NFL Houston Texans

5 Reasons Why Houston Texans Will Make The Playoffs

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Houston Texans: Playoff Worthy

Matthew Emmons USATODAY Sports

We are five weeks into the 2013 NFL season, enough time to distinguish the elite teams from the pack. Yes, the Denver Broncos are really good and that doesn’t seem likely to change. On the other hand, we can also feel confident in identifying the Jacksonville Jaguars as the league’s bottom feeder. The general public had the Houston Texans as playoff contender in the preseason, but after three straight losses and a quarterback who just set the record for consecutive games with a pick-six (four), many a prognosticator has backed off of their preseason love and jumped on other bandwagons.

But why? Is this team that much different than the Texans squad that opened with 11 wins in their first 12 games a season ago?

I had the Texans as a playoff team this year (to be exact, I had them tying the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South crown and winning the tiebreaker) and I’m not yet ready to back off of that prediction. They’ve got enough talent and experience on the offensive side of the ball to make a run regardless of who is under center, and this defense is a stingy one that makes opponents battle for every inch. The Tennessee Titans are playing good football right now and the Colts have the youth that will make them the favorite in this division (if not the entire AFC) in the near future, but for the 2013, I’m sticking with these Texans as the AFC South team to do the most damage this winter -- and here’s why.

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5. AFC Playoff Picture

Troy Taormina USATODAY Sports

We know the Broncos are an AFC team, but what other AFC teams are we ready to lock into the playoffs? The Kansas City Chiefs have looked awfully good in winning their first five games, but they are 3-0 against the NFC East, a division that isn’t nearly as good as we thought they’d be. I’m not willing to ink their name into the postseason, but I understand if you are, so let’s slot them into one wild card spot. In the East, the New England Patriots are leading the way and only getting healthier, so let’s say they win the division. The other three teams have been a bit up and down and lack experience on offense, a big deal in a point-driven league. In the North, there is a lot of similarity, something that I expect to limit the division to one playoff participant. The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t going winless this season and could easily hand a few of the contenders a loss. The Texans have already beaten the Titans and while the Colts have looked good, are we ready to say this pass defense (which was well below average last season) is now a top-five unit (sixth-lowest completion percentage against and the no. 1 INT:TD ratio)?

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4. Game-Breakers

Matthew Emmons USATODAY Sports

“Big -ime player make big-time plays.”

The statement has been around forever and if the Texans are going to make a run, their star players are going to have a lot to do with it. Arian Foster heads a running game that is as good as any team in the AFC, while Andre Johnson and the young DeAndre Hopkins give an iffy passing game big-play potential. On the defensive side, Houston has playmakers at every level, and it all starts with their captain in J.J. Watt. He singlehandedly affects the pass game more than any defensive end in the game, and his athleticism is nearly impossible to limit. Brian Cushing is an underrated tackle machine in the middle of the field while Ed Reed is a professional ball hawk who has a flair for the dramatic.

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3. Pass Defense

Matthew Emmons USATODAY Sports

The Texans are allowing a mere 134 passing yards per game, far and away the top number in the NFL. Does that have something to do with the fact that Matt Schaub is throwing touchdowns to the wrong team? Sure, but this defense is an aggressive unit that makes quarterbacks uncomfortable on a regular basis (a league-best one sack every 8.64 pass attempts). Opponents are only completing 53.7 percent of their passes, a rate that is good enough to keep the Texans in most every game. For the record, that number (which ranks third in the league) may get even better, as the Texans haven’t allowed opponents to complete higher than 53 percent of their passes in back-to-back seasons, and those defenses didn’t have Reed and Watt.

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2. Schedule

Greg M. Cooper - US PRESSWIRE

Let’s start with what the Texans have seen thus far. They’ve beaten two teams that have been better than we thought (Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers), lost to the two teams that played in the final game of 2012, and lost to the 2013 Super Bowl favorite (Seattle Seahawks). I’m sorry, but exactly where am I supposed to be concerned? I understand that a 2-3 mark is not ideal at this point, but it’s not as if the Texans have been losing to bad football teams.

The remaining schedule isn’t an easy one, but the Texans do get a chance to control their own destiny by playing the teams they need to pass. They have yet to face the Colts and should benefit greatly from both of those contests coming after a long break. They also should benefit greatly from facing the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders three times in a four-week span.

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1. Arian Foster's Health

Matthew Emmons USATODAY Sports

In a star-driven league, you are often only as good as your best player performs. Remember all of those concerns about Arian Foster’s health coming into this season? All he has done is touch the ball more than every running back in the NFL not named Jamaal Charles and looked good doing it. His nagging thumb and back injuries have been mentioned on every weekly report, but it hasn’t stopped him from touching the ball 25-plus times in each of the past two weeks. Since taking over the Texans' lead RB role in 2010, Foster has averaged nearly 25 touches per game and is a good bet to do so once again this year. His durability and reliability allow the Texans to control the clock and get single coverage on the perimeter when they want to take a shot, something that very few teams have the benefit of in the AFC. Entering this season, Foster had scored 50 times in 51 career regular season games, so even if the quarterback situation is a bit murky, the Texans have a player they can count on to be the offense’s focal point.