Sunday's AFC SOUTH CHAMPIONSHIP is this terrible division's thesis statement. For the last five years, every fanbase has been subjugated to terrible quarterback play:
The Texans didn't have a backup plan for Matt Schaub. After he lost it, they didn't know what to do. Since his derailment the team has started Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates at quarterback.
Thanks to Peyton Manning's injury back in 2011, the poor Colts had one miserable year with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky before failing their way into Andrew Luck. This year they've joined the bowels of the AFC South with Matt Hasselbeck and a touch of Charlie Whitehurst.
Tennessee lost the will to live with Vince Young, Rusty Smith (people don't forget), Kerry Collins, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Charlie Whitehurst, and Zach Mettenberger. But now they have now seen the future with Marcus Mariota.
Jacksonville had one of the worst rookie quarterbacks of all time in Blaine Gabbert (he's good now though), who took over for David Garrard. After moving on, they've seen a spat of Luke McCown, Chad "My Favorite Pasta Is Penne" Henne, and are now all in on Blake Bortles throwing the ball deep with his eyes closed.
The AFC South is a group of college friends where everyone's significant other has slept with at least one other person in the group. Now it's reached its natural conclusion, a battle between two perfect examples of this era, T.J. Yates and Matt Hasselbeck, before Bortles, Luck, and Mariota lead the division for years to come.
Let's get on with it.
1.) Matt Hasselbeck v. T.J. Yates for the AFC SOUTH CHAMPIONSHIP
I'm really bummed this game isn't Charlie Whitehurst against T.J. Yates. It was the only thing I want to have happen in my life. The world isn't fair.
This year Hasselbeck has been fine for a 40 year old quarterback. He excels at reading a defense and knowing exactly where to go with the ball. He doesn't screw around and sit back. Everything is three steps and throw the ball.
The problem is his age. He's started six games in a row. I know that old man is sore, tired, and having trouble getting out of bed every morning. And as a result, he's listed as questionable for this game. His HP meter is in the red. He could be caught with just a Pokeball. You wouldn't even need a Great Ball to place him in the bank. I wouldn't be surprised if a big hit knocks him out of this one, and then we finally get Whitehurst v. Yates.
Last week Brian Hoyer was knocked out of the game with a concussion. It's his second this year. He's still in concussion protocol. As a result, T.J. Yates is back. This isn't much of a downgrade. Both quarterbacks need everything else to run perfectly for them to have success. The difference between the two is that Yates can actually throw a deep ball without having his receiver sit underneath and wait, and that Hoyer is more accurate and mobile.
Consequently, in this offense, I like Yates more as a starter. This team is going to need to run the ball 40 times to win. The passing game is a complementary piece made to throw deep when the defense creeps up for big plays and convert on third downs. With Yates, the Texans have the opportunity to complete passes over 30 yards.
2.) The Texans Are Better Than the Colts at Everything
When you look at the numbers, the Texans have an upper hand in nearly every category. According to Football Outsiders, Houston has a better passing offense, a better rushing offense, and a better pass defense,. The only places where Indianapolis measures better is in rush defense, special teams, and a slight advantage in protecting the quarterback.
No team is especially great at anything either. The best ranked unit out of these two teams is the Texans' 12th ranked defense, according to DVOA. That's it.
Houston is just a lesser shade of brown.
3.) THE CLUB
J.J. Watt wasn't the same player last week with the cast on his hand. He couldn't do anything with that arm. He played the entire game with one hand while going up against double and triple teams. All he could do was run as fast as he could into the offensive line from the linebacker position.
Last time the Colts played Houston, they did a nice job mitigating Watt by using 7 guys in pass protection so they could slide their protection over to Watt, and they chipped him every chance they got. They also threw a lot of short passes that prevented the occasional free rusher from getting to the quarterback and took advantage of Houston's large cushions. This week they'll probably do the same thing, but they may slide things to Jadeveon Clowney.
Watt is pretty ineffective right now. Clowney, on the other hand, has been an animal these last two games. The gap between his skill and athleticism is starting to shrink. He's turning into a really good football player.
4.) The System
Remember when Houston won four games a row and put themselves in this situation? I do. Do you know how they did this? I know.
Houston won games by holding opponents to less than 3 touchdowns. They got a lead early. They ran the ball a lot. They used their tight ends in the short middle of the field to give Brian Hoyer easier throws. They rushed the passer well. They won the turnover battle. They played a more aggressive style of defense.
What Houston did was win nearly every part of the football game aside from quarterback play. That's what you have to do when Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates are your quarterbacks. But when everything doesn't go perfectly, you're stuck leaning on your quarterback. This is when problems happen.
The last few losses can be blamed on their inability to get a lead, but it's more on the quarterbacks. Houston needs to be in a situation where they have to win with their quarterback, not because of him.
This fun thing is that Indianapolis has to do the same thing. They have an old game-managing quarterback. So many things have to break right for them to win. This game is going to come down to which team can do everything it possibly can for their quarterback to not have an impact.
It's beautiful. I love the AFC South.
After Houston lost to Buffalo and the Colts lost to the Steelers, possibilities for the wild card disappeared for both teams. For either one of these teams to make the playoffs, it's going to come down to whoever wins this division, which pretty much comes down to whoever wins this game.
According to Football Outsiders, Houston has a playoff probability of 46%, Indianapolis 45.4%, and Jacksonville 8.6%. These odds are based off 25,000 simulations that take into account the last three weeks of the season.
The New York Times playoff simulator allows you to look at how the odds change at a per game basis. If Houston wins tomorrow, they have an 88% chance to win the division. This figure jumps to 99% if they beat Tennessee next week. If Indy wins tomorrow, they have a 91% chance.
For Jacksonville to get in, they need to win their last three games against Atlanta, New Orleans, and Houston, and even then they have just a 20% chance. After that happens they need Houston to lose to Tennessee, and they need the Colts to lose to Miami.
6.) BONUS: Houston Has Never Won in Indy
I have a confession. None of what I wrote matters. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis. I'm 25 years old now. The Texans became a franchise when I was 12. For 13 years, they have never won in Indiana, even with Dan Orlovsky at quarterback.
I don't think this will ever happen, until it actually happens, which means it would have happened.
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