The Jaguars didn't miss Jalen Ramsey or Leonard Fournette as much as Houston missed Deshaun Watson and Duane Brown in Week 9.
Jacksonville improved to 5-3, earning its first winning streak of the season, despite deactivating Fournette due to a team rule violation and losing Ramsey on a questionable ejection before halftime.
Even without their young studs, the Jaguars dominated Cincinnati.
Meantime, without its young stud in Watson and stalwart blind-side protector in Brown, Houston fell at home to the 2-6 Colts. Tom Savage was completely ineffective until the light bulb appeared to flash on in the fourth quarter and he mounted one long touchdown drive and positioned the Texans for four cracks within the Colts' 10 at a potential game-winning score.
But Savage was strip-sacked on fourth-and-goal with two seconds remaining by Jabaal Sheard, who zipped past Brown's replacement, Chris Clark, for the clincher.
Would Watson, had he not suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice on Thursday, have evaded trouble and pulled another rabbit out of his hat? Would Brown have given his immobile quarterback a better chance at a potential season-saving comeback?
They're obvious questions, but it was the Texans again-susceptible pass defense, not the absence of Watson and Brown, that let Jacoby Brissett badly outplay Savage. Simply put: there are only so many stars a team can endure losing, and Houston, at 3-5, has quickly lost hope of a third consecutive division crown.
By contrast, the Jaguars' biggest concerns after pummeling the Bengals have to be the disappointing benching of Fournette and elbow injury to much-improved pass rusher Dante Fowler.
Marrone has already said Fournette, whom he made a healthy scratch after reportedly missing a team meeting and treatment session, will play next week. And it's not like a fearsome Jacksonville pass rush doesn't have other options if Fowler is sidelined for some time.
That Blake Bortles doesn't currently rank as Jacksonville's chief concern is telling in and of itself. Bortles was interception-free for a second consecutive game and excellent on third down against a dangerous Bengals defense. He appears to be gaining some confidence along with the Jaguars, now in a first-place tie with Tennessee — though the Titans currently hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win.
Speaking of the Titans, they dispatched Baltimore, 23-20, to survive a tough spot coming off the bye and with the Ravens fresh off their own "mini bye" and a shutout victory over Miami.
Marcus Mariota, the division's best quarterback left standing, looked healthier after being confined to the pocket with a bad hamstring the previous two games. He threw a bad fourth-quarter pick, but also two touchdowns – to Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews —and the Titans hung on despite again failing to get their run game jump started.
Aside from Adoree' Jackson, who took his first NFL carry 20 yards on Tennessee's opening series, Tennessee managed 51 yards on the other 20 carries against a Baltimore 'D' that's been shredded on the ground. DeMarco Murray entered the game nicked-up and didn't appear particularly healthy, and Derrick Henry paced Tennessee rushing with just 8-26-1.
Although the Titans' run game and offensive line doesn't resemble last year's group, the defense picked up where it left off in the second half prior to the bye. Kevin Byard had two interceptions and the run 'D' held a Baltimore attack gaining steam to just 73 yards.
Are Jacksonville and Tennessee on a Week 17 collision course in Nashville for the AFC South title? The Titans whipped the Jaguars, 37-16, in Jacksonville in Week 2. That was with Bortles committing three turnovers and Tennessee's offense running roughshod over the Jaguars.
Since the following week, however, the Titans can't run it consistently and Bortles has played capably in four of the next six games.
There's a lot left to be decided, and issues remain for both the Titans and Jaguars. But they pale in comparison to the problems Houston and Indianapolis. Sunday reinforced the strong likelihood that someone other than the Colts or Texans will win the AFC South for the first time since 2008.