Rise of the NFL's Houston Texans

By Kevin Goodwin

The Houston Texans won the AFC South for the first time last year and entered the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. So far in 2012 they are off to a hot start. They are 6-1 entering Week 8 after dismantling one of the – thought to be better teams in the AFC in Baltimore last weekend, 43-13. But the question remains, are the Texans for real? Are the a contender for the Super Bowl? Right now, because no one in the AFC has really established its dominance, the conference is up for grabs. Yes, Houston has the best record so far, but the second best team is Baltimore and we know what they just did to the Ravens.

Houston also has the benefit of playing in a division where all the other teams are in the rebuilding phase. Tennessee, Jacksonville and Indianapolis are all going with young quarterbacks and have a long way to go before they get into the conversation for playoff contenders. The Titans started the year with Jack Locker as the starting quarterback but was replaced after he was injured, giving veteran Matt Hasselbeck another shot to lead the Titans to an AFC South title.

The Jaguars have second-year signal caller Blaine Gabbert, but he is still developing and also dealing with a shoulder injury. If he can’t go this weekend Chad Henne will take the reins of the Jags and see if he can do better. As for the Colts, they are starting a new chapter in the franchise, turning from longtime fixture Peyton Manning to rookie Andrew Luck.

Needless to say, Houston has the easiest path to the playoffs over the rest of the division leaders in the NFL. Just a few years ago I would have said the AFC South was one of the toughest divisions in the league, but times have changed. Will that take anything away from what the Texans do this season? I don’t believe so as they took care of business against a tough Ravens squad; but until they prove they can advance in the playoffs, Houston won’t be considered a top team in the league. Plain and simple. Granted they suffered some injuries last season, but they managed to prevail over most of them.

Rise of the NFL's Houston Texans
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown for
1,650 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season.

They didn't have Andre Johnson the entire season or Matt Schaub for that matter. The Texans had T.J. Yates lead them into battle in the playoffs as Schaub was too banged up to take the field. Houston also didn’t have former first pick in the draft Mario Williams for most of the year. The defense stepped up, proving they didn’t need Williams and were still a top defense in the league.

Fast forward to this year and the Texans, besides getting roughed up by Green Bay, has been extremely tough defensively. Some questioned Houston not trying to resign Williams this offseason, but they obviously saw something the rest of the league didn't. The Texans let Williams sign a big contract (six-yeardeal worth $100 million) with Buffalo early in free agency and waved goodbye. Williams had a procedure done on his injured wrist, so it seems the brass in Houston made the right move.

Williams' productivity has declined in recent years and they knew how much talent they still had on the roster. Houston also traded DeMecoRyans to Philadelphia in the offseason, another move that is looking very smart. So who are the guys stepping up for the Texans? Brian Cushing was one of those players until he suffered an injury in Week5 against the Jets and needed surgery on his ACL.

J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt has made people in Houston forget about Mario Williams.

Another young man making a big name for himself is J.J. Watt. He can line up as a defensive end or outside linebacker and always seems to be where the opponent is trying to go. This guy is making people in Texas forget about Mario Williams really quick. Watt has 9.5 sacks, 10 passes defended and two fumble recoveries. He is a menace to opposing offenses and the Texans will go as far as this defense will carry them. The offense is led by Arian Foster's ground attack, but they need Schaub and Johnson to stay healthy. If all the cards fall into place this postseason, Houston could be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.

They still have some work to do but with the favorable division and schedule, Houston should have no problem making it to the playoffs. Only Chicago, New England and Minnesota remain on the schedule that should pose a serious threat. I'm not jumping on the Texans' bandwagon just yet, but they are definitely looking for real. They need to show the world they can get the job done in the postseason though, so until that happens Houston is still just a good team with a ton of promise.

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