By Danny Cox
The Tennessee Titans were truly hoping for a record better than 3-4 seven weeks into the 2016 NFL season. And the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t expected to be sitting at 2-4 and below the Titans in the AFC South. Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles are having tough seasons for their respective teams, and both are looking break out of their slumps this week on Thursday Night Football.
There were so many positive things to look forward to in 2016, but they simply have not materialized for either of these AFC South teams.
“Both of these teams are coming off of losses,” said Boomer Esiason, “Both of these teams, though, are still very much alive in the AFC South. Depending on really… the way this whole thing [plays] out, to me, it’s which one of these quarterbacks is going to start to figure it out.”
Second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota came out on fire in his rookie season and looked to be on the cusp of an excellent pro career. While that may still happen, Mariota seems to have regressed in 2016. And it has everything to do with the turnovers that plague him and the Titans.
So far this season, Mariota has six interceptions and five fumbles, and there is just no way for a team to win when the quarterback coughs up the ball over that often. He has the weapons, but he just can’t seem to find them like he did in 2015. It’s causing nothing but problems in Tennessee.
On the other hand, it’s not like the Jaguars are having any better luck. And their problems could be on a much bigger scale. Bortles is having issues at quarterback, but this team is making far too many mistakes given the level of talent.
“Blake Bortles is struggling,” said Bart Scott. “He could be playing for his career to be the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
Bortles’ numbers barely measure up to his production in past seasons. Through six games, he has just over 1,500 yards passing with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s on pace to surpass last year’s career-high for interceptions in a season (18).
The Jaguars have some talented running backs on their squad with Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson, but the numbers sure don’t show it. The three of them have just 337 total rushing yards and a single rushing touchdown. That isn’t helping Bortles any. So much pressure to lead and succeed means more opportunities for mistakes.
Both the Titans and Jaguars were hoping to take a step forward in 2016, and they have put together teams with potential. With a bit of a power vacuum in the AFC South, both teams are very much alive in the division title chase. But they have work to do, and that work starts Thursday night.
Mariota and Bortles know that change has to start with them and how they’re playing. A strong performance from either could spark a second-half surge that pushes their team into the playoffs. A weak performance will likely signify another disappointing season. In this week’s Thursday Night Football matchup, it’s all about which quarterback can get on track.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans 28 – Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.