We move on to the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with the Houston Texans, who finished last season in second place in the division and just missed a spot in the playoffs.
After winning two games in 2013, the Texans had a nice bounceback season last year, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs by just half of a game. Their problem last season was the quarterback position — with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the charge — and that is likely going to be a problem this season as well, with QBs Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett competing for the starting job in the preseason. Another problem is the loss of star RB Arian Foster to a groin injury for, perhaps, the first eight games of the season.
In 2014, Bill O’Brien’s first season as the team’s head coach, had a revolving door at quarterback with three players each getting at least two starts at the position– with Mallett the only member of the trio who is still with the team entering the 2015 season. In his limited work — three games, two starts — he threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns on 41 completions. Foster missed three games due to injury but still managed to amass 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, adding 328 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Backup RB Alfred Blue, who started the three games Foster missed, ran for 528 yards and two scores. In his second year in the league, WR DeAndre Hopkins caught 76 balls for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. It was the defense that really stood out, though, led by DE J.J. Watt, one of the NFL’s biggest stars. Not only did Watt have an impressive 20.5 sacks and a pick-six, but he also caught three touchdowns on offense. With Watt having a season like that, imagine how good the defense could have been if No. 1 draft pick LB Jadeveon Clowney was able to play in more than four games, which was what he was limited to due to injuries — he had just seven tackles in his limited work.
With no proven quarterback on the roster and Foster potentially missing half of the season, the Texans are going to rely on their defense even more this season than they did last year if they want to have a chance to compete for the division title or a Wild Card. Blue is expected to get the bulk of the workload in the running game while Foster is sidelined, though the team may still sign a veteran rusher — they tried to sign RB Pierre Thomas but couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract. In the receiving game, they lost veteran WR Andre Johnson to free agency — he signed with the division rival Colts — but signed WR Cecil Shorts, who has missed several games over the last couple of seasons because of injuries but puts up decent numbers when he plays.
The Texans’ schedule isn’t too tough overall, on paper, facing just a couple teams that made the playoffs last season. Other than the two games with the Colts, the Texans’s toughest game is a home contest against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in week 14. And if the Texans are in the playoff hunt heading into week 17, they get a home game with a below-par Jaguars team to finish the season. Even with a schedule that’s looking too bad, the holes on the offense could be too much for the team to overcome and I don’t see the Texans winning more than eight games this season, maybe matching 2014’s win total at nine.