The term "elite quarterback" in itself is cause for heated debate.
Some maintain that only a select few quarterbacks deserve the "elite" label, while others argue that their team's quarterback is "elite" because of individual statistics or a favorable win-loss record.
This very debate caused for a stir last offseason, when Giants QB Eli Manning tabbed himself as an elite quarterback. Michael Kay of ESPN New York 1050 mentioned Tom Brady's name when referring to the league's elite quarterbacks, and he asked Manning if he considered himself on that same level.
Manning didn't hesitate, "Yeah, I think I am. I consider myself in that class."
On Manning's arm, the Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLVI despite their 9-7 regular season record. Now, nobody is questioning whether or not Eli Manning is elite, regardless of the criteria.
In my opinion, the "elite" label should apply to anyone in the top tier of his respective position. Numerous quarterbacks have the potential and the skill set to be considered top-shelf players, but what separates the elite from the good is consistency, and nothing silences the critics more than a Super Bowl ring.
Texans QB Matt Schaub certainly has the ability to lead Houston to a Super Bowl.
Schaub missed the last eight games of the Houston's 2011 season, and the Texans, who had looked like the most complete team in the AFC, lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens.
Although rookie QB T.J. Yates was able to lead the Texans to their first playoff win in team history over Cincinnati, Schaub has no reason to be looking over his shoulder. He is Houston's starting quarterback, and Yates is the backup.
Matt Schaub flourished the last time he was healthy and in the lineup for all 16 games, despite the running game being less than its current level of dominance, and with a defense that ranked much closer to the bottom than the top of the NFL.
In terms of scoring defense, Houston improved from being ranked 29th in 2010 to being ranked fourth in 2011, allowing only 17.4 points per game to opposing offenses. Combine one of the league's top defenses with the NFL's 10th-ranked offense from a season ago, and Houston appears to be a serious contender heading into 2012.
If the Texans are able to put it all together on both sides of the ball, win their division and make a run deep into the playoffs, Schaub will be the newest member of the "Is this guy great?" debate.
While the rest of the division rebuilds behind young quarterbacks, the Houston Texans are ready to compete for championships immediately, and although quarterback Matt Schaub isn't yet considered elite, his stock will continue to rise as Houston continues to win football games.
Not only does Houston have a clear advantage over the rest of the division at football's most important position, the Texans also boast the division's best running game.
In fact, there may not be a more balanced offensive attack across the NFL than there is in Houston.
If the Texans are able to get ahead of their divisional foes early in games, Houston could be looking at a clean 6-0 sweep of the division.
Six divisional wins would go a long way in improving the Texans' chances in the AFC, as well as bolstering Schaub's status among the league's best quarterbacks.
However, the same could not be said for Indianapolis and Tennessee. Schaub and the Texans offense should have an opportunity to stack statistics, as well as wins, against a weak division in 2012.
In almost every statistical category, the Texans were a top-five defense in 2011.
Prior to last season, the defense had been the resistance that held Houston back from being a playoff team.
However, the Texans addressed their deficiencies on defense via free agency and a brilliant 2011 draft and earned their first playoff berth in team history.
The Texans' two vital additions for the 2011 season, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, were instrumental in Houston's meteoric rise to the top tier of NFL defenses.
Joseph was selected to the Pro Bowl in his first season as a Texan, and Phillips oversaw the defense that rose from fourth-worst in 2010 to fourth-best in 2011.
Joseph and Phillips, along with first-round stud J.J. Watt and second-rounder Brooks Reed, played a key role in compensating for the loss of perhaps Houston's best defensive player, Mario Williams, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.
Houston's stingy defense will likely keep them competitive in every game this season. If opposing offenses are only able to produce about 17 points per game, as was the case last year, then far less pressure will fall on the right arm of quarterback Matt Schaub.
Because wins are the most important statistic among quarterbacks, Houston's defense will have a direct effect on Schaub being considered an elite player. The fewer points Houston allows, the more games the Texans will win. The more games the Texans win, the higher Schaub's stock continues to rise.
Although 49ers QB Alex Smith mustered up a modest 3,144 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, San Francisco went 14-2 in the regular season, and thus, left many football fans scratching their heads and saying, "Maybe this guy is pretty good."
However, for Schaub, a successful 2012 season will only enhance his already positive reputation among most NFL enthusiasts. Prior to last year, Schaub posted consecutive seasons of at least 4,300 yards and 24 touchdowns.
When Schaub was putting up gaudy numbers, the Texans defense was a glaring problem. Last year, when Houston's defense held the team together, the Texans were without their quarterback.
Headed into 2012 with a confident defense and a healthy quarterback, the rest of the AFC could be in a Texas-sized load of trouble.
While the Texans have been one of the most feared passing attacks in football for several seasons behind Schaub, All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels, it's the emergence of the running game that has quite possibly made Houston the most balanced offense in the NFL.
Despite the current devaluation of the running back position in a passing league, any conversation regarding the game's top running backs should start with Texans RB Arian Foster.
Foster exploded onto the scene two years ago, when he rushed for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, then backed his sensational season up with 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games last season.
Not only is Foster an exceptional player between the tackles, he's a weapon as a receiver as well, having caught 66 and 53 passes the last couple of seasons.
Just when defenses think Foster is all they can handle, in comes his backfield mate, Ben Tate. Tate is more than capable of being a starter at the professional level, and in his first healthy season in the NFL, he rushed for 942 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
A consistent, reliable running game makes the quarterback's job much easier, because it causes defenses to play honest. With Houston, it's "pick your poison."
If teams choose to play primarily their nickel defense against the Texans, Foster and Tate will run it down their throat. If offenses stack the box to stop the running game, Schaub will throw it over the top.
The play-action passing game that comes as a result of a solid ground game allows the quarterback to throw high-percentage and relatively risk-free passes.
When Schaub threw for 4,770 yards in 2009 and 4,370 yards in 2010, the Texans didn't have the kind of running game that they do now. That's a scary thought for the AFC South, and the rest of the NFL.