AFC South Buzz: Week 17 division mania, Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Stroud, Michael Pittman & more

The AFC South is a three-team race as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts all battle to stay healthy and take the division crown.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages
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The AFC South race will come down to the last week.  With the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars at 8-7, the division may come down to which team is the healthiest and which team gets a victory in Week 17.

Speaking of health, here is a rundown of key injuries and returns throughout the division this week.

AFC South news: Trevor Lawrence out, Beathard ready for the challenge

If the Jacksonville Jaguars are to lock up the AFC South, they may need to do it without Trevor Lawrence.  With their franchise quarterback ruled out for the Week 17 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the Jags will turn to C.J. Beathard to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Beathard did relieve Lawrence in the team’s blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Lawrence injured his shoulder diving for a first down.  The 30-year-old Beathard completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. 

Can he put together a complete game to help the Jaguars get back on track?  With a week to prepare as the starter, Beathard will be ready to go, but look for the team to lean on running back Travis Etienne to get the running game going against a yeah giving up over 120.9 rushing yards per game.

The Jaguars will also get some help along the offensive line with Cam Robinson returning from the Reserve/Injured list.  The big offensive lineman was initially placed on the Reserve/Injured list back in late November.  He should help the Jaguars offense secure a running attack against the Panthers’ defense which will help protect Beathard.

More AFC South news: C.J. Stroud back vs Titans

In the AFC South matchup between the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, C.J. Stroud is set to make his return after missing the last two games with a concussion.  The outstanding rookie quarterback will look to keep his team at the top of the AFC South and a game closer to a playoff berth.

Feeling great and looking like he did prior to the concussion, Stroud gave props to his training staff for helping him take the right steps towards getting out of the concussion protocol and back on the field for what will be a big game for the Texans.

"The training staff did a great job of just making sure that I was okay and wasn't forcing it and trying to come back too fast. I appreciate them for just being honest throughout the whole process and everything. Yeah, it was tough, but we're through it now, and I'm excited to play."

Through 14 games this season, Stroud has throwing for 3,631 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and is in strong position to win AFC Rookie of the Year.  If he leads the Texans into the playoffs in his first season under center, that award will be a wrap.

AFC South injury update: Michael Pittman Jr. back for the Colts

Speaking of concussion protocols, the Indianapolis Colts offense will get a big boost on Sunday with the return of wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. who cleared the protocol on Friday.

According to head coach Shane Steichen, Pittman should be “ready to roll” against a Las Vegas Raiders team looking to keep their own playoff hopes alive.  With the Colts, Jaguars and Texans all at 8-7, Pittman knows just how big the Week 17 matchup against Vegas.

Michael Pittman Jr.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

"The playoffs basically start now because if we don't win, we lose that control," Pittman said, via the team’s official website. "We're basically playing in the playoffs now. ... Everything has led us to this point. We have everything we want. We just gotta keep on winning and everything will take care of itself."

Pittman looks to be a big factor against a Raiders secondary who picked off Patrick Mahomes last week in route to an upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.    So far this season, Pittman has 99 receptions for 1,062 yards with four touchdowns.  He could be an X-factor in this key AFC matchup.

Tennessee Titans get Will Levis back

The Tennessee Titans are looking to play spoiler and have something to say about who wins the AFC South.  In facing off against the Texans this week and the Jaguars next week, the Titans will look to make some noise in the division when all is said and done.

Will Levis
Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans / Justin Ford/GettyImages

It looks like the Titans will get a boost this week with the return of rookie QB Will Levis who  was a full participant at practice this week  after suffering an ankle injury.  Levis, who has sparked some injury in the Titans’ offense said Wednesday that he is ready to get back on the field and make things happen.

"I just want to play ball," Levis told the media. "I just want to go out there and win games and leave this season with a good taste in our mouth. We've had some tough losses. … There's an opportunity to put a new version of us on tape against that same (Texans) defense, (and that's) going to be exciting."

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If he can lead the Titans to wins the next two weeks, Tennessee will enter the offseason on a high note and perhaps determine who wins the AFC South.