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The Houston Texans finally did it in 2011. On their tenth NFL birthday last season, the long-overdue AFC South franchise no longer had to fantasize about the opportunity to compete in the postseason after clinching their first division title, playoff birth and victory after posting a 10-6 record during the regular season.
Over the last handful of years, Houston had been repeatedly labeled as one of the league’s sleeper teams ready to crash the postseason party. With rock-solid weapons in Pro Bowlers such as quarterback Matt Schaub, wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster and defensive end Mario Williams, it was pretty difficult to simply overlook the type of potential that the Texans possessed on paper.
Despite a 2-8 collapse in 2010 following a 4-2 start to that year, they exuded plenty of confidence entering the 2011 campaign. They heard the chatter about who they could be and what they could accomplish if they somehow found a way to put it all together. And once Peyton Manning – the future Hall of Famer and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback who plagued the Texans dating back to their first season – was sidelined due to a serious neck injury that failed to heal properly, the Texans were immediately claimed the unanimous AFC South favorites.
Now that their division rivals – the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans – are all in rebuilding mode and being led by young quarterbacks (rookie Andrew Luck and second year men Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, respectively), the Texans will once again be heavy favorites to snag one of the top four AFC playoff seeds as a division champion.
Among the key losses that will be tough for head coach Gary Kubiak and his squad to overcome include those of Williams, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, cornerback Jason Allen, tight end Joel Dreessen and kicker Neil Rackers. Two valuable additions that have been brought on board, however, consist of veteran linebacker Bradie James and cornerback Alan Ball.
Defensive lineman Whitney Mercilus, wide receivers DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin, guard Brandon Brooks, offensive lineman Ben Jones, defensive lineman Jared Crick, and kicker Randy Bullock compose the team’s early draft picks.
If Schaub can remain healthy (unlike last season, when he was placed on IR to end the season following a Week 10 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he sustained a Lisfranc injury), the offense has a great chance of improving an already impressive 2011 ranking of 23.8 points per game, which was 10th in the league.
As far as the defensive side of the ball is concerned, the loss of Williams will certainly be felt at times. But even if that is the case, the Texans ranked 4th overall in defensive scoring last season, at a clip of just 17.4 points per game, and with that much talent they should still be an elite defense nonetheless.
Image Courtesy of Houston Texans