At this time last offseason, I thought the AFC South was poised to take a major step forward in the coming campaign. The division was fresh off an uninspiring season -- with a 25-39 overall record in 2014, including a lackluster 13-27 mark against non-divisional foes -- but every AFC South squad appeared to be significantly upgrading its talent.
The outcome in 2015: 25-39 overall, 13-27 against non-divisional foes.
So, yes, I was a bit off in forecasting an AFC South surge last offseason. But boy, what a difference a year makes! Really, this time.
Every team in the AFC South is going to surpass last season's win total. Think about it ...
Houston Texans (9-7 in 2015): Brock solid
I raved about the Texans' signing of Brock Osweiler last week. That move changes everything. Houston had the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, bar none; a veritable clown car co-driven by Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden. Osweiler makes the Texans legit. He improved the Broncos' offense during his seven starts in 2015; he beat the previously undefeated Patriots, won in prime time, won in the division and won on the road. Playing for Bill O'Brien -- and with DeAndre Hopkins -- will only make Osweiler better.
Plus, Lamar Miller represents a major upgrade at running back. Arian Foster (whom the Texans released earlier this month) just never got right last season. Consequently, Houston averaged a lowly 3.67 yards per carry (28th in the NFL). Miller brings a career average of 4.59 a pop through four NFL seasons -- and at age 24, he's just hitting his prime.
Now, when Houston's first-round pick (No. 22 overall) comes up in April, the Texans can target the best player on the board: a receiver, offensive lineman or impact defender.
I believe Houston will win between 10 and 12 games this year and be in contention for everything in the AFC.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8): Luck ... and luck?
Honestly, I thought Indy's approach to the initial wave of free agency was somewhere between poor and questionable. If there was ever a year to overspend on defense and the offensive line, this was it. Instead, general manager Ryan Grigson essentially sat out the free agency frenzy and then let Jerrell Freeman sign with the Bears.
Still, Andrew Luck -- who was limited to seven games in 2015 -- should be healthier this season, and that's quite crucial. With a full slate from No. 12, nine wins should be very doable. That said, the guy isn't Superman -- Luck must get some help in 2016.
Indy needs some of last year's underachievers -- from young (Phillip Dorsett) to old (Trent Cole) -- to achieve. This roster remains flawed; it'd certainly be nice if Grigson and Co. were to upgrade the talent throughout the rest of free agency and the draft.
With a healthy star at the game's most important position, though, Indy cannot be disregarded.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Have players, need results
Forget the money: It's all nuts. But the Jags had a lot of it to spend, and they put it to use in a genuine effort to get better.
The signing of Malik Jackson was brilliant. He's a stud, and arguably was the second-best Broncos defender (behind Super Bowl MVP Von Miller) down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs. He's a game changer on the defensive front.
Prince Amukamara was solid with the New York Giants, not spectacular. But playing on a one-year prove-it deal in Jacksonville, the 26-year-old former first-rounder will be highly motivated to prove his worth. And he wasn't the only improvement the Jaguars made to their secondary: Safety Tashaun Gipson, who's part of the exodus from Cleveland, gives Jacksonville a ball-hawking safety who's one season removed from the Pro Bowl and still just 25 years old.
Now, coach Gus Bradley needs Dante Fowler -- last year's No. 3 overall pick, who missed the entire season after suffering a torn ACL in rookie minicamp -- to come back and live up to his lofty potential. Bradley has to have an impact edge rusher to really solidify his defense.
Chris Ivory's contract is bonkers, but, again, forget about the money; I like the fit, even though I did list him as a risky free agent earlier this month. And that's because the Jaguars aren't asking him to be the dominant and featured back -- after all, they already have T.J. Yeldon. That's huge. When right, Ivory is a great blend of power and speed. His issues always have been health-related. I bet Ivory thrives in a role where he's getting 10-15 carries a game.
Allen Robinson blossomed into a bona fide star this past season, with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and an NFL-high 14 touchdowns. Blake Bortles (4,428 passing yards with 35 TDs against 18 INTs) took a huge step forward. The Jaguars have players -- and that's before you consider who they could add with the fifth overall pick. Now, the pressure is on my guy Bradley.
It's nice to see the patience owner Shahid Khan has exhibited with Bradley and GM David Caldwell. But this is a results-oriented business. Now they have to start winning. And playing football in January.
Eight wins should be the goal, at minimum.
Tennessee Titans (3-13): Pieces coming together around Mariota
I gushed over the Titans' trade for running back DeMarco Murray last week. I think he will be similar to the guy who won Offensive Player of the Year for the Cowboys in 2014, which wasn't so long ago. And I can't wait to see the domino effect Murray's presence has on Marcus Mariota in the quarterback's sophomore campaign. I've always been a Mariota fan. I thought he had a really solid rookie year before getting hurt. He is on pace to thrive this year, with a Murray-infused ground game and a very underrated receiving corps, which includes Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker and newly signed receiver Rishard Matthews.
Tennessee has the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. Thus, the Titans are in prime position to either improve the offensive line (Laremy Tunsil?) or their overall draft currency (via trade). And, eventually, significantly improve their win total -- you have to believe this group eclipses the three-win mark in 2016.