Time to say Jags, Titans, and Rams are legit?
By: Michael Aaron Chase Jr.
We are now 9 weeks into the National Football League season and we are starting to see teams separate themselves from the field in the playoff picture. Teams like the Steelers, Chiefs, Eagles, Vikings, and Saints have begun to clearly establish themselves as elites of the NFL this year. Though there are three teams that are right in mix of with these “elites”, that I believe fully demand the respect of the sports world. These teams are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, and the Tennessee Titans, and they now I believe demand the respect of the sports world. Respect they should already earned from earlier performances this year. Though I guess better late than never to be recognized as legitimate contenders.
First let’s begin with a dual analysis of the two AFC South teams that have risen up the ranks this year despite the obstacles people anticipated they face coming into this season. Beginning with the Tennessee Titans they woke up this past Monday morning first in the AFC South division with a 5-3 overall record, a 2-1 division record.
The Titans came into this season with the expectation of competing to make the postseason. They are so far living up to that description but doing a different way then what many pundits anticipated. The Titans are still top 10 in the league in rushing, averaging 117.9 rushing yards per game. The Quarter back play of Marcus Mariota has been solid not spectacular, thus resulting in the 20th ranked offense in football. So this great early start has not been because of a huge jump in offensive production. This season they are 17th in the league in total defense giving up 330 yards per game. Improving on last season’s league ranking of 12th overall in the NFL in total defense. So they have slightly dropped off defensively so the question still remains how are they improved from last year? Maybe there turnover margin, which is a plus improving from their even rating they had a year ago. This year the titans already have 9 interceptions compared to 12 all of last season. Including safety Kevin Byard with already 6 interceptions which lead the NFL, while their leaders last year was Perish Cox with 3. As well they have already forced and recovered as many fumbles as they did all last year, which is 4. Thus this new ability to force more turnovers and create short fields for their offense to have easier scoring opportunities has become a recipe for success. They now gain extra possessions, and control more of the clock with their strong running game. Now whether this reliance on turnovers and running game is sustainable in a pass oriented league remains to be seen. But as they get healthier on offense they can then get more explosive and be even more dangerous in the AFC. Plus with a head to head win over rival Jacksonville, and as their defense continues to improve and get the occasional turnover while being efficient on offense they will be tough to beat.
As for the other AFC South contender the Jacksonville Jaguars who the same 5-3 record, they have done it with the same formula of defense and a running game but in a more dominant fashion.
The Jaguars rank 2nd in Total Defense behind only the Denver Broncos and lead the league in rushing at 166.5 yards per game. Their plan once they drafted 1st round stud Leonard Fournette was to run the ball and play dominant defense and that has come to fruition so far. They are the best pass defense, while improving against the run they are leading the league in sacks. Thus if teams cannot move the ball on you and they are always behind the chains you can shut down any and every one. Their offense has improved to 9th in the NFL as well, with them running the ball and controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. With wins over the Steelers and Ravens, as wellla s a big game later in the year against Seattle they can only further prove themselves to their doubters. So If the Jags continue to play good to dominant defense run the ball effectively. As well as the much maligned Blake Bortles continue to take care of the ball and play consistently solid the rest of the year the Jags will not only continue to challenge the Titans in the AFC South, but be a force in the AFC overall.
Finally the Los Angeles Rams the team who currently and surprisingly lead the NFC West division. The Rams by far are the most surprising contender in the NFL this year.
They have turned around from being last season’s offensive laughing stock to the most explosive offense in football. New Head Coach Sean McVay has changed the culture of this organization. He has reinstalled confidence in last year’s first overall pick Jared Goff. And with a slew of personnel changes has made the Rams the highest scoring offense in football averaging over 30 points a game. Pair that with a star studded 9th ranked defense led by studs Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree they have the makings of a complete team. The only question maybe is this team a year to earlier to the party, but when you put up 50 plus points twice in 8 games you obviously deserve respect. Thus they pose a threat not just to the perennial favorites of their Division the Seattle Seahawks but the rest of the NFC.
In the end these three teams all have many qualities that make them very attractive picks to make the playoffs. Now with the second half of the season upon us these teams look to finish strong and each end their franchise playoff droughts. But until the playoff seeding are determined and regular season over let us all at least gives these surprising contenders the respect they deserve for the hard work, winning totals, and quality play they have given us so far.