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Senior NFL Columnist

AFC South

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By Pete Prisco | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Who are the Houston Texans battling in the AFC South?

Themselves.

The Texans are the clear favorite to repeat as division champions. They have the division's best quarterback in Matt Schaub, the best defense and they have a roster that now knows how to win a playoff game after beating Cincinnati last season.

Only injuries -- which they overcame in a big way last season to win the division -- would seem to be in their way.

The rest of the division will battle for second place, all with young quarterbacks trying to make strides. Indianapolis will start rookie Andrew Luck, while the Jacksonville Jaguars will start second-year player Blaine Gabbert and Tennessee will go with Jake Locker.

All three of those teams will be feisty opponents, but if any one of them wins this division, it would be a major disappointment for the Texans.

  
 

Post-camp outlook: What's not to like? They are healthy on offense with Schaub and Andre Johnson back playing again after missing time last season. And we know they can run it with Arian Foster. The only major concern is the right side of the line, where inexperienced second-year tackle Derek Newton gets the starting nod. The defense, which was second in yards allowed last season, might be improved now that they know the scheme better. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will once again have his unit competing to lead the league in total defense.

Best that could happen: They can win the Super Bowl. This is a deep, talented team that general manager Rick Smith has put together. The schedule is tough outside the division, but this is a Super-worthy team.

Worst that could happen: They don't win the division and miss the playoffs. It's not likely, but things happen. What if Schaub can't stay on the field? Other than that, I can't see how they don't make the playoffs.

Last word: They will be a playoff team. The division isn't up to their standards yet. But I will say that the non-division schedule will make it a challenge. It's all about staying healthy. If they do that, they just might push past where they went a year ago.

  
 

Post-camp outlook: The Titans decided to start Locker over veteran Matt Hasselbeck, which is the right decision. Hasselbeck helped get the team to 9-7, but the future is with Locker. The explosive return of Chris Johnson will help him. Johnson looked good in camp. The defense needs to get pass rush from the outside, which means Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley have to have good seasons. It's all about Locker's growth.

Best thing that could happen: Playoffs. For that to happen, these need to occur: Locker isn't fazed by starting, Johnson runs wild, the pass rush is sensational and the offensive line blocks better than a year ago in the run game.

Worst that could happen: Locker is horrible and they take a major step back and go back to Hasselbeck. Or Johnson isn't the same back he was when he ran for 2,000 yards.

Last word: This is a team that might be a year away. You take the obligatory step back for starting Locker, but the experience becomes valuable for 2013. There is a lot of good, young talent on the roster. When he's ready to blossom, they will be, too. It's just not this season. But I will say this: They won't be an easy out any Sunday.

  
 

Post-camp outlook: It's all about change in Jacksonville. New owner. New coach. New systems. The old, stodgy ways are gone, replaced by a more up-tempo offense a more rigid approach instilled by coach Mike Mularkey. The play of quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the preseason gives the Jaguars hope for the future. He struggled as a rookie, but looked much more sure of himself this summer. The defense should once again be a top-10 unit. The only negative of the summer was Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, but Rashad Jennings has done a nice job in his absence and it has allowed the team to move toward Gabbert more. Now that Jones-Drew is back, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Best that could happen: Gabbert throws for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdown passes and they push for a wild-card spot.

Worst that could happen: Gabbert isn't much better than a year ago and he finds his way to the bench. If that happens, the franchise is in big trouble.

Last word: Change is good sometimes, and in the case of the Jaguars, that is true. The organization was stale. New owner Shad Khan brings a new feeling, as does Mularkey. Contrary to what many know about this team, there are some good players on the roster. If Gabbert takes a big step forward, they could get to 9-7. More likely, they are another team looking to 2013.

  
 

Post-camp outlook: When I played out the season in June and July, I thought the Colts looked like a one-victory team. That might be too low. Quarterback Andrew Luck looks like a savvy veteran and they have the ability to rush the passer. With new coach Chuck Pagano, who has a defensive background, they should keep games close. As for Luck, I would expect him to have a good rookie season. There are concerns, like the offensive line and whether Donald Brown can handle the running load.

Best that could happen: They get to 8-8. I don't see it happening, but I would imagine they play a lot of close games. Pagano will try and keep the games tight. Luck won't be throwing it all over the place.

Worst that could happen: They go 1-15. That's possible, but it would mean a total disaster for the offensive line and Luck isn't as good as he was when I watched him practice this summer.

Last word: I like the direction this team is heading under general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano. They have the major piece in place in Luck, so one more offseason might be all that's needed to make this team a playoff competitor. I like where they are heading.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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