Certainly no team in the NFL benefitted more from the injury problems of Indianapolis star quarterback Andrew Luck than the AFC South rival Houston Texans in 2015.
Despite using four quarterbacks overall themselves due to injury and ineffectiveness during the season, the not exactly sterling quartet of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden (only Weeden remains but as a third-stringer), the Texans finished 9-7 and won the division for the first time since 2012. They did it largely on the strength of their defense, led by the incomparable J.J. Watt, who won yet another NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
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Yet despite the offseason additions of quarterback Brock Osweiler (Broncos) and running back Lamar Miller (Dolphins) to boost the offense, BetOnline still list the Texans as +250 second-favorites along with Jacksonville to win the South this season. The South has been the NFL's weakest division for a few years, but that looks like it might be changing with the Jags definitely on the rise and the Titans likely to be very soon.
This could be a make-or-break season for either Texans coach Bill O'Brien or GM Rick Smith. They apparently aren't always on the same page, and one of them probably gets fired if the Texans regress this season because of Osweiler.
Houston was 4-4 on the road last season, 4-4 against the spread and 5-2-1 "over/under." The Texans face four away teams that reached the playoffs last season, including both from the AFC Championship Game. The home slate looks easier. Houston has a wins total of 8.5, with the over at -140. And it should go over with another 4-4 road mark in 2016. Alas, I don't see that happening, more likely 3-5. All odds listed are for the home team.
Sept. 22 at Patriots (-3): Thursday night game. Houston is off a Week 2 home game vs. Kansas City, while New England is home to Miami the previous Sunday. The Texans catch a major break obviously in Tom Brady's suspension as he would miss this game as long as that four-game deal stands. Can you imagine how miffed Houston would be if the NFL and Brady agree to only a two-game ban? This line dropped plenty after that suspension. Houston lost 27-6 at home to New England in Week 14 last season. Hoyer was sacked five times, fumbled twice and left with a concussion. Jadeveon Clowney had two sacks for the first multiple-sack game in his career with Houston. He still looks like a bust. Key trend: Texans are 0-5 ATS in their past five at AFC East teams.
Oct. 9 at Vikings (-6): Houston is home to Tennessee the previous Sunday, while Minnesota is at Carolina. Pretty sizable edge for the Texans there. Remember the talk that Houston might trade for Adrian Peterson before last season when Peterson, a Texas native, wanted out of Minnesota? Houston is 0-3 all-time vs. the Vikings. Key trend: Texans 3-3 ATS all-time at NFC North teams.
Oct. 24 at Denver (-6.5): Monday night game. Houston hosts Indianapolis the previous Sunday, while Denver has extra time to prepare as it's in San Diego on Thursday in Week 6. This game is on any Top-10 list for the coming season because of Osweiler's return to Denver. Many still can't believe he spurned the champion Broncos just for a few extra million dollars. I don't think he will get a warm welcome back. Key trend: Texans 1-2 ATS all-time at Denver in regular season.
Nov. 13 at Jaguars (+1): Houston is off its bye week. Jacksonville is in Kansas City in Week 9. I'm not sure the Jags will be underdogs when this game rolls around. Houston won in Jacksonville 31-20 in Week 6 last season. Hoyer had one of his best games of the season with 291 yards passing and three TDs -- all on third down. DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 148 yards and two scores. Key trend: Texans have won and covered three straight road games after a bye.
Nov. 21 at Raiders (-2): Monday night game. Oakland is off its bye week. Many people think the Raiders could be a playoff team in 2016 and clearly oddsmakers are high on them as favorites in this game against a division champion. The Texans won the last meeting early in the 2014 season in Oakland, 30-14. Key trend: Texans 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC West teams.
Dec. 4 at Packers (-7): Houston is off a Week 12 home game vs. San Diego, while Green Bay is on a short week as it visits Philadelphia the previous Monday. The Texans haven't proven to be a very good cold-weather team, and that should be the case here. Their only visit to Lambeau was in 2008, and Houston won 24-21. Key trend: Texans 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog of at least 7 points.
Dec. 11 at Colts (-4): Second straight short-week advantage for Houston as Indy plays at the Jets on Monday night in Week 13. Houston started a season-ending three-game winning streak in Week 15 last season in Indianapolis with a 16-10 win. Hoyer missed the game injured and Yates left late in the first half. Weeden threw the go-ahead touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. He was 11-for-18 for 105 yards. Alfred Blue rushed for 107 yards. The defense was the story, holding the Luck-less Colts to 190 total yards. Key trend: Texans are 0-10 SU in past 10 as road dog of at least 4 points in series (4-5-1 ATS).
Jan. 1 at Titans (TBA): As usual, no lines in a Week 17 game with too many potential intangibles. Houston is off a Saturday Week 16 home game vs. Cincinnati, while Tennessee is in Jacksonville the previous Sunday. This is the best possible divisional Week 17 matchup for Houston. The Texans rolled 34-6 in Nashville in Week 16 last year. Weeden threw for two scores and rushed for another. Houston forced four turnovers, leading to 17 points. It was the Texans' highest-scoring game of the year. Key trend: Texans have covered five straight at Titans.
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