Parity in AFC South: How each team can win the division

At the midpoint of the season, the Houston Texans are in position to defend their AFC South title.

However, the Indianapolis Colts, who beat the Texans in the playoffs in January and won the first matchup this season, are nipping at their heels.

The Jacksonville Jaguars -- the 2017 division champs who are the only team to interrupt the 10-year reign of either the Texans or Colts for the crown -- are only two games back. As are the Tennessee Titans, who had won two in a row after changing quarterbacks before then losing at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

So nobody is out of the race. ESPN's AFC South reporters make their case for the team they cover to win the division:

Houston Texans (6-3, 2-1 in division)

Why they'll win: Playmakers

The Texans have the best two playmakers in the division: quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. While Watson has had some down weeks, he is a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. Even while dealing with injuries on offense (and the mysterious disappearance of receiver Keke Coutee), the Texans believe they are never out of a game with Watson’s athleticism and leadership on the field.

Another factor? The schedule. The Texans faced a tough slate of opposing offenses in the first half, but weaker defenses. That flips in the second half. As Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz wrote earlier this week, their schedule ranks as the 26th hardest against opposing offenses, but fifth against opposing defenses. So if their explosive offense can keep it going against stiffer opponents, the defense should have an easier time.

Why they won't: Injuries

J.J. Watt is out for the season, and the Texans had to make several adjustments in the secondary because of injuries. Cornerbacks Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson and Johnathan Joseph and safety Tashaun Gipson have all missed time, although there is a good chance most could be back after the bye week, when the schedule heats up with three consecutive games against AFC playoff contenders -- Baltimore, Indianapolis and New England. -- Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts (5-3, 2-0 in division)

Why they'll win: Balance and schedule

The Colts will have an advantage from an overall talent standpoint once receiver T.Y. Hilton, quarterback Jacoby Brissett and receiver Devin Funchess, who is currently on injured reserve (clavicle), return from their injuries -- especially with Houston losing Watt. The Colts also have shown they’re capable of winning in both areas on offense. They used the ground game to beat Kansas City and the passing game to beat the Texans earlier this season.

Six of the Colts’ final eight games are against teams that currently have losing records, including Tennessee and Jacksonville (twice). The Colts will have an opportunity to take control of the division in Week 12 when they travel to Houston (where they’ve won three straight times), as long as they don’t overlook the Dolphins and Jaguars in their next two tilts.

Why they won't: Tight games, special teams

The Colts are not built to blow teams out. They are the fifth team since the 1970 merger to have each of their first eight games of the season decided by seven points or fewer, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

That’s why it is so important to have Brissett (knee) and Hilton (calf) healthy, because they’ll need their best players on the field when they take on Houston, New Orleans and Carolina in the second half. Adam Vinatieri’s inability to make kicks on a consistent basis has the Colts staring up at the Texans in the division, instead of having a 7-1 record and two-game lead. He made a game-winner against the Broncos, but cost the Colts two wins with missed kicks against the Chargers and Steelers. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5, 1-2 in division)

Why they'll win: Quarterback Nick Foles

Foles revived his career by coming in as an injury replacement for Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and leading the Eagles to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and a Super Bowl championship. It’s a bit of a different situation with the Jaguars; Foles was the starter before getting injured in Week 1, and there isn’t the same kind of offensive talent on the roster as in Philly. But Foles has played very well in must-win, late-season situations, and that’s what the Jaguars have in front of them to have any kind of chance to make the playoffs.

Foles is the most experienced and accomplished quarterback in the division, understands what it takes to win big games and has performed on the sport’s biggest stage (Super Bowl LII MVP).

Why they won't: 0-2 vs. Texans

The biggest hurdle for Foles and the Jaguars to overcome is their two losses to Houston. In doing so, they must remedy their struggles on the road in Indianapolis (lost five of the past six) and Tennessee (lost seven of past eight). The Jaguars have to beat the Colts twice and the Titans or they have no chance. -- Michael DiRocco

Tennessee Titans (4-5, 0-2 in division)

Why they'll win: Defense

With two remaining games against Houston, the Titans still have a chance to win the division. Statistically, the Titans have the strongest defense in the division, allowing 18.3 points per game. (The three other teams each yield 21 or more.) The Titans are tied with the Texans for the most takeaways at 14. That defense will keep them in games.

Pair that with a strong rushing attack fueled by Derrick Henry and the formula for winning football down the stretch is set.

Why they won't: Penalties, sacks allowed

The Titans have a tendency to get away from Henry. The game plan needs to revolve around him.

In addition to their inefficient offense, the Titans have been penalized 63 times for a loss of 637 yards (third most in the NFL). On offense, the penalties seem to always come after a big play, which throttles the momentum. The unfavorable down-and-distance situations resulting from penalties creates obvious passing downs, which leads to more sacks. Tennessee has given up an NFL-high 38 sacks this season. -- Turron Davenport