The Houston Texans were one of the surprise teams of the 2011 NFL season. They looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender until injuries decimated them on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. If Houston stays healthy this upcoming season, 2012 could prove to be a historical campaign for the youngest franchise in the league.
1. Arian Foster Gains 2,000+ Rushing Yards
Arian Foster proved this past year that his breakout 2010 season was no fluke. Although he didn’t equal his 1,600+ rushing output and 16 TDs from the previous year, the former undrafted free agent still accumulated impressive numbers despite missing three games due to injury. He finished the season as the 5th
leading rusher in the NFL with 1,224 yards on only 278 carries and scored 10 touchdowns. His 94.2 yards per game average was second only to the league’s leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew. Foster was also a main fixture in Houston’s passing game, catching 53 balls for 617 yards and 2 TDs.
In 2012, Foster isn’t just going to match this kind of production; he’s going to exceed it - to the tune of 2,000+ yards. Merely three seasons after Chris Johnson accomplished the feat, Foster will become only the seventh player in NFL history to top 2,000 yards in a single season.
Now, before you think I’m getting ahead of myself, consider a few things that Foster has working in his favor.
First off, he’s got one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The Houston run game, with help from their front five, averaged 4.5 yards per rush (seventh-best in the entire league) and only gave up 33 sacks. Second, the Texans have one of the most explosive passing attacks in all of football, so it’s not like opposing defenses can stack their guys in the box in order to stop the run. Soon as quarterback Matt Schaub starts picking apart the secondary, chances are the defense will start playing back, and that clears the way for Foster to break off a huge gain. Lastly, he’s one of the shiftiest and most elusive backs in the game, making him almost impossible to bring down in the open field.
The guy’s got more moves than me once I hit the dance floor after a few drinks, and he’s going to use those moves to slice through the defense and into the end zone. Expect to see plenty of Foster’s signature “Namaste” bows in 2012.
2. Texans Sweep The AFC South
I guess this isn’t really that bold of a prediction when you consider what teams are in this division.
The Tennessee Titans were the only real threat to Houston last year, finishing one game back of the division crown with a respectable 9-7 record. But are they really going to be able to match that success this upcoming season? Matt Hasselbeck was a major reason for their 2011 resurgence, but he’s going to be 37 come September, so who knows how much longer he’ll be able to play at a high level. Jake Locker may be called upon if Hasselbeck starts to struggle, but it’ll probably take him at least a few weeks to transition to the professional game, and by that point, the Texans will have already built a comfortable lead in the division standings. And as far as their running game is concerned, Chris Johnson looks a little too content just being an average back now that he got his colossal contract, so I don’t see him returning to his ‘09 form anytime soon.
The Jaguars are going to continue to struggle with Blaine Gabbert under center. And without any real weapon on offense except for Maurice Jones-Drew, they won’t score enough points to beat anyone. The Colts proved last season that they were always a one-man show, and with Peyton Manning most likely leaving town, I don’t see them improving much in the win column (although I do think that Andrew Luck will develop into a great NFL quarterback, just not next season).
No, it’s the Texans that are the cream of the crop in the AFC South. And they’re going to demonstrate that in 2012.
3. Tight End Owen Daniels Will Emerge as a Top-Five Performer at his Position
Most people forget that Daniels was on pace for 1,000+ yards and 10 TDs in 2009 before he tore his ACL in Week 8 at Buffalo. This guy’s got the skills to be a top tight end; he just needs to stay healthy and needs the guys around him to stay healthy as well.
Daniels did a better job of avoiding injury in 2011, starting in 15 games for the Texans. The only problem was that the guys throwing him the ball couldn’t sustain that same durability. Starter Matt Schaub was sidelined for the remaining six weeks of the season with a foot injury. Then his replacement, Matt Leinart, was knocked out of the game in Week 12 after breaking his collarbone. And while T.J. Yates performed well beyond anyone’s expectations, he certainly made his fair share of rookie mistakes.
Not helping Daniels’ cause was the fact that superstar receiver Andre Johnson missed nine games due to his lingering hamstring issues. Without Johnson in the lineup and with no other real receiving threat except for Foster, teams were able to zero in on Daniels and limited him to only one 100-yard receiving game the entire season.
Johnson’s return in 2012 will take a lot of pressure off of Daniels and allow him to shift back to the No.2 option in the passing game; a role he’s much more comfortable in. With Schaub back at full strength and running the offense, I expect Daniels to have a monster season.
4. The Texans Will Have the No. 1 Ranked Offense and Defense in 2012
The Texans probably would have come close to pulling this off last season if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson didn’t miss a combined 15 games. They finished 2nd
in the league in total defense (285.7 yards per game), trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers, and 13th
in total offense (372.1 yards per game).
The offensive rankings are a bit deceiving though.
Houston was the second best running team in the NFL with 153 rushing yards per game, but finished 18th
overall in passing (219.1 yards per game). Just think about how balanced of an offense they would have had if Schaub had stayed healthy. He still finished in the top-25 in passing yardage and TDs despite playing in only ten games and finished in the top-15 in yards per game despite not having Johnson for a majority of the season.
Houston had a considerable drop-off in their passing production once Schaub went down. He finishes off the year and the Texans are a top-five offense. You reinsert him and a healthy Johnson into the lineup next season and combine them with one of the league’s best backs in Foster, and you’ve got yourself an unstoppable offense.
The only hiccup in this whole equation is the fact that Mario Williams is a free agent this offseason, but the Texans have made it their top priority to sign their former No.1 overall pick and Williams has expressed a deep desire to remain with the team. I don’t see why he would want to go anywhere else. Through the first five games of last season, before Williams went out with a torn pectoral injury, he and rookie sensation J.J. Watt combined for 25 tackles and six sacks. Imagine those two playing together for a full season.
If this team can remain intact for the entirety of the 2012 season, they have the offensive firepower and defensive prowess to be a top-five team in the NFL.
5. The Texans Will Be Playing in Super Bowl XLVII
And now, for my boldest prediction yet.
The Houston Texans, in only their second Playoff appearance in franchise history, make it all the way to Super Bowl XLVII by utilizing a game plan centered on running the ball with Foster and wreaking havoc on the opposing quarterback with Williams and Watt.
Although the heavy favorites, they ultimately fall short to the…
Yes, the Chicago Bears!
Chicago lands stud receiver Vincent Jackson in the offseason and sign running back Matt Forte to a long-term deal (which he responds to by having his finest season yet). The tandem of Cutler/Jackson outdo Schaub/Johnson in the passing game and Forte outperforms Foster, who gets swallowed up by a rejuvenated Bears defense that knows the game is their last chance at a Super Bowl ring.
With Jay Cutler flawlessly running the offense, Chicago brings the Windy City their first Super Bowl trophy since the Monsters of the Midway terrorized the NFL back in the ’85-’86 season.
The Texans walk off of the field with their heads hung low but their will undeterred. They know their time is coming soon. The 2012 season proved that.
Hey, I said it was going to be my boldest prediction, didn’t I?