I look at this Houston Texans team and think, why can't they make the Super Bowl? The biggest knock on them is that they don't have a top-tier quarterback in Matt Schaub. But if last year's Super Bowl proved anything, it's that you don't need one to get there (Houston actually has some similarities with Baltimore and San Francisco given the team's solid defense and reliance on the running game).
While Colin Kaepernick is a great two-way quarterback, he isn't an elite passer. In fact, the Super Bowl was the first game in which he threw for at least 300 yards. And I don't care how much Baltimore is paying Joe Flacco, he isn't elite either.
So what has been holding the Texans back? They've done more than enough to shed the laughingstock label they wore for the better part of a decade after joining the NFL in 2002, and they don't look like they're going back to that any time soon. The past two seasons have been the franchise's most successful, reaching double-digits in the wins column both times and earning back-to-back division titles.
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But injuries have prevented them from going any further than the divisional round of the playoffs. In the 2012 playoffs, injuries to Schaub and Matt Leinart forced rookie T.J. Yates under center. Yates folded against the Ravens, throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 20-13 loss. The Ravens converted those turnovers into 10 points. Schaub isn't amazing, but I like to think he would've been able to cover the seven-point margin of defeat Yates created.
In the 2013 playoffs, Houston hung with New England for a half before the Patriots scored 24 in the second half to pull away, 41-28. An underrated factor last season for the Texans amid the national love of J.J. Watt was that linebacker Brian Cushing played just five games before suffering a torn ACL.
Would he have single-handedly won the game? Maybe not. But could he have broken up some passes in the middle of the field, or helped limit New England's running backs to fewer than 5.1 yards per carry? I think so.
Instead, the Texans left consecutive postseasons with their only accomplishment being a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. On the bright side, the team has had a lot of carry over from last season and has added some interesting pieces. Rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins could finally give Andre Johnson the help he needs after guys like Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin have failed to draw any attention from opposing secondaries.
Speaking of secondaries, Houston brought in Ed Reed, who will likely add to the team's injury list, but should still be effective when on the field.
Meanwhile, the biggest loss the Texans suffered this season has probably been Arian Foster's Twitter account, which hasn't been active since March (yes, that's a slight to Connor Barwin, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles, but you get the idea). They still have Foster the player, though, to go along with guys like Owen Daniels, Jonathan Joseph, and Watt, who was arguably the most influential player in 2012.
The biggest wild card remains Houston's ability to stay healthy. They're fortunate enough to be in an extremely weak AFC South and a poor AFC conference as a whole. But come playoff time, they can't just keep relying on the Bengals to make them look good.
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If the Texans want to stake a claim as one of the conference's top teams, they must challenge New England and Denver. They will probably have to beat one of them in order to reach their first AFC title game, and will likely face the other if they get there.
Those two teams stand in Houston's way from being a true Super Bowl contender rather than just a solid regular season team with little postseason success. Can they get over the hump this season and beat one or both of them? Right now, on paper, I think they could. But will the team that meets them in January be talented enough to do so? That's another question entirely.
By: Joe Diglio