The AFC South has been one of the more competitive divisions in their respective conference. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts both represented in the 2012 postseason, but fell short of the Super Bowl. And while both of these teams are on the rise, the other half of the the South seems to be stuck in neutral.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have struggled mightily to gain any sort of forward progress in the division. They have been handicapped by lack of continuity and bad quarterback play. Bad decisions by the front office have put these teams behind the 8-ball, while Houston and Indianapolis have thrived.
So, in the South, there are two teams that are only a few pieces away from legitimate contention, while there are others still in phase one of the rebuilding process.
Houston Texans (12-4)
The Texans finished the regular season with one of the best records in the NFL, winning the AFC South for a second year in a row.
The biggest issue for the team is getting past the New England Patriots in the postseason. They seem to completely fall apart against their up-tempo offense, allowing themselves to be overtaken quite easily. Outside of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the team also struggled to push forth a balanced attack.
They had one sure-fire pass catcher and a quarterback who is flirting with the "average" label. The Texans need to surround Matt Schaub with more ultra-athletic weapons to make this a more potent attack. For a brief period of time, TE Owen Daniels was a solid receiver for the team, but his productivity took a hit following his midseason injury.
This team needs more weapons on offense and a reboot in the defensive backfield. If they truly hope to compete for a Super Bowl, the Texans need to stop the pass and become more versatile offensively.
Defensively, as noted on Battle Red Blog, the Texans have long had a hole nose tackle and acquiring one this offseason could go a long way to getting even more from players like J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing.
Perfection: Find a threatening No. 2 WR to complement Andre Johnson, rebuild the secondary, add a pass rusher, trade for Percy Harvin
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts are in the beginning of a bright new era in Indianapolis.
After using their first overall pick on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts appear to have their next franchise passer. Pending unforeseen circumstances, Luck should be the face of the organization for the next decade or so. This gives new general manager Ryan Grigson an exceptional centerpiece to build around.
This coming offseason, the Colts will be flush with cap money and will surely look to acquire some complementary assets for their QB.
First and foremost, Indianapolis needs to upgrade this offensive line. Luck was scrambling for his life during his rookie campaign and still managed to make things happen. He could be all the more threatening with time and a clean pocket to step into.
Finally, this is a rebuilding defense that needs to find a way to slow teams down. Under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, the Colts have made a schematic change from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. After an experimental first year, it looks as if Robert Mathis will stay and play outside linebacker, while Dwight Freeney is on his way out.
The Colts need to solidify the vacant OLB position with a natural at the position. Investments could also be made at safety and cornerback. Daniel Young of Stampede Blue took a closer look at potential linebacker targets including Connor Barwin, Michael Boley and Brian Urlacher.
Perfection: Stabilize this offensive line through the draft, sign Connor Barwin via free agency, sign a big name wide receiver
Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Once a perennial contender, the Titans seemed to have fallen out of the limelight. On offense, defense and special teams, Tennessee has had their fair share of issues. This is a team that still needs key contributors at several positions on the roster.
But over the past couples years, they have had a number of players underperform. Meanwhile others like Jeff Fisher and Cortland Finnegan have exited the franchise, and even more stragglers find themselves unhappy. The Titans could see Rob Bironas and Jared Cook leave this offseason -- two players with great potential that will leave holes on the depth chart.
The Titans could go in a few different directions; from starting over at quarterback, to adding to the defense, to changing offensive philosophies, etcetera. Having dipped below .500 once again, the Titans are in no position to be picky when it comes to this roster.
Perfection: Trade for Darrelle Revis, sign a free agent wide receiver, add a big-bodied No. 2 running back to support Chris Johnson
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
It's been tough sledding for the Jaguars for some time now.
For a while, this expansion team was able to get by on a hard-nosed defensive identity, but that has since slipped away. The last piece of their once feared defensive unit, Rashean Mathis, has been marred by his ACL injury. This defense needs a presence in the middle, as well as a pass rush specialist and a young, talented corner.
When shopping for a corner, the Jags may have a specific attribute in mind, as Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country noted. When Gus Bradley was with the Seahawks, Seattle drafted cornerbacks with big wingspans. If that trend continues corners like Sheldon Price and Demontre Hurst could be on their radar.
They are in a position to bargain shop this free agency and rebuild this defensive unit. There are plenty of names that will be cast off from their 2012 teams who will be able to upgrade Jacksonville's situation.
The Jags need to bring in a few new faces via free agency and the draft.
On offense, they seemed to have committed to another year of Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville took the quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft, and unfortunately, he has failed to find his stride. It's been a rocky road to his development; injuries, interceptions and all.
They need to make a splash in this offseason, trading for another dynamic weapon or a new signal-caller.