The Texans are hot this year. Trendy. They are the team you say you think will win the AFC if you want to sound more informed than the average fan. Your NFL predictions game is on point, and you need people to see that. You pick the Texans.
Well, congratulations on being right. These are five reasons why.
5. Matt Schaub
Oh, hardy har har. Stop it. You know how many AFC teams have a quarterback better than Matt Schaub? Three. New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
Until he got hurt midway through last year, Schaub appeared to have been experiencing his zenith as an NFL player, and it was a good zenith. If the pace he was on last year through 10 games had held up, Schaub would be coming off a three-year stretch in which he averaged nearly 4,400 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
I do not intend to gloss over the very realistic possibility Schaub could get hurt. He has played all 16 games in just two of his five seasons in Houston, and he's 31, which as much as it kills me to write as a 29-year-old man, is getting close to the point where injuries happen more often and last longer. But if this is the most upsetting thing about Schaub (which it is), the Texans are already a mile ahead of most AFC teams. The Broncos are starting a guy who missed an entire season with a neck injury, for crying out loud.
4. The running game.
The only NFL team that ran for more yards than the Texans last year was the Broncos, which basically means the Texans are the NFL's "leading returning rushing team," because that likely won't happen again in Denver.
Moreover, the Texans have two excellent running backs who are both in their prime in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. I know I need not remind you thatTate, the backup running back, ran for 942 yards last year.
The biggest concern here is that the Texans lost two starting offensive linemen in guard Mike Brisiel and tackle Eric Winston, and Winston's replacement, Rashad Butler, is on injured reserve.
These are concerns, but the Texans did retain their center, Chris Myers, and their best offensive lineman, left tackle Duane Brown. And every member of the line that will start in Week 1 was a part of the team last season, so communication and continuity should not be a major issue.
3. The AFC South itself.
Here are the starting quarterbacks in the AFC South: Matt Schaub, Andrew Luck, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker.
I think we are all in agreement that Luck will turn out to be a fine player, but I think we can all remember that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions his rookie year too. The rest of those guys? Who knows.
Gabbert had the lowest quarterback rating in the AFC last year (65.4) and Locker has 66 career pass attempts (of which he has completed 52 percent).The Titans went 9-7 last year, which gave them two more wins than Jacksonville and Indianapolis combined.
Houston has the best quarterback, the best running game and the best defense in the division. The Texans might be favored in every single divisional game this year.
2. The home-field advantage.
Nobody talks about the advantage at Reliant Stadium, but that's mostly because the Texans had never been good until last season. The first reason it's an advantage is obvious: It's an enclosed structure. Yes, the Texans can open the roof if they want to, but trust me, it could feel like Southern California outside (and in December around here, it sometimes does) but the Texansaren't opening that baby and letting out all the noisy goodness.
The second reason is that Texans fans are desperate to cheer and howl and gloat about something. This city has a strong Napoleon Complex and when you combine a cultural Napoleon
Complex with a good football team, you end up with total mania inside a football stadium.
The Texans have three huge non-divisional games this year against Baltimore, Green Bay and New England. Two of those games are in Houston.
1. Uncle Wade and the defense.
Wade Phillips might as well be Zeus around here. It wasn't just that as defensive coordinator he coached the Texans to the No. 2 overall defensive ranking, it was that he was Houston's native son, "@SonOfBum," as he calls himself on Twitter. It wasn't just an act of greatness, it was an act of valor.
So there's that, and then there's that pass rush. Ooh, that pass rush. It comes from all sides. Although the 3-4 defense is really designed for the outside linebackers to get most of the sacks, the Texans get a lot from their defensive ends, Antonio Smith (6.5) and J.J. Watt (5.5). Then there are linebackers Connor Barwin (11.5) and Brooks Reed (6.0 in 11 starts). And with their first-round pick the Texans took linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who led the NCAA in sacks and forced fumbles last year.
You may note the Texans lost pass rusher Mario Williams this offseason, but he only played in five games last year. Crazy as it sounds, the Texans did not seem to miss him.
And I haven't even mentioned the best defensive player on the team yet, inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who had 114 tackles and four sacks last year.
The Texans are highly disruptive on defense. They get pressure, the bat down an unusual number of passes at the line of scrimmage, they have depth, and they are young.