Last season, there was a serious buzz around this team. A loaded roster, a healthy Matt Schaub meant it wasn't silly to mention Super Bowl and Texans in the same sentence.
But a pathetic 2-4 finish after an 11-1 start has fans and media uncertain about what the Texans will be in 2013. Schaub's awful season-ending run in particular is why most see this team as another one-win-in-the-playoffs-and-then- done squad.
But the truth is they may be better situated this year to make a Super Bowl run than last. The nemesis Patriots have issues on and off the field. The consensus favorite Broncos have a quarterback with a penchant for postseason failure. And the defending champs could easily rest on their laurels.
The AFC, in truth, is wide open. And the team that puts it together at the right time could easily make the Super Bowl. (Um, winning it is a different animal. The NFC is far superior. But let's take this one step at a time).
It's easy to say why they can't win. Matt Schaub is not good enough. The defense will fall apart late again. The right side of the offensive line is a joke. Let's be contrary and pick a Colts team to win the division that was lucky to achieve what it did last year.
But let's look at why they can do it:
1) Strong depth. Usually when four undrafted rookies make your roster, your team is garbage. But the Texans did an excellent job finding Cierre Wood, Justin Tuggle, Willie Montgomery and A.J. Bouye. They made up for questionable high draft picks in OT Brennan Williams and OLB Trevardo Williams (IR, see you guys next year, maybe) and OLB Sam Montgomery, who seems the anti-Texan when it comes to motor and interest.
The truth is several players they cut will make other rosters. That's a sign you have a good team. No, you can't lose J.J. Watt, Jonathan Joseph, Brian Cushing, Andre Johnson or Duane Brown, but you could fade injuries at almost every other position. Few teams can say that.
2) Schaub will be better. And if he's not...Well, the Texans are a system-based QB offense, and both T.J. Yates and Case Keenum seem to have a strong grasp on the system. Either guy could win enough games to make the playoffs. They need Schaub to make the Super Bowl, but the could survive a short stretch without him. Also, it was obvious Schaub was hurt at the end of last season. He won't admit it, the team won't admit it, but he was not the same player after the Lions game (hey, if Suh kicked you in the boys...). He needs to stay healthy, but if he does, this team will be very strong on offense.
3) The running back factor. As much as they want to pretend it's not the case, the Texans are a run-first team. They struggled last year with bad blocking both from the right side of the line and fullback James Casey. This year they have a real thumper at fullback in Greg Jones. Arian Foster is a star, but Ben Tate is healthy and not that far behind. And Wood is a perfect fit for this offense. No matter who plays, the Texans will run the ball and run it well.
4) Potentially elite defense. Yes, there are still questions. But without Cushing, the Texans give up 70 more yards and 7 more points a game. That's substantial. If he can just stay healthy...Meanwhile, Joseph was hurt all year and should return to his 2011 lockdown form. While he struggled, Kareem Jackson became an above average corner. They need to get some kind of outside pass rush, and Danieal Manning needs to bounce back from an off year, but if it happens, this defense can stop anyone. (Well, maybe not the Patriots).
5) It's their time. Like last year's Ravens, they have paid their dues. They have learned what it takes. They have several players in the conversation for best in the league at their position (Watt, Johnson, Cushing, Brown, Joseph). Quite simply, they need to take the step. This team is loaded, ready and should be right there unless they have more key injuries. If they fail? It's going to fall on the quarterback and the man calling the plays.
But that's for another time. And hopefully one we don't have to discuss.
Tomorrow: Best sources for Texans info.
Friday: Can't miss bets for the weekend.