The Houston Texans came out the gate hot last season to rip off an 11-1 start, but despite keeping quarterback Matt Schaub healthy, they once again sputtered down the stretch before limping into a divisional round playoff loss.
Houston seems bound once again for about 12 wins and an AFC South title — I’ve seen Vegas give them -250 for their chances a third consecutive division championship — but whether certain X-factors come through should decide whether they finish stronger than in recent winters.
Why 2013 might be different than 2012:
J.J. Watt might be the best defensive player in football and Arian Foster might be the most popular fantasy name, but it seems that as inside linebacker Brian Cushing goes, the Texans go. A large reason for this is he’s been the only consistently good linebacker for the Texans in recent year, especially since the team lost inside backer DeMeco Ryans and edge rusher Mario Williams.
According to NFL.com, “The unit didn’t allow more than 25 points in the first five games, but it happened five times in the last 11 — not including the playoffs.” Not so coincidentally, Cushing got knocked out for the season with injury during Week 5, and his four-game suspension in 2010 seemed to throw off the Texans’ defense that year.
While Watt’s individual performance was spectacular enough to win Defensive Player of the Year, he can’t carry Houston’s defense without more help from the linebacker unit. Cushing was rated as the third-best inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus in 2011, and a full season in 2013 should go a long way for Wade Phillips‘ unit.
I sort of feel like we mostly know what we’re getting from Schaub, and Foster’s decline last year brings cause for worry, but if DeAndre Hopkins can provide a deep threat opposite Andre Johnson, then this offense could actually improve in 2013. Schaub, however, must look nothing like he did down the stretch.
2013 Regular Season Prediction: 11-5, first in AFC South