Nov 24, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (80) makes a reception during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium. The Jaguars defeated the Texans 13-6. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Who's the Favorite to Dethrone the Indianapolis Colts?

After a few seasons off, the Indianapolis Colts are back on top of the AFC South that they reigned supreme of for the entire 2000s era. However, the weakest division in NFL football has done all they could this off season to make strides towards the coveted top spot.

Each of the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have made definitive improvements towards uprooting Indianapolis. All three teams enjoyed lucrative drafts as well as some impact free agent pickups in order to ensure Indy doesn’t make it back to January football.

Houston Texans: Out of all four of the AFC South teams, the Texans probably experienced the best draft. One could look no further than impact defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney to see how the Texans plan on building up their defense that, despite a 2-14 team record, still was good for seventh best in the NFL. Clowney will join J.J. Watt to make one of the most feared rushing tandems in the NFL, certainly engineered specifically for the containment of Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck.

On offense, the Texans prayers came true this off season as Houston’s greatest all-time player decided to put aside his differences with the team and return to training camp. Andre’s Johnson returned presence gives Houston something to be hopeful for on offense. Another promising advancement was the development in DeAndre Hopkins‘ game last season. The wide outs on the field together with a consistent quarterback situation gives Houston the ability to be dominant on offense again.

Often-injured running back Arian Foster will have had an off season of recuperation to hopefully ward off the nagging injuries that plagued his 2013. With all of Hopkins, Johnson and Foster playing at top pace, the Colts defense may not be able to keep up.

Houston is an entirely different team than they were a year ago. However, the consistencies on offense and the big play makers on defense make this team one to watch out for in the AFC South. The Colts are still a better team than the Texans, but it wouldn’t be a large surprise if the teams split the series this year. Houston could even challenge in a weak AFC for a wildcard spot if the offense  plays up to expectations.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Gerhart gives the Jaguars offense some dimension in 2013.

Jun 17, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart (21) during the first day of minicamp at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars have made huge strides in the correct direction this off season through the acquisition of players for the future. The offense got a major boost, which was needed after the Jaguars posted the second-worst offense in the NFL last season, exceeding just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Former Viking Toby Gerhart instantly brings this team a threat in the run game after Maurice Jones-Drew flamed out last year. Against an Indianapolis Colts defense that is often susceptible to the run, Gerhart presents a tough threat that the Colts haven’t had to deal with in Jacksonville for a while.

Jacksonville also hit a home run in the beginning of the draft, picking up Blake Bortles at quarterback third overall and receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round. While Bortles won’t start Week 1 (Chad Henne is the currently penciled in starting QB), the Jaguars could be much more efficient on offense with the additions.

However, the Jaguars aren’t quite there yet. While they are certainly on the rise, the Indianapolis Colts outperform Jacksonville in almost every facet on the field. Jacksonville may be a factor in 2015, but for now, they remain an un-feared team in the AFC South and should be an easy sweep for Indy.

Tennessee Titans:

The Titans are consistently the division’s biggest enigma, largely due to the inconsistent injury status of quarterback Jake Locker. When Locker is upright and healthy, he gives Tennessee a better chance to win. While Tennessee has always stayed upright and never spiraled to the bottom due to the able play of Matt Hasselbeck and Ryan Fitzpatrick, this season features a strange second-string duo of washed-up veteran Charlie Whitehurst and rookie Zach Mettenberger.

If Locker goes down, the season may spin out of control for Tennessee.

That being said, the Titans have been able to build a stable offense capable of tearing apart teams if they could have consistent quarterback play. Kendall Wright has quietly developed into a very solid receiver across from Nate Washington and second-year pro Justin Hunter. Rookie Bishop Sankey will likely take over for released running back Chris Johnson, and his upside is high.

While the Titans don’t look overly dominant on paper, the Colts and Titans always have excellent games. However, in the last few seasons, the Colts are on a 5-0 streak against Tennessee and don’t seem too likely to let that record go. Both games this season will be close, simply based on the history of close games between the two clubs, but Indianapolis has a good chance of taking both.

 

The AFC South is getting better and will not be the laughing stock of the NFL after the 2014 season, but the Colts’ seat atop the division is likely safe this season.

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