Certainly no team would publicly admit to being happy about an injury to a player from another club. But you know that probably, deep down, members of the Houston Texans weren’t exactly torn up over Peyton Manning missing last season with the Colts.
That’s because the AFC South was the Colts’ playground under Manning, and they pretty much owned the Texans in that time. But with Manning sidelined for all of last season because of neck surgery, Houston won the first division title in franchise history with a 10-6 record. Not bad considering that Texans Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub was sidelined for the season after a Week 10 blowout win over Tampa Bay, star receiver Andre Johnson missed half the season and defensive stud Mario Williams was done after Week 5.
Rookie T.J. Yates was solid in Schaub’s place and helped lead Houston to the first playoff victory in team history in its first postseason game, a 31-10 win over Cincinnati in the wild-card round. But without Schaub, that offense was mostly shut down and committed four turnovers in a 20-13 divisional round loss in Baltimore.
So now that Coach Gary Kubiak’s job is safe and the team has had a taste of postseason success, expectations are high for a trip to the Super Bowl this season.
It’s really all about Schaub and if he can stay healthy. The Lisfranc foot injury he suffered was very serious, and he wasn’t cleared by doctors until mid-July. But he should be good to go. When Schaub played all 16 games in 2009 and 2010 for Houston, he was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, having back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons. But he has now missed chunks of time in 2007, ’08 and last year. Before his injury in 2011, Schaub was having one of his best seasons. He had 15 touchdowns with six interceptions, 2,479 passing yards and a 61.0 completion percentage. This is a contract season, so if Schaub can’t make it through the season healthy he might not be back in Houston.
Before Calvin Johnson went crazy last year, most would have said that Houston’s Andre Johnson was the best receiver in the NFL. In the 2008-09 seasons, Johnson played every game and had 226 receptions for more than 3,100 yards and 17 touchdowns. But Johnson was limited to 13 games in 2010 and just seven a year ago. And he already has had a groin problem in camp. Johnson still averages more receiving yards per game in his career (79.1) than any receiver in NFL history. Kevin Walter is a solid No. 2 behind Johnson, but the Texans don’t have much else at the position.
Arguably no team is more set at running back than Houston with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Thanks to that duo, the Texans ranked second in the NFL in rushing last season at 153.0 yards per game. Foster finished fifth in the NFL with 1,224 yards, Tate 19th with 942. No other team in the league had two 800-yard rushers. Foster and Tate both ran for more than 100 yards in the same game twice, making them the sixth duo since 1985 to do that.
This group was a stunning success in 2011, going from one of the NFL’s most porous defenses in 2010 to the No. 2 overall in 2012. Most of the credit went to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. But the defense took a few hits this offseason. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, was traded to the Eagles. Ryans wasn’t a great fit for the 3-4 so was deemed expendable – the Texans also have Brian Cushing in the middle.
The club also lost outside linebacker/end Williams, the former No. 1 overall pick. He had five sacks in five games last year before going down with injury. Williams was the most-sought after defensive free agent this summer and landed in Buffalo. But the Texans were apparently prepared for his loss, taking Illinois pass-rushing star Whitney Mercilus in the first round of this year’s draft. Plus, Connor Barwin really came on as a pass-rusher for Houston last season.
Look for an even better season in 2012 from second-year end J.J. Watt. He played like a Pro Bowler last year with 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, a team-high 7.0 tackles for loss and four passes defensed. He had 3.5 sacks in the playoffs. Watt did dislocate his elbow in camp but should be fine for Week 1.
In the secondary, the free agent additions of cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free safety Danieal Manning helped the Texans jump from No. 32 in passing defense in 2010 to No. 3 a year ago. Both are back and Joseph was a Pro Bowler last year with only two receivers getting more than 80 yards against him.
2012 Houston Texans Schedule Analysis
Houston is tied as having the third-easiest schedule in the NFL this season with an opponents’ winning percentage of .473 and only six games vs. teams with a winning record a year ago. You can tell Houston has finally arrived as a franchise because the Texans are on national television five times this season (four prime-time games and the Thanksgiving opener in Detroit).
Theoretically, the Texans shouldn’t have a problem in the opener against the rebuilding Dolphins and whomever they start at quarterback, and, in fact, Houston is already an 8-point favorite on 5Dimes. And then Houston gets another questionable QB in Week 2 in Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars. But Week 3 should be fun as Houston gets to renew acquaintances with old friend Manning in Denver. Houston better start no worse than 2-2 because facing the Jets, Packers and Ravens right before the bye is a beast.
After the bye, Houston has four home games remaining and should be a big favorite in all four. The Thanksgiving game in Detroit should be an entertaining shootout. A Dec. 10 matchup in Foxborough against the Patriots could determine the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Houston has to be salivating over its final three games as they come against two inexperienced quarterbacks, with two vs. Indy and Andrew Luck and one vs. Christian Ponder and the Vikings.
2012 Houston Texans NFL Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, to win the Super Bowl the Texans are +1250 – the top “matchup” is +2625 vs. Green Bay. To win the AFC, the Texans are +525 (+250 to play in the AFC title game). To win the AFC South, the Texans are the biggest division favorites in the NFL at -450. Houston’s “over/under” wins total is set at 10, with the over a -125 favorite.
2012 Houston Texans Predictions
The only way the Texans don’t win the South is if Schaub goes down early. I am rather surprised the team didn’t sign a free-agent veteran to back him up. After all, there’s a reason Yates was a fifth-round pick in 2011. And the Ravens made him look like one in that playoff win as Yates had three picks and a QB rating of 28.8.
If Schaub can stay on the field, I would take Houston on the over 10 games because the schedule is pretty easy – Houston is almost guaranteed five wins inside the division alone because the Jags and Colts are lousy and presuming a home win vs. the so-so Titans. I also would take the prop for Houston to play in the AFC Championship Game but not to win that. For one more season, the AFC title runs through New England, Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
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