NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Play in the AFC South went south in 2015.
At the midway point of the season, there was plenty of chatter about whether the division winner would finish with a .500 record. The Texans ended up claiming the title, with a 9-7 mark.
Meanwhile, the rest of the division – Indianapolis (8-8), Jacksonville (5-11) and Tennessee (3-13) – had plenty of issues, and disappointment. It didn't help the division's rep when the Texans got blanked 30-0 by the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs.
"This is a division that is feeling the heat as they try to be interesting,'' Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com said recently. "It's been the most boring division in the league."
Things could be changing, however, based on the free agency moves around the division this offseason, and from the opinions of coaches in the division from the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
"We talk about not comparing, but I was in the NFC West at a time when that division was struggling, and it quickly improved,'' Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "It starts at quarterback. Now you're seeing the (AFC South) teams have quarterbacks, and they are building around them."
Bradley served as Seattle's defensive coordinator from 2009-2012 when the Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals and Rams struggled in the NFC West, and then showed quick improvement. Seattle won the division with a 7-9 mark in 2010. Now, the NFC West has a solid reputation.
The Titans (Marcus Mariota), Colts (Andrew Luck) and Jaguars (Blake Bortles) have franchise quarterbacks returning, and this offseason the Texans signed quarterback Brock Osweiler to a deal that averages $18 million a year.
Meanwhile, teams have made significant moves to improve in free agency.
"It has gotten better,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of the AFC South. "A lot of big signings in free agency, a lot of teams filled needs they needed to with some very good players.
"I think it's gone up a notch as far as how competitive it is going to be."
The Titans have signed seven free agents since the beginning of March, including a trade for running back DeMarco Murray. The team added center Ben Jones (Texans) and receiver Rishard Matthews (Dolphins), and a nickel cornerback in Brice McCain (Dolphins), among others.
In addition to Osweiler, the Texans added running back Lamar Miller and guard Jeff Allen.
The Jaguars have made a really big splash, signing three key players on defense in defensive end Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara. On offense, the Jaguars added former Jets running back Chris Ivory.
"Everybody is getting better,'' Colts coach Chuck Pagano said from the owners meetings. "Jacksonville got better, a couple of huge acquisitions there, with Jackson going there on defense. And Osweiler and Miller going to the Texans. Tennessee has made some big acquisitions with Murray … and some others.
"So everybody has gotten better. And look at the quarterback position in the AFC South. Everybody has a guy who can throw the football and give you a chance to win the division and make the playoffs."
The Colts have been relatively quiet in free agency, but getting back a healthy quarterback in Luck makes Indianapolis stronger, if not the favorite. The Colts added cornerback Patrick Robinson on Wednesday.
Teams plan make more strides with additions in the NFL Draft. The Titans have the first overall pick.
"Everybody is improving, and getting better,'' Texans coach Bill O'Brien said from Boca Raton, Fla. "Every year is different, and that's what makes it such an exciting league. It is a great challenge."