Coming off a division title and a wild-card game win, the Texans are ready to make a deep playoff run this season. NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (20½ sacks) headlines a unit that ranked seventh in yards allowed last season. Watt is part of a strong lineup that includes LB Brian Cushing, who will be back after recovering from a left knee injury, and veteran safety Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer. The offense features the explosive trio of QB Matt Schaub (4,008 passing yards, 22 TDs), RB Arian Foster (1,424 rushing yards, 15 TDs), and WR Andre Johnson (1,598 receiving yards, four TDs). WRDeAndre Hopkins, the 18th pick of the 2013 draft, will help Houston put even more points on the board.
BOTTOM LINE: With a roster loaded with talent and depth, the Texans are a Super Bowl contender.
2. Indianapolis Colts
2012 record: 11–5
Colts fans are thrilled to have Luck on their side. That's QB Andrew Luck (4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs), who as a rookie helped Indy to the playoffs after a 2–14 record in 2011. Luck has elite targets in WRs Reggie Wayne (1,355 receiving yards) and T.Y. Hilton (seven TDs) and a new deep threat in DarriusHeyward-Bey (five TDs with Oakland). RB Vick Ballard (814 rushing yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (1,015 yards with the Giants) will split carries. The defense lost pass rusher Dwight Freeney. Rookie LB Bjoern Werner and veteran Robert Mathis must get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
BOTTOM LINE: The defense is a concern, but Luck will keep Indy in the wild-card hunt.
3. Tennessee Titans
2012 record: 6–10
The Titans made a point of improving their offensive line after QB Jake Locker got knocked around and missed eight games last season with a right shoulder injury. Tennessee added offensive guard Andy Levitre from Buffalo and chose guard Chance Warmack in the first round of the draft. They will open up space for talented RBs Chris Johnson (1,243 rushing yards) and Shonn Greene (1,063 yards with the Jets). Defensively, the Titans lack star power but will hold down opposing passers with the tandem of CB Jason McCourty (four INTs) and safety Michael Griffin (four INTs).
BOTTOM LINE: Johnson and Greene can carry the offense, but Tennessee will reach .500 only if Locker makes clutch plays.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
2012 record: 2–14
After hitting rock bottom last season, the Jags used the second pick in the draft to select offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who will help rebuild an offense that finished 30th in scoring (15.9 ppg). Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne will compete for the starting QB job and have strong targets in WRs Justin Blackmon (865 receiving yards) and Cecil Shorts (979 yards). Star RB Maurice Jones-Drew (414 rushing yards) must bounce back from an injury-filled season. Two rookies, safety Johnathan Cyprien and CB Dwayne Gratz, shore up a defense that was 22nd against the pass and had the fewest sacks in the NFL.
BOTTOM LINE: If Jones-Drew stays healthy, the Jags will see significant improvement. However, the playoffs are a longshot.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Jaguars will play at least one "home" game in London in each of the next four seasons. It is part of the NFL's plan to expand interest in the league overseas and one day have a team that is based outside the U.S.
PHOTOS: ERIC GAY/AP (TEXANS), DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (COLTS), HANNAH FOSLIEN/GETTY IMAGES (TITANS), PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP (JAGUARS)