After another painstaking preseason and a simple lockout-free offseason, NFL Sunday is finally back. In some ways it’s been a long wait since February. With trades, injuries, the draft, and another dramatic New York Jets team, the annual football drought did nothing but intensify the thirst for some real gridiron action. That said, here’s what we can take away from what’s happened over the past six months:
– Peyton Mannning is still Peyton Manning.
– Tim Tebow may be the most celebrated back up quaterback in NFL history.
– Running backs are still getting into trouble.
– Holdouts will never be a thing of the past.
– The Cowboys will always find their way into Super Bowl discussion.
– Randy Moss finally learned how to do something discreetly.
– And people still haven’t learned to at least put the Giants in the Super Bowl conversation.
In Houston, the Texans are poised for an exciting season… and by exciting I mean that anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will be deemed unsuccessful, as it normally is in Texas but typically in Dallas.
With a healthy Matt Schaub and (mostly healthy) Arian Foster, a cast of formidable wide receivers, a complimentary second running back in Ben Tate and a defense that could be close to tops in the league, the Texans are looking to make up for a disappointing 2011-12 season, despite the teams first-ever postseason appearance.
Houston has moved on from its kid-brother status in the NFL and will be the best team in Texas, much to the chagrin of its instate brethren.
Competing in the once mighty, but presently meager AFC South, the Texans should have no problem winning the division. But even with the three subpar division opponents accounting for six games of the Houston schedule, the team will have its sights more focused on home field advantage than a division championship.
Here’s a game-by-game look at what’s to come for the Houston Texans in 2012:
Week 1: vs. Miami
Facing a rookie quarterback and an offense that’s still trying to figure things out, the Texans defense should be able to stop the Dolphins early on in this one. As long as Schaub and the running game get going early, Houston will run away with this one. Okay, they can wait to get going until the 2nd quarter and still be alright.
Week 2: at Jacksonville
Expect to see a continuation from Week 1 in this one. The Jaguars may not have a rookie under center, but they are no closer to an unpredictable offense. If you can stop MJD, you can stop the Jags. The Texans win big again.
Week 3: at Denver
In the team’s first real challenge of the year, the Texans face an old foe from the division. But instead of the falling Colts, the rising Broncos back Manning in this one, giving Houston something to fear. Two good defenses and offenses to boot, this one turns into a battle of the running games. Foster and the Texans squeak past Willis McGahee and the Broncos in Mile High and improve to 3-0.
Week 4: vs. Tennessee
The Titans will likely be 1-2 coming into this one, but could be 0-3 facing three very good teams to start the year. That streak continues in their visit to Houston as the Texans D with Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt stop Chris Johnson from running wild. Houston puts up four-plus touchdowns for the fourth straight week and wins again – improving to 4-0.
Week 5: at New York Jets (Monday)
Despite the Jets being the talk of the NFL (again) they will undoubtedly lack the edge of a Super Bowl at this point in the year. This will prove to be a tough game for the Texans, but even if the Rex Ryan has wised up and benched Mark Sanchez at this point, the Houston defense will be stingier than New York’s. Texans win in their first low-scoring affair behind a solid breakout performance from rookie wideout Keshawn Martin (if it hasn’t happened already).
Week 6: vs. Green Bay
In what many are predicting as a showdown of the 2012-13 Super Bowl teams, the Texans will have their hands full at home for the first time. I’m not going to beat around the bush and try to make it sound like the Packers don’t pose matchup problems for Houston. Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, and whoever winds up in the Green Bay backfield, are the difference and the Texans are outgunned for the first time. Houston stands at 5-1.
Week 7: vs. Baltimore
With no easier matchup following their first loss of the season, the Texans face off against the toughest defense on their schedule immediately after the toughest offense. But Houston bounces back and hangs tough with the big boys. Despite a turnover filled football game from the Texans, Schaub and the offense mount a late fourth quarter game-winning drive to seal the deal. Houston heads into the bye week at 6-1.
Week 8: Bye Week
Week 9: vs. Buffalo
The Buffalo Bills are an exciting team in 2012. They are young, full of talent, and boast former Texan standout Mario Williams. That said, they are not nearly on the Texans’ level as of yet. You can be sure that the Bills won’t go quietly, but Houston shouldn’t be stumped, especially playing in Reliant Stadium. The Texans win again, this time by two scores.
Week 10: at Chicago
Drawing the NFC North as a part of their non-divisional schedule, the Texans face arguably the toughest division in football this year. The Bears might be the most surprising team in that division, and will give the Texans fits because playing them will be like looking in the mirror. Fortunately for Houston, the Bears are often sporadic on offense and should offer a more conservative approach under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice. These two teams will trade punches all day, and the game will likely come down to who makes the big play on defense. I give a slight edge to the Texans based purely on their consistency on offense. Houston gets out of the windy city with a win and an 8-1 record.
Week 11: vs. Jacksonville
The Jags’ and Texans’ second meeting will likely be reminiscent of the first. Jacksonville will likely be well below .500 at this point and basically out of the playoff picture. Maurice Jones-Drew might be calling for a trade, and rookie receiver Justin Blackmon will not be able to carry the offense on his back. Texans roll once again and improve to 9-1.
Week 12: at Detroit (Thanksgiving)
Houston gets into the Turkey Day tradition in Detroit, and meets up with the one of the most talented teams in the NFL. This game, a continuation of Houston’s NFC North schedule, will likely turn into a shootout. Detroit’s defense will put pressure on Schaub, but ultimately both teams will put up a lot of points. In the end, it will be the Lions who are thankful on this holiday, ending their Thanksgiving Day drought that dates back to 2003. The Texans fall for only the second time, but rack up over 30 points in the process.
Week 13: at Tennessee
The Texans will be fired up coming out of their second loss of the season, and with an extra-long week because of the Thursday game, will come out strong against the Titans. Tennessee will likely be hovering around a .500 record at this point, but Houston will out muscle the Titans at home despite a solid day from Chris Johnson. Texans move on to double-digit wins with a record of 10-2.
Week 14: at New England
In a game with enormous AFC implications, the Texans could find themselves with a big opportunity to step closer to home field advantage. Here’s a shocking prediction: the Patriots will be good… again. Good enough to beat the Texans? In this case, I say yes. Tight Ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will create matchup disasters for Houston (as they do for everyone else), and Tom Brady will go to them often in this one. Another close one, but the Texans get edged out in a nail biter. Impressively, Houston sits disappointed at 10-3.
Week 15: vs. Indianapolis
After a tough loss at the hands of the class of the AFC, the Texans will return to Houston on a mission: to not lose another game. And the Colts will be forced to endure the brunt of the fury, as they see the Texans twice in the final three weeks of the regular season. The first meeting will be strictly business in Houston, and Indianapolis will have no answer for the high-powered offense on the other side of the ball. The Colts will likely look considerably better than last year’s nightmare, but the Texans will make a statement against this young team. Houston wins big at home and restores the morale of the city.
Week 16: vs. Minnesota
In Houston’s final regular season meeting with the NFC North, the Texas will face a banged up and unorganized Vikings team. As a whole the NFC North might be one of the best divisions in the league, but that is in no way thanks to the exploits of the purple and gold, who may very well take ownership of the “worst team in the league” title. Houston biggest challenge in this game will be whether or not they should bench their starters at halftime. Texans move on to the last week of the season with a 12-3 record.
Week 17: at Indianapolis
The Texans regular season finale will see Houston resting their starters against the Colts. It will be a very competitive game as Andrew Luck looks to leave a good taste in Indianapolis’ mouth in front of the Colts’ fans. But T.J. Yates will show that he hasn’t gone away since last year and will play like he’s got something to prove. Houston finishes the regular season on a pleasant surprise and turn their attention to the playoffs with a 13-3 record.
The Texans will enter the postseason as the no. 2 seed in the AFC behind – you guessed it – the New England Patriots who enter the playoffs with the same record, but own the tiebreaker.
My other playoff picks out of the AFC are No. 3 Baltimore, No. 4 Broncos, and Pittsburgh and San Diego as the two wild cards.
As far as playoff predictions go, I have decided to cross that bridge when we get to it. But I will say I like the Texans in this scenario.
As a best case scenario, meaning no major injuries and the Texans execute their offensive and defensive schemes to their talents full capability, the sky will be the limit. In such a reality, the Texans would likely earn the No. 1 seed heading into the postseason and hold home field advantage. This would create a much more comfortable matchup in a possible AFC Championship game. A trip to New Orleans would definitely not be out of the question. The Texans’ record bulges to 14-2.
Worst case, the Texans are riddled with injuries once again and/or Matt Schaub and Arian Foster lose the magic. In this case all the big wins that I predicted become close games that Houston can’t always find a way out of. The Texans finish 8-8, second in the division to the Titans, and miss the playoffs.
But don’t sweat Texan fans. It’s far more likely that you will see your hometown boys in the playoffs once again this year.
Now that I’ve spent this time convincing you why I believe the Texans are destined for success, its fair to say that we can’t say anything with certainty. This is after all the NFL, and if you’ll think back to the unexpected Giants of 2011-12 and 2007-08, you’ll think twice before you count them out of Super Bowl contention again. The Detroit Lions are living proof that anything is possible, and remember that the Colts were the cream of the crop two years ago. I hope I’m right as much as you do, but don’t be shocked if we see the Patriots and Packers in the Super Bowl.
Then again, don’t be shocked if the Texans prove they aren’t just the best team in Texas.