There are many divisions in the NFL that are considered up for grabs, but the AFC South is not often one of them. The general consensus seems to be that the Texans will be able to cruise to their second consecutive divisional crown.
Not so fast.
With apologies to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that probably has a very rough season in front of them, there are two other teams in the AFC South that just might be able to challenge the Texans' hegemonic status.
The Tennessee Titans represent the greatest obstacle between the Texans and a divisional title. The Titans finished 2011 with a 9-7 record. Had they won a late-season game against a deplorable Colts squad, Tennessee would have claimed the sixth and final AFC playoff position.
Still, the Titans believe they are on the rise, and I can't say I disagree with that stance.
The return of Kenny Britt, despite his off-field troubles, should aide Matt Hasselbeck and/or Jake Locker in pushing the ball down the field, and it's hard to imagine running back Chris Johnson not making a stride forward after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
The third horse in this race is the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Before you completely dismiss the notion of the Jaguars claiming victory in the AFC South, consider the following: The Jacksonville Jaguars fielded the sixth-best defensive unit in 2011, despite a rash of injuries that claimed both of their starting cornerbacks. That unit improved this offseason with the addition of Andre Branch, a pass-rushing specialist taken in the second round of April's draft, and cornerback Aaron Ross.
Much has been made of Blaine Gabbert's horrific rookie season. Even if Gabbert remains the Jaguars' starting quarterback, that unit should be miles ahead of last year's offense. The Jaguars added Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans and Justin Blackmon to bolster their talent at wide receiver.
To top it all off, Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout may be inconvenient, but it remains unlikely that he'll miss any regular season games.
It would be easy to dismiss the AFC South as an open-and-shut division, but let's not put the cart in front of the horse. There's a lot of potential in the AFC South, and it should make for an entertaining and competitive season within the division.