Tennessee Titans: Does Matt Schaub's Injury Make Them AFC South Contenders?

Sam McGawContributor IINovember 15, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s official: Matt Hasselbeck of the Tennessee Titans is the AFC South's best quarterback. This can be said in light of recent news that Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will reportedly miss the rest of the season, leaving backup Matt Leinart at the helm of the offense.

In five NFL seasons, Leinart has not been impressive, throwing 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Even more eye opening is the fact that Leinart has only started one game at quarterback since 2007. Hardly comforting for Texans fans, as they can now feel the Titans breathing on the back of their necks.

With the Titans only 1.5 games behind the Texans, is it justifiable to say Tennessee has a chance to catch up to Houston and take first place in the AFC South?

The answer is yes.

Although the Titans were blown out, 41-7, by the Texans in Week 7, they have fought back and played some impressive games since then. Most recently, the Titans traveled to Carolina and shut down rookie sensation Cam Newton and the Panthers by a score of 30-3. Before playing the Titans, the Panthers hadn't scored less than 16 points in a game all season, making Tennessee's victory even more remarkable.

While much credit is due to the Titans defense for the impressive win, the offense deserves some respect too.

After the season-ending injury to wide receiver Kenny Britt, the Titans have been scrambling to find a replacement. While Hasselbeck has done a tremendous job spreading the ball around, fans can’t help but notice the improving play of second-year wideout Damian Williams.

This season, Williams has accumulated 300 receiving yards and has scored four touchdowns in his last six games. Production out of Williams is crucial to the Titans future success as they continue to hunt for the AFC South's divisional crown.

Another key for the remainder of the Titans' season is running back Chris Johnson. Against the Panthers in Week 10, Johnson rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 44 yards. More importantly, Johnson finally looks like he is back on track with 4.6 and 4.8 yards-per-carry averages in his last two games.

If Hasselbeck, Johnson and the defense can continue to play at a high level, the Titans have a great shot to jump ahead of the Texans, whose record could plummet with Leinart at quarterback.

However, the Titans' remaining schedule doesn't look to be in their favor. In the final seven weeks of the season, Tennessee plays the likes of Atlanta, Buffalo and New Orleans. While these games are winnable, they can't be taken lightly. Not to mention that the Titans play at Houston in Week 17, a game that could have the AFC South on the line.

Look for the Titans to be crowned AFC South champions and play in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Who knows—they may even have a shot to make it to the divisional round, especially if they play the winner of the dismal AFC West.