The Houston Texans have become the steadying force in the AFC South while the rest of the division is in some stage of rebuilding. For the Indianapolis Colts, this process is almost complete, despite starting to rebuild just over a year ago. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars are comfortable with a slower burn as a new regime evaluates the roster. The Tennessee Titans are still assessing whether they need to blow everything up. The AFC South has become a case of the haves and have nots -- with the latter trying to find their quarterback and move forward.
Last season marked the first year since 2008 that the division sent two teams to the playoffs. The Texans won their second division title in a row. The Colts rallied around a sick head coach, rookie quarterback and young roster to make an improbable playoff run.
Things weren't so great for Jacksonville and Tennessee, as the teams combined for eight wins and had disappointing seasons due to poor offensive line play. Both the Jaguars and Titans are still trying to evaluate 2011 first-round quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, respectively.
It's hard to find a team as injury-stricken as the Houston Texans in recent years, but they still found ways to win. Whether it was limping into the playoffs in 2011 on the arm of T.J. Yates or the loss of Brian Cushing last year, it isn't just injuries the Texans have dealt with, but finding ways to compete without vital players.
Offensively, they have a number of weapons. Foster and Ben Tate form a backfield that forces teams to respect the run, which opens up the play-action pass. From there, Matt Schaub has the ability to pick teams apart with his arm and has more receiving weapons than ever. Andre Johnson was hobbled with a groin injury last year that limited his effectiveness, but he's healthy now and Houston has paired him with rookie DeAndre Hopkins to open up downfield passing.
Showing they're not a one-trick pony, the Texans have a defense that finished in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed last year and in the top five in sacks. Watt managed to amass 20.5 sacks with a torn triceps, and there's no telling what he can do this year if healthy.
You are probably a little mad if you're a fan of one of the 30 NFL teams who aren't the Green Bay Packers or Indianapolis Colts. The ability for both organizations to seamlessly transition from one elite quarterback to another feels unfair. Andrew Luck broke the rookie passing record just a year after Cam Newton set a new mark, and led his team to an unlikely playoff berth. With a tougher schedule, things will be harder this year for Indianapolis, but the team can still push for another Wild Card spot in 2013.
The best move the Colts made in free agency will probably get overlooked, but signing Ahmad Bradshaw could allow the Colts to be more than a passing offense.
Vick Ballard ran for over 800 yards in 2012, albeit inefficiently. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Bradshaw was often maligned in New York, but he is a legitimate 1,000-yard running back who can move the chains.
This opens up a vast array of opportunities for the Colts. Luck has the arm and the weapons -- now it's about limiting errors in his second season and taking the necessary steps forward.
Building a successful franchise takes time. No team in the AFC South better embodies this ideal than the Jacksonville Jaguars. It would have been easy for first-time head coach Gus Bradley to get anxious and pull the trigger on a quarterback. Instead, he understood the Jaguars' weaknesses and chose to support Blaine Gabbert for one more year.
This season will be about Bradley molding this team. There's a chance Gabbert can develop and he's shown an early affinity for the new system. Taking left tackle Luke Joeckel at No. 2 overall in the draft felt strange, but it gives Jacksonville a cornerstone left tackle for years to come.
Bradley cut his teeth on defense, and he'll be looking to improve a Jaguars defense that was third-worst in the NFL last season.
This is a hard team to predict only because the success of first-year regimes can vary. The lack of turnover at skill positions makes it unlikely the Jaguars will turn it around in one year, but it will at least make them a better team in the future.
This is it for Titans head coach Mike Munchak and the rest of his staff. Owner Bud Adams elected to bring back the embattled Munchak following a 6-10 season. The Titans had players regress, an offensive line that looked sluggish and a quarterback whose struggles on the field were matched by his inability to remain healthy.
However, the tide could be turning for the Titans. The team went out of its way to upgrade the offensive line, spending money on free agent guard Andy Levitre and adding Chance Warmack in the draft. These improvements should allow Chris Johnson to return to his 2,000-yard potential, after fighting with subpar blocking at the beginning of 2012.
These additions could be a moot point if Jake Locker can't evolve into a high-level NFL quarterback. The Titans have waited for two years. There have been flashes, but nothing reliable.
As much as Tennessee struggled on offense last season, the defense was worse, surrendering the most points in the NFL. Still, the Titans finished in the top 10 in the league in interceptions with 19 picks, and looked to have improved on defense during the preseason. If that can translate to the regular season, then Tennessee could rebound from a disappointing 2012.