a 23-yard touchdown to David Njoku.  Kizer returned to the game, but did nothing to build any confidence.

It’s unfortunate that the Browns have had suck bad luck with quarterbacks.  Remember Johnny Manziel.  Yeah, Manziel still looking to return to the field…in Canada.

With a non-existent run game, the Browns have relied on the pass game.  In week 2, the two quarterbacks combined for 300 passing yards.  With Corey Coleman out for the season, wide receiver Rashard Higgins fresh off the practice squad was targeted 11-times and had 95 receiving yards, being the most prominent player on offense.

  • The History

With 28 regular season meetings and 4 post-season meeting, the two teams have faced-off only twice since Andrew Luck has been the franchise quarterback for the Colts and 8-times while Peyton Manning was quarterback.

Andrew Luck has a 2-0 record against the Browns, keeping the score close, while Manning has a 5-1.

There’s a problem when you have to go back to 1964 to find footage that makes your team look good.

With greater success in the run game….

The Indianapolis Colts win.

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