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AFC South breakdown

September 3, 2012

It’s not just that the Texans are powerful, which, anchored by their running game and defense, they are. It’s that the other three teams in the division are all in some sort of reconstruction phase, and that’s most glaring at quarterback. The Colts, Titans and Jaguars drafted their franchise quarterbacks either this year or last, and ninth-year veteran Matt Schaub is returning healthy in Houston.

The big questions

Are the Texans ready to take the next step? Thanks to a lightning-quick defensive turnaround led by coordinator Wade Phillips and some electric newcomers, the Texans had a breakthrough 2011 and made the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Now the Super Bowl looks like a realistic next step. Just having Schaub healthy—he missed the last six games of the regular season and the playoffs with a foot injury—might be enough to make the difference.

Did the Titans make the right decision in going with Jake Locker? Tennessee is no longer caught between rebuilding and contending. At first glance, because the Titans have top-flight running back Chris Johnson and an outstanding line, it appears that using veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would give them the offense to make the Texans sweat a little. A closer look, however, reveals the Titans’ lack of stability in the receiving corps and questions on defense make them look like a fringe wild-card team at best. Now that the athletic Locker has gotten the nod, it’s a sign they’ve accepted they are more of a work in progress.

We know about the quarterback, but what other changes are the Colts making? Most of the talk around Indianapolis this season will involve Andrew Luck and how he compares or doesn’t compare to Peyton Manning, but the Colts also have a rookie coach, Chuck Pagano, and a new 3-4 defense.

Will the Jaguars find some answers on offense? Whenever a team has a new owner, the goal is to put a more exciting product on the field. The Jags have tried to do that by adding wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon. That might not be enough to overcome the fact the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, Maurice Jones-Drew, missed all of training camp in a holdout and there are questions about whether Blaine Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback. New coach Mike Mularkey put together a stable offense in Atlanta but has a taller task in his current job.

Will this be the league’s least competitive division race? The Texans are undoubtedly the class of the division and, maybe, the entire conference. They are the only ones not facing a transition at the quarterback position. Throw in a dominant running game, a jelled defense and their experience, and it’s no contest.


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