The AFC South has long been Peyton Manning's playhouse but with last season's injury and his widely reported exit to the Denver Broncos complete, it's time for a new team to take control of this division.

We'll take a look at who is ready to stake a claim to this hotly contested division even before they recruit some serious talent in this year's NFL Draft, now less than two weeks away.

Which team has the foundations already in place to be successful? Who currently has the roster to upset last year’s winners Houston Texans?


 
1st - Houston Texans
 

The Texans romped to the title last year with relative ease thanks to Wade Phillips' No. 2 ranked defense and the emergence of TJ Yates at quarterback. A two-game playoff run followed which has only whet the appetite for this young franchise to return there in 2012.

Matt Schaub will be 31 years old by the time the new season begins and is once again expected to be the Texans' starting quarterback even with the emergence of TJ Yates, last year’s fifth round selection, who got his chance because of Schaub's season-ending foot injury.

As ever, the Texans' standout threat is Andre Johnson, who is coming off a season where he only managed to play seven games due to injury - but if he can stay fit, he will surely cement his status as one of the league's top performers. Not far behind him in terms of star quality is previously undrafted running back Arian Foster, who will be aiming for his third successive season of +1,000 yards rushing.

On the defensive side of the ball Phillips turned potential into production as Houston was second in yards per game conceded to only the Pittsburgh Steelers, those stats were probably helped with the lack of a fit Manning on the opposite sideline but you can only beat what is in front of you.

One move that might hinder the Texans' defense this season is the release of Pro Bowler Mario Williams who signed a monster deal with the Buffalo Bills during free agency. Williams, when fit, was a game-changer and maybe that is something Houston will address in April's Draft.

With the roster available and a winning mentality now installed into this franchise, it would be a brave man to call another winner in the AFC South.


2nd - Tennessee Titans
 

The Titans by all accounts had a positive 2011, finishing with a winning record and just one win short of a playoff berth - but that should stray from the truth that this is a franchise short of a few big players in key positions.

Matt Hasselbeck was the man under center last season but the aging quarterback is not the fans' choice, 2011 NFL Draft first-round selection Jake Locker is the man they are calling for and when called upon last year, he was almost flawless. If and when the Titans decide to go with Locker, it will be up to him to sustain those high standards.

On the outside, Tennessee has Kenny Brit who missed the majority of the 2011 campaign due to a torn MCL and ACL [ ouch! ], but other than him the Titans are struggling and this should be strengthened if the impending Locker is to have an impact in the passing game.

Chris Johnson will need to be more productive than his effort, or should we say lack of it in 2011. Contract negotiations overshadowed the Titans for the early part of the season hitting the star rushers impact on games, fortunately that is all sorted and with a healthy, motivated C2K, the Titans could launch themselves into playoff contention.

The defense has been hit with the departure of secondary captain Cortland Finnegan who has joined ex-coach Jeff Fisher in St Louis. Finnegan will need replacing in a defense that ranked 18th overall in yards per game.

Titans fans will be hoping 2012 will bring success, Bud Adams will be of the same mind, if he's recovered from Manning's rejection?



3rd - Indianapolis Colts


Manning has gone and Luck WILL be here, that is the general consensus in Indianapolis, but what most are forgetting [probably on purpose], is that progress will be limited in the new quarterback's first taste of NFL action.

Last season could be described as an absolute monstrosity on both sides of the ball, a word that hasn't been linked with the Colts since Peyton Manning took the city into his heart in 1998.

Offensively the Colts were ineffective in every way. Collins, Painter and Orlovsky were dreadful with the ball in hand and the running game never got going, Addai and Brown disappointed and their end of season totals summed up the Colts' season.

Widely regarded as one of the best double acts in the league, pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were not as productive compared to previous campaigns which hurt Indianapolis, giving them the eighth worst defense in the country.

Can the Colts turn their fortunes around in one season? No. Will the roster changes prove too much to deal with? Yes. Another struggle lays on the horizon but at least they can see some light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Luck likely coming on board.

4th - Jacksonville Jaguars


Sun, sea and sand is what awaits the Jaguars once the 2012 season finishes, a season that will consist of some dark and extremely depressing days for their supporters.

Last season saw another 2011 first-round pick take the reins of his team, this time it was former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. With zero aerial weapons to speak of and displaying worrying signs whilst under pressure, Gabbert faced a losing battle and it was a battle he lost, handsomely.

Maurice Jones-Drew must be thinking to himself, 'Why the Jags? Why did I have to land here?’ Jacksonville is saying to themselves, 'Praise the Lord we have Maurice Jones-Drew!’ With more carries than ever, most likely due to the dire passing game, Drew rushed for over 1,600 yards, impressive. If the Jaguars are to do anything this year then it is vital that #32 remains healthy.

Defensively, Jacksonville was quietly impressive and ranked No. 6 overall in yards per game, had it not been for them, they could be the ones racking their brains over whether to select Luck or RG3 with the first overall pick in the upcoming Draft.

Unfortunately, unless the 2012 NFL Draft is kind to Jacksonville I cannot see them troubling many teams, they will push the Colts for third in the AFC South but that will be all for this season.