In anticipation of the NFL season starting in less than two months, Head & Heart Sports will feature each division for the next eight weeks and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC South, starting with the Houston Texans.
Recap of 2015: Last season, the Houston Texans started four different quarterbacks during the course of their season. One of them (Ryan Mallett) was released after six games for missing the team flight to a game and one of them was Brandon Weeden. It gets worse. The Texans also lost pro-bowl running back Arian Foster for the season after Week 7 and trailed by 41 or more points in two different games during the 2015 season. You might guess that the Texans had a very bad year given these circumstances. However, the 2015 Texans actually would go on to win the AFC South and host a playoff game. How did the Texans do it last year? Well for starters, the only real competition in their division (sorry Jacksonville) was the Indianapolis Colts, who lost their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck after just seven games due to injury and had to pull Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley off the street to finish out the season. Now that is not to say that the Texans did not have any bright spots during the 2015 season. They finished 8th overall in defensive DVOA, had star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (who might actually be from another planet), and they still had that J.J. Watt guy. However, that was not enough to keep them from getting blown out by Kansas City in the postseason losing 30-0 at home. Poor Brian Hoyer.
Significant Additions: RB Lamar Miller, QB Brock Osweiler, OG Jeff Allen, S Antonio Allen
Significant Subtractions: RB Arian Foster, OG Brandon Brooks, S Rahim Moore, WR Nate Washington, DE Jared Crick, QB Brian Hoyer (Hoyer might actually be addition by subtraction)
Potential Impact Rookies: WR Will Fuller, OL Nick Martin, WR Braxton Miller
Team Strengths: Houston’s linebackers are as solid as they come and despite losing a quality player in Jared Crick, any defensive line that has J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork is going to be very productive. I also like the youths they have drafted at receiver the last two seasons with second year man Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, to pair with the all world Hopkins.
Team Weaknesses: The Texans were painfully weak at the most important position on the field last season (quarterback). Enter former Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, Osweiler showed flashes of potential in Denver last season with a big enough arm and some sneaky mobility. Although Osweiler should almost definitely be better than the Hoyer, Weeden, Mallett and T.J. Yates group from last year, I am not ready to say he is their long term solution at the position.
Fantasy Players to Watch: DeAndre Hopkins should be one of the first wide receivers off the board during draft season. In 2015, Hopkins amassed 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns with mostly bad quarterback play. Just imagine what he can do if Osweiler is even somewhat competent. Lamar Miller is someone I never really bought into while he was in Miami. I felt he was slightly overrated and more importantly, the Miami coaching staff had no idea how to use him correctly on offense. Miller enters what should be a much more stable situation with much better coaching in Houston. Miller could sneak into the back end of the first round in some drafts. Also, keep an eye on Osweiler as the season goes along for bye week and injury insurance, but do not invest a lot in him on draft day. Keep an eye on who emerges from the group of Strong, Fuller and veteran Cecil Shorts as the number two receiver opposite Hopkins as a possible late round upside pick. Lastly, the defense should be fantasy relevant all season.
2016 Outlook: I expect the Texans to be a very similar team to what they were in 2015, good on defense and well coached by Bill O’Brien and his staff. To me, their season comes down to new signal caller Brock Osweiler and Colts QB Andrew Luck. If Osweiler becomes the franchise savior they hope he will be, then Houston looks to be a very dangerous team. If Osweiler mediocre or worst, then it will likely come down to the performance and health of division rival Andrew Luck. Despite the flaws Luck has shown early in his career, he has proven when healthy he can carry a pretty average Colts team to the playoffs. If both Luck and Osweiler play well this season, then Houston should certainly contend for a wild card spot if not make a run at the division title.
Record Prediction: The Texans schedule looks to be fairly manageable. They have a few tough road games against Minnesota, Denver and Green Bay, but also have home games against Chicago, Detroit and San Diego. Where the Texans may have caught a huge break is their Week 3 matchup at New England. The Patriots will have Jimmy Garoppolo under center while Tom Brady serves his four game suspension. Tennessee is still a doormat in this division and I refuse to buy Jacksonville as anything more than a six win team until they prove otherwise. I have Houston going 9-7 in 2016 and I expect them to make a real push at a wild card spot.
Photo Credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle