In a season that’s featured a lot of bad football, the AFC South stands out among all eight NFL divisions. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are the division’s two worst teams, but they’ll take center stage in Week 8 when they meet on “Thursday Night Football.”
Tennessee blew a chance on Sunday to take sole possession of second place when they lost to the Indianapolis Colts at home, while Jacksonville dropped to 2-4 with a loss against the Oakland Raiders. But the AFC South is so mediocre that the upcoming contest could play a role in determining a postseason spot.
The Houston Texans are the division favorites heading into Monday night’s game against the Denver Broncos, but their lead in the AFC South is expected to be just one game in Week 8. Tennessee is very much in the race for first place, despite their struggles, but they’ll need to beat Jacksonville in order to keep pace with Indianapolis and Houston.
The Titans’ loss on Sunday dropped them to 0-2 in the division. Playing at home against the Jaguars, Tennessee has a good chance to get back in the win column. The Titans are 3.5-point favorites at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark. The over/under is 45.5.
Both teams have been below average in 2016, but the Titans have proven to be slightly better. Tennessee ranks 20th in scoring (20.9 points per game), while Jacksonville is 24th in the same category (19.5 points per game). The Titans are 17th in points allowed (23 points per game), and the Jaguars are 26th (26.7 points per game).
Jacksonville hasn’t won more than five games in a season since 2010, and they were expected to have their best team of the last few years in 2016. But their young quarterback seems to have regressed this year, and the play of the signal callers could be the ultimate difference in Thursday’s contest.
Blake Bortles was picked off twice in the Jaguars’ most recent loss, marking the third time this season in which he’s thrown at least two interceptions. His 76.4 passer rating ranks 28th among starters, and he hasn’t posted a passer rating of 100.0 or better all season long. Bortles might be hard-pressed to have a big game on the road in Week 8, while Tennessee’s young quarterback could have one of his best performances of the season.
Jacksonville has particularly struggled on offense of late, scoring 17 points or fewer in five of their last six games. Tennessee is 3-0 when allowing no more than 17 points.
Marcus Mariota wasn’t the problem in Tennessee’s loss on Sunday. He posted a 95.8 passer rating, continuing to put up good numbers against bad defenses. Having thrown at least two touchdown passes in games against Detroit, Miami, Cleveland and Indianapolis, the quarterback should be able to throw for multiple scores against Jacksonville.
Mariota is aided by an elite rushing attack, something Bortles and the Jaguars don’t have. Led by Demarcus Murray, the Titans are second in the NFL in total rushing yards. No one on the Jaguars has more than 200 yards rushing, and only the Minnesota Vikings have fewer yards on the ground than Jacksonville this season.
Tennessee owns the NFL’s No.6 rushing defense, and they’ll force the Jaguars to beat them through the air. That probably won’t be a winning formula for Jacksonville, considering the way Bortles has played in his third NFL season.
Prediction: Tennessee over Jacksonville, 23-16