The Houston Texans head into the 2012 NFL regular season with pretty high expectations. Coming off of a breakthrough season where they won their first AFC South Division Championship and first playoff game, the team is looking to take the next step this year. Many prognosticators have the Texans as a legit Super Bowl contender with a few even picking them to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. Toro (pictured above), says they are number one and barring injury, this should be a team to be reckoned with.
The games are not played on paper however, and the Texans know that all of the new found preseason hype means nothing if they don’t produce on the field. The Texans go from the hunters to the hunted this season, as they are the overwhelming favorites to win the AFC South. The team is not shying away from these expectations, instead they have embraced them with several players saying this season will be Super Bowl or bust. Predictions, unlike the games, are made on paper so here goes my game by game prediction of how the Texans 10th anniversary season will unfold.
Week 1 – vs Miami Dolphins: The Texans kick off the season vs the Dolphins, who come into Reliant with a rookie quarterback and head coach. The Texans have never lost to the Dolphins, posting a 6-0 record against the Fins. That trend continues as the Bulls On Parade defense gives Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill a rude welcome to the NFL and the Texans win their third consecutive season opener in blowout fashion.
HOU 30 MIA 9 Record 1-0
Week 2 – at Jacksonville Jaguars: The first division contest takes the Texans to Jacksonville, who the Texans swept last season and have defeated more than any other team in the NFL. Arian Foster and Ben Tate have a huge day on the ground and the defense makes a supposedly improved Blaine Gabbert look like, well the same old Blaine Gabbert as they sack him six times and pick him off twice. The Texans improve to 2-0 for the third consecutive season. Record 2-0
HOU 34 JAX 13
Week 3 – at Denver Broncos: The Texans travel to Denver for a game against old nemesis Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Manning was notorious for torching the Texans while with the Indianapolis Colts but he hasn’t faced this Wade Phillips led Houston defense since he missed all of last season with his neck injury. The Texans have never won in Denver, and the Broncos will come into this one at 0-2 and desperate for a victory. Gary Kubiak will have to wait at least one more year for his first win in his old stomping grounds, as the Broncos hand the Texans their first loss of the season on a Matt Prater 57 yard field goal at the final gun.
DEN 23 HOU 20 Record 2-1
Week 4 – vs Tennessee Titans: The Titans are expected to be the main challenger to the Texans defense of their AFC South crown. These two teams split last year, with Houston winning in Nashville 41-7 and the Titans winning the season finale at Reliant when Kubiak basically surrendered that game by resting key players for the Wild Card game the following week. The Titans won’t have that luxury this time, as Andre Johnson torches them for 10 catches, 161 yards and 3 TDs. Tennessee QB Jake Locker, making his first start against the Texans, will join Tanehill and Gabbert as the latest young QB to fall victim to the Bulls On Parade. LB Brooks Reed sacks him 3 times and the Texans cruise.
HOU 31 TEN 13 Record 3-1
Week 5 – at New York Jets: The Texans make their 1st of 4 nationally televised prime time appearances this season with a Monday Night Game vs the Jets. New York QB Mark Sanchez is 2-0 in his career vs the Texans but that changes this day. The Texans defense puts on a dominant performance, intercepting Sanchez 3 times, including 2 by CB Johnathan Joseph and they hold the Jets to 190 total yards. Jets fans are mercifully booing and calling for Tim Tebow by the 4th quarter, but it makes no difference as Houston wins in a rout.
HOU 23 NYJ 3 Record 4-1
Week 6 – vs Green Bay Packers: The Texans make their first ever regular season appearance on Football Night In America on NBC (They played on Saturday in last season’s wild card round). Coming off of a short week and facing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers potent offense, the Texans go toe to toe with Green Bay. Matt Schaub and Rodgers engage in a back and forth shoot out that goes down to the end. In one of the more entertaining games of the season, the Packers get a late touchdown strike from Rodgers to WR James Jones to pull out the thrilling win in a possible Super Bowl preview.
GB 31 HOU 30 Record 4-2
Week 7 – vs Baltimore Ravens: In a rematch of last season’s divisional playoff game, the Texans look to make a statement against the Ravens. In another hard fought battle similar to that game, the Texans win on the strength of a 4th quarter punt return for a TD by Trindon Holliday. In a defensive battle, TE Owen Daniels scores the Texans only other touchdown, and has a big game with 7 catches for 115 yards. The defense holds Ray Rice to 45 yards on the ground and Houston exacts revenge for the postseason loss and defeats Baltimore for the first time in team history.
HOU 17 BAL 10 Record 5-2
Week 8 – Bye Week
Week 9 – vs Buffalo Bills: Coming off of a much needed bye after the physical contest with the Ravens, the Texans play their 3rd consecutive home game against former franchise player Mario Williams and the Bills. Williams, who signed with Buffalo as a free agent this offseason, will not have a happy return. Instead he will get to watch LB Connor Barwin, playing in Williams old spot, terrorize Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick by sacking him 3.5 times. The defense will intercept him 4 times and Williams stat line will consist of only 3 tackles and 1 QB hurry as the Texans beat the Bills to finish the first half at 6-2.
HOU 27 BUF 17 Record 6-2
Week 10 – at Chicago Bears: On a cold November night in the Windy City, the Texans face the Bears on Sunday Night Football. The Texans carry two ingredients that travel well in cold weather, a stout running game and defense. This one turns into a low scoring, defensive slugfest, as both teams’ passing game is hampered by the swirling winds off of Lake Michigan. Down 17-14 in the 4th quarter, the Texans have a chance to send the game into OT but K Shayne Graham hooks a 43 yard field goal attempt going into the wind wide right. Houston loses their second Sunday Night contest to a NFC North opponent.
CHI 17 HOU 14 Record 6-3
Week 11 – vs Jacksonville Jaguars: The Texans return home to face the Jaguars for the second time. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew is back to his old self after his preseason holdout rendered him irrelevant in the first match up. Unfortunately for the Jags, he is their only offense as Gabbert is once again overwhelmed by the Bulls On Parade. Gabbert is sacked another seven times, including 3 by rookie LB Whitney Mercilus as the Texans romp. Its a big day for rookies, as WR Keshawn Martin has his first 100 yard receiving game. Trindon Holliday returns a kickoff 104 yards for a score and the Texans enjoy their highest scoring output of the season.
HOU 46 JAX 14 Record 7-3
Week 12 – at Detroit Lions: Traveling to Detroit on a short week for the Thanksgiving Day game vs the Lions has little effect on the Texans. Arian Foster has a huge game, carving Detroit’s defense up for 210 rushing yards and 3 TDs. Ben Tate gets the Thanksgiving leftovers, rushing for 100 yards and 1 score as the Texans break the single game franchise record for rushing yards. Not even a big game from Detroit’s Calvin Johnson can help the Lions, as Houston finally beats a NFC North opponent on national tv after two tries. Foster wins Phil Simms All-Iron award for the MVP of CBS’ Thanksgiving Game.
HOU 34 DET 27 Record 8-3
Week 13 – at Tennessee Titans: The Titans seek revenge on the Texans, and this game is much more competitive than the first game. Locked in a tight battle in the 4th quarter, the Texans pull out the game on a Shayne Graham field goal. James Casey has a big game with 8 catches for 95 yards and the Texans sweep the Titans to reduce their magic number to 1 to clinch the division. Brian Cushing wreaks havoc across the field, finishing with 22 tackles, including 5 for a loss.
HOU 20 TEN 17 Record 9-3
Week 14 – at New England Patriots: A Monday Night showdown at Foxboro carries huge stakes, as the Texans come into the game one game behind the Patriots for the #1 seed in the AFC. In a driving snowstorm, Tom Brady has a three touchdown day and the Texans last minute drive to tie the game ends on a Schaub tipped ball interception. In a possible AFC Championship Game preview, New England holds off the Texans despite 4 turnovers. The Patriots position themselves for the #1 seed in the AFC, going up 2 games on the Texans with 3 games left to play.
NE 27 HOU 20 Record 9-4
Week 15 – vs Indianapolis Colts: Top pick Andrew Luck returns home to Houston, as the Texans play the Colts for the first time in a scheduling oddity that has them playing 2 out of the last 3 weeks of the season. Luck’s homecoming is not a good one, as the Texans pick him off 3 times and sack him five times. Andre Johnson and LeStar Jean both go over 100 receiving yards and the Texans embarrass the Colts at Reliant for the third year in a row. With the win, Houston clinches the AFC South Championship for the second year in a row.
HOU 31 IND 13 Record 10-4
Week 16 – vs Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings come to Houston for the Texans home finale two days before Christmas. The present awaiting the Texans should they win is a first round bye in the playoffs, and they waste no time in jumping on Minnesota. In a match up of premier running backs, Foster outshines the Vikings Adrian Petersen, rushing for 155 yards and scoring twice. Minnesota QB Christian Ponder meets the same fate as all of the other young quarterbacks who face the Texans and gets harassed into a three interception, five sack day. With the win, Texans clinch a bye and at least the number 2 seed in the AFC, as they head into the final weekend tied with New England for the conference’s best record. It also gives them a franchise record 11 wins, besting 2011’s 10 win season.
HOU 24 MIN 16 Record 11-4
Week 17 – at Indianapolis Colts: With home field advantage still at stake, the Texans play all of their starters in the season finale in Indy, a place where they have never won. That changes this season, as the Texans beat the Colts for the first time at Lucas Oil Field. Matt Schaub caps a huge season in which he starts all 16 games with 325 yards passing and 2 TDs vs the overmatched Colts secondary. Houston finishes the season at 12-4 and tied for the best record in the AFC with the Patriots. They end up with the #2 seed based on their head to head loss to New England in week 14.
HOU 24 IND 16 Final Record 12-4 (1st in AFC South, 2nd in AFC)