Ten questions about the AFC South

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

TORONTO - 1. When will Peyton Manning be back?

The Colts took their star quarterback off of the PUP list, a good sign, but few expect him to be ready for Week 1. Week 2 seems realistic though and Peyton Manning seems optimistic that he’ll be back sooner than later. Even a four-time MVP and 11-time All Pro can’t magically step right in and be brilliant though, so nobody should be expecting early miracles from Manning.

2. How long until CJ is an impact player again?

Chris Johnson finally came to terms with the Titans on Thursday after an ugly holdout. After missing all of camp, how soon will one of the NFL’s elite running backs take to get back to peak form? He probably won’t be the player fantasy owners have come to love for a few weeks and it will be interesting to see just how long it takes before he performs like an All Pro again.

3. Will the Texans finally make the playoffs?

Yes, with one caveat: Arian Foster stays healthy. The team is ready to make giant strides this season and get into the derby for the first time since entering the league in 2002. The Texans started 4-2 before finishing the year 2-8 and surely will learn from that collapse. The team ranked third in total offence (386.6 yards per game) and ninth in points per game (24.4) last season and the defence should be better.

4. Has the window closed for the Colts?

They’ve been to Super Bowls and won one of them, they’ve been elite for years, but it’s hard to stay on top in the NFL. Manning is no spring chicken anymore, they were racked with injuries last year (18 players on injured reserve) and everybody seems to be writing them off. Manning set career highs for passing attempts, completions and yards last season, but his QB rating was his lowest since 2002.

5. Will Houston’s defence be better or worse?

Wade Philips has been a good defensive coordinator in the past and that should not change. Mario Williams is adjusting well to becoming a linebacker and adding standout cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning should go a long way. If Manning is out longer than expected, it is not crazy to think that Houston could claim the division title.

6. Does the pre-season mean anything?

Not really, too many starters miss most of it. Houston went 3-0 and Indianapolis went 0-3, but at the end of the regular season, they likely will have similar records. What you can take from the pre-season is that Houston is adapting well to its changes (top differential in the league at +77) and has recovered from its 2010 swoon.

7. Will Gabbert take Garrard’s job?

Yes, but it won’t happen for a while. Gabbert, the 10th overall pick, impressed the Jaguars while Garrard was out with a back injury. Garrard is an accurate passer and has been durable in the past, but he’ll only keep his job all season if he finds the end zone more often, as he did in 2010 (career-high 23 touchdowns). Gabbert should win the starting gig once he has adapted to the NFL game.

8. Will Arian Foster take a step back?

Yes. At least a bit since 2010’s leading rusher is hurt, though he says his hamstring injury isn’t as bad as it seems and has lost his lead blocker. Vonta Leach, considered the top fullback in the league left via free agency. James Casey is solid, but Leach is the best and Foster will miss him.

9. Where do the Titans go from here?

Probably down before they get things back on track. The Vince Young and Jeff Fisher eras are over. The 5-2 start to the season in 2010 is a distant memory. Matt Hasselbeck will bring a steady hand at the till, but this team will likely struggle, especially if Johnson struggles early as expected. The young defence (the team went heavy on defenders in the draft) needs to be better than the one that struggled against the pass in 2010.

10. How much better is Jacksonville’s defence?

It better be a lot since the 2010 edition allowed a franchise record for points against and finished 28th in the league. Paul Posluszny, Clint Session and other new additions should result in a vastly improved group. The return to health of a couple of key defenders will help as well. Given the health of Maurice Jones-Drew and the QB situation, for the first time in a few years, offence, not defence will be the prime concern in Jacksonville.


Photos