Texans can contend in AFC South

The Houston Texans finished nine games behind the division-winning Indianapolis Colts in 2013. A dismal 14-game losing streak to end the season left Houston with the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, just a year after it won 12 games and hosted a playoff game.

The record pendulum hasn't swung quite as dramatically in 2014, as the Texans are 5-5, but once again this team's fortunes are heading in a different direction than the previous year. Despite recently turning their starting quarterback job over to a player who had not previously thrown a pass of consequence in the NFL, the Texans enter Week 12 just a game back in the division and have a legit shot to overtake Indy.

Here's a look at why Houston can't be counted out in the AFC South.

Assessing Mallett under center

It was easy to piece together the appeal for Houston in trading for Ryan Mallett before the start of the season: Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots when Mallett was a rookie back in 2011. Though Mallett never started a game for the Patriots, the organization believed enough in his promise to release fellow backup Brian Hoyer at the end of the 2012 preseason, Mallett's second year in the league. The Patriots saw a strong-armed quarterback who was able to pick up the concepts of their offensive system.