Last season I boasted about the AFC South becoming a premier division in the NFL. I can’t say this too often, but I was right. The Colts, Jaguars, Texans, and Titans had a combined 42-22 record in 2007, marking the best winning percentage (.656) for a division in NFL history. No team in the AFC South had a losing record.

Tony Dungy and the Colts have kept the Jaguars and the rest of the AFC South at bay for the past half decade. Is their time up?

Tony Dungy and the Colts have kept the Jaguars and the rest of the AFC South at bay for the past half decade. Is their time up?

Despite the stiff competition and a slew of injuries, the Colts coasted to their fifth consecutive division title. Don’t expect it to be so easy this season.

While preseason strength of schedule should be taken with a grain of salt, the Colts have the second-toughest slate entering the 2008 season.

Injuries caught up with the Colts last year, but this year it’s a glaring issue from the gate — though the team would never admit it.

Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison’s injuries have been well chronicled. Manning will miss the bulk of the preseason and while Harrison is back, he will be rebounding from the most significant injury of his NFL career. The Colts lost Jake Scott — a key cog in their offensive line — and Ryan Lilja is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Defensively, there are more questions. Most recently it was learned defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock will retire after 18 NFL tackles — leaving the Colts thin on the interior line.

With the loss of linebackers Rob Morris and Rocky Boiman to free agency, the recent pectoral injury to Tyjuan Hagler (which could keep him out into the regular season) is a concern.

As usual, Bob Sanders will be seen sparingly in training camp, but that’s of little concern. The major concern is whether or not Dwight Freeney will be himself following a major foot surgery. For a defense predicated on getting after the quarterback, Freeney’s ability to reach that top-gear — and most importantly stay on the field — is pivotal.

With plenty of their own problems, the Colts will strive to fend off the pesky Jaguars and claim their sixth consecutive division crown.

The Jaguars finally have their man at quarterback in David Garrard and rewarded him with a healthy chunk of change. Still able to attack the line of scrimmage with arguably the best running back tandem in football with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, the Jaguars added a couple of weapons for Garrard in the passing game with Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson.

With low expectations, the Titans quietly resurrected their defense (dead last in 2006 to fifth in 2007), made the playoffs, and gave the Chargers their money’s worth in the first round of the playoffs.

Offensively challenged, the Titans picked up tight end Alge Crumpler and drafted speedy ECU running back Chris Johnson, who ran a 4.24 40-yard dash.

Even the Texans pose a threat these days. For the first time, the franchise didn’t have a losing record, posting an 8-8 mark in 2007.

After getting killed in the media for passing on Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft for Mario Williams, the Texans are laughing now, as Williams recorded a franchise-record 14 sacks in 2007.

For years, there have been rumblings that the Jaguars would finally overtake the Colts. In reality, the Colts have kept them at a distance. For the past four seasons, the Colts have had at least a two-game cushion in the division at the conclusion of the regular season. Now, more than ever, the Colts appear to have chinks in the armor. Will the Jaguars and the rest of the division capitalize? We shall see.