Experts' Picks (Consensus: first)
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Colts are improving, but they aren't there yet. Houston is the most complete and talented team in the AFC South.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Texans have established themselves as the best team in the AFC South, but they still need more growth to go deeper in the playoffs.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 Defense and running the ball should be enough to carry the Texans to another division title.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Texans have to become tougher mentally and physically. Their window to win a championship has never been more open.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 It is time for Matt Schaub to prove he is a top-tier talent.|
Five things you need to know about the Texans:
1. Johnson has help: Andre Johnson is relieved to see the talent around him. There were many years when he was the only star on the offense. Even with the emergence of running back Arian Foster in the past few years, Johnson was on an island in the passing game. The Texans' receiving corps is deep this year. Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins contributes to that depth, as does DeVier Posey, a draft pick last year who spent the offseason recovering from an Achilles tear. Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean have improved from last season.
2. Watt setting bar high: J.J. Watt doesn't understand why people think he can't top his numbers from last season. He had 20.5 sacks, which led the league, and wants even more this year. Watt hasn't played much during the preseason to avoid injury. He went back to wearing the elbow brace he wore last season, but the Texans aren't overly concerned about that.
3. Welcome back: Brian Cushing's return will help improve both the Texans' run and pass defense. The inside linebacker's sure tackling and ability to create mismatches in the pass rush give the Texans a big advantage. Cushing suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 of last season.
4. Schaub should be fine: Quarterback Matt Schaub's numbers dipped at the end of last season, coinciding with the Texans' late-season slide. He got more of the blame for that than he deserved. The improvements of the receiving corps and a more stable offensive line should help. If it doesn't, Houston should worry.
5. O-line looks better: The right side of the offensive line was an issue last season as the Texans rotated at both guard and tackle positions. This year with Derek Newton at right tackle and Brandon Brooks at right guard, the Texans will be more stable there. Newton gave up a bad sack in the Texans' second and third preseason games, but played well otherwise. Brooks is slimmer this year than last year and a player whose growth the Texans are very excited about.
-- Tania Ganguli, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
The Texans will look to build on an historic season last year, when they set a franchise record for wins and won the AFC South for the second straight season.
The past two seasons the Texans have gotten the third seed in the AFC playoffs and won a wild-card game, before losing in the divisional playoffs to the eventual AFC Super Bowl participants.
Can they take the next step and advance to the AFC Championship for the first time ever?
Since joining the Texans in 2007, Matt Schaub has been an effective quarterback, ranking fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt (7.9) and seventh in completion percentage (65.1) over the past six seasons.
However, one concern about his performance last year was his struggles down the stretch. Schaub had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his first 12 games last season, but finished with three touchdown passes and five picks in his last six games, including playoffs.
The Texans' defense will likely see a boost this season with the return of linebacker Brian Cushing, who missed the final 11 games last year with a torn ACL, and the acquisition of nine-time Pro Bowler safety Ed Reed.
Last year, the Texans' defense struggled without Cushing. It allowed 4.6 yards per play with Cushing on the field and 5.2 yards with him off the field. It gave up 23.5 points per game in the final 11 games without him, compared to 14.6 points per game in the first five games.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Magazine: Non-QB MVP
DE J.J. Watt (16.7 avg. AV since 2011)
Forget Adrian Peterson: Watt's 20 AV points made him MVP material in 2012. His season -- 20.5 sacks (sixth highest ever), 18 batted-down balls (tops in NFL) -- was the best ever by a DE so young (23).
-- Pro Football Reference