1. Houston Texans (10-7 in 2023)
The Houston Texans were one of the league's biggest surprises in 2023. Just one year removed from going 3-14 and winning a combined 11 games the previous three seasons, they reached the divisional round of the playoffs and seized the AFC South.
Heading into the season, there were questions about DeMeco Ryans' viability as a head coach. Not because he wasn't talented but because it was his first year on the job. He passed the test with flying colors, having his team ready to compete week in and week out. Ryans also deserves credit for hiring the right people for his staff. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik also were huge in the team's turnaround.
Of course, the Texans might not have gotten as far as they did without rookie sensation C.J. Stroud, who played like a season veteran right off the bat. With Stroud in the fold, they won't have to worry about the quarterback position for a while and will continue to building the roster. They already have a handful of building blocks in place, such as defensive end Will Anderson Jr., wide receiver Tank Dell, and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
Houston will probably turn their attention to fixing the trenches in the offseason. Last season, their offense was functional even though their offensive line was underwhelming. If they take care of it, they should be the favorites to repeat as AFC South champions. Then again, it won't be a walk in the park with the Jaguars and Colts within striking distance.