The same Indianapolis Colts defense the Jaguars flattened for 375 yards rushing in week 14 of last season, came to life in the postseason to lead the Colts to the Super Bowl title. So, will the real Colts defense please stand up?
If it's the one the Jaguars and just about everybody else in the league abused last season – the Colts were dead last against the run – then the Jaguars have hope of contending for the division title. If, however, the performance of the Colts defense in the postseason is a sign of what's ahead this year, then everybody else in the AFC South is playing for second place.
It's really that simple. We saw what strong defense could do for the Colts. It put them over the top. It was the missing link. It's all they needed.
Is that defense, however, for real? That's the burning question and most "experts" tend to believe that what we saw in the postseason was a fluke.
Gone from that defense are Cato June, Nick Harper, Jason David, Mike Doss and Montae Reagor, and the Colts did little in free agency or the draft to help themselves on defense, and they recently signed defensive end Dwight Freeney to a mega-money deal that begs this question: Is a player who had only 5.5 sacks last season worthy of elite status?
Hey, they're Super Bowls champs so they must've done something right, right? You bet.
That's why the Colts are everybody's favorite to win a fifth consecutive AFC South title. They have Peyton Manning and they replaced Edgerrin James with Joseph Addai without missing a beat, and now it appears they're preparing for the day when they'll have to replace Marvin Harrison, as the Colts spent their first-round pick on Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez.
The Jaguars' attempt to wrest the division title away from the Colts would also seem to hinge on one burning question: Will the Jaguars stabilize their quarterback position and improve a passing attack that sagged to 24th in the league last year and, more importantly, collapsed at crunch time and caused the team to miss the playoffs?
Those are the big questions, as they pertain to the Jaguars' bid to win the division: Was the Colts defense's performance in the postseason a fluke and can the Jaguars improve their passing game? If the answer to both questions is yes, then the Jaguars might contend for the division title.
Tennessee could be the fly in the ointment for the Jaguars, as the Titans rallied in the second half of the season to finish 8-8 and, technically, pass the Jaguars in the standings. One look at the Titans' roster, however, begs this question: Are the Titans for real?
Quarterback Vince Young was the catalyst to the Titans' surprising revival last year. The rookie made big play after big play with his feet and that, no doubt, caused defensive coordinators to spend much of the offseason devising ways to spoil Young's sophomore season.
Can Young do it again? Can a quarterback who finished at the bottom of the league's passer rankings continue his improvisational scrambles through NFL defenses?
It would seem the Titans will have to depend on Young for the team's rushing yards. The Titans released Travis Henry and would seem to be pinning all of their hopes at running back on second-year man LenDale White, who provided little impact as a rookie.
The Titans' receiving corps is similarly lackluster and the defense is troubled by the travails of Pacman Jones and a lack of depth at cornerback.
An encore performance by Young and the Titans might be too much to expect.
Houston made the big trade of the offseason, acquiring Matt Schaub from the Falcons. If Schaub turns out to be the answer at quarterback, the Texans will have a player around whom they can start building. If Schaub's the answer, improvement will be immediate because Schaub has as his top target what many consider to be the best wide receiver in the league, Andre Johnson.
If Schaub, however, isn't the answer, then look out below because there's not much else about the Texans that offers hope. They remain suspect on both lines and their roster will require considerably more strengthening.
The outlook in the AFC South is pretty much as it has been in recent years. The Colts are the obvious favorite, the Jaguars remain the pesky pursuer, the Titans are still battling back from massive losses due to salary cap problems, and the Texans are expected to bring up the rear.
An answer here to a question there, however, could change the order.