8 Reasons the Houston Texans Will Be AFC's Best Team in 2012
The parity of the NFL is so great that every year you see a team that is, for example, 6-10 one year and then makes the jump to 10-6 the following year.
This season's example? The Houston Texans.
Not only did they reverse their fortunes in their defensive game, but in the standings of the AFC South as well.
But you also can see this pattern slide the opposite way. Like I said, the parity is so great in this league that it is hard to consistently stay one of the league's best year in and year out—unless you are built for longevity.
With that said, can they be an actual AFC contender in 2012? Many in the national media were sold on that with the Texans' performance in Baltimore in the divisional series, and I pretty much feel the same way.
I'll explain why right now.
Returning Coaching Staff
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One thing that can be said about the 2011 Houston Texans was that they had a superb coaching staff all around.
And the best thing is that right now it appears that everyone will be back.
Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp was drawing interest from the SEC program at Auburn, but that fizzled out when they hired Scot Loeffler.
But the rumor persists that many teams with offensive coordinator openings are going to be calling and asking permission to speak to Knapp.
As for the rest of the staff, they all appear to be talking about the draft and 2012 season already.
Another year of the Kubiak and Dennison combination should produce their results, and now that the defensive coaching staff of Wade Phillips, Vance Joseph and Reggie Herring have a unit that is running like a well-oiled machine, I'd expect similar results in 2012.
Another Year Under Wade Phillips' Scheme
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Speaking of the Texans coaching staff, did I mention that the biggest offseason victory so far has been that Wade Phillips pulled his name out of the running for the head coaching gig in Tampa Bay?
Well, yes he did, and he'll be back on the Houston sideline next year.
Being named this week as the Sporting News defensive coordinator of the year for 2011, it's hard to deny the accolade.
To do what he was able to do in only one season is just unheard of, and with another year to build around it, one can only imagine how high the ceiling is.
When you finish with the second-ranked defense in the game and people are saying that it could only get better with the development of Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt by no means peaking yet, that should be a terrorizing thought for the Houston opposition in 2012.
No Significant Free-Agent Losses
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Besides Mario Williams, who I'll touch on in the next slide, the core of this team is staying together.
Arian Foster is a restricted free agent, and there is no way Houston lets him get away by any means.
Mike Brisiel and Joel Dreessen should be re-signed with little damage to the cap, and Chris Myers isn't getting Nick Mangold money anywhere else around the league.
With the average age being 27 on this team, it appears that they've been built to be around for a long time.
The championship window in the NFL is short, but Houston has built a roster that is in line to be around for a long time.
The biggest concern is if this team has the finances available to bring back Arian Foster and Mario Williams.
Remember that there is a huge list of free agents in 2013, and it's going to be time for Rick Smith to make some tough decisions really soon.
Mario Williams Is Likely Back
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I know that I was beating the drum for a while that Houston had so many other needs that they should let Mario Williams walk in free agency.
But I've come around since realizing that I doubt the team is ready to let a physical freak at one of the premium positions in the NFL like Mario get away.
Bob McNair has always been big on retaining his guys. The only big-time free agent the Texans have ever let walk was Dunta Robinson, and that was because they felt he was damaged goods and he was a "me" guy.
Mario Williams is apparently not the same and has been a model player for the franchise.
With Wade Phillips allegedly telling John McClain of the Houston Chronicle how excited he was to design packages to get Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and Mario Williams on the field at the same time, it certainly doesn't sound like they don't have Mario in their plans.
How could it get done? Well, I'm an accountant in my day job, and I don't care to bore you with the dollar figures.
Just know that the "capologists" that the Texans have employed can always find a way to make the money work under the cap.
More Draft Picks
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One thing that Houston showed in the 2011 NFL draft was that they had the ability to hit a home run with their draft picks.
J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and T.J. Yates all saw significant time and were vital to team success this past season.
So what's to say that they can't find good value with seven more draft picks this year?
Houston has reached a point where they no longer have to reach for need on any of their draft picks. This is a draft that will be all about depth for them.
They're picking later this year in every round than they ever have, but again, they don't have to find superstars like was so important in the past. They need to find more guys like they currently have that can step up in a pinch if needed.
While there are no glaring holes, there are certainly positions that need depth or an upgrade. With the success this group of coaches had with general manager Rick Smith last year, I'm going to put my faith in them that they know what they're doing this year.
Another successful draft could put them over the top.
Division Getting Weaker, Not Stronger
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Regardless of what you read on the Internet, the other three teams in the AFC South aren't going to be in the same class with Houston in 2012.
The honeymoon is over in Indianapolis between Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning, and they're airing their dirty laundry to anyone who will listen.
To be honest, I'm surprised it took that long for things to get nasty between them with it becoming public knowledge that the Colts would be drafting Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the draft.
But no matter how great Luck is, I find it hard to believe that he will be able to turn that mess around in one season as a rookie and become a serious threat to Houston.
In Jacksonville, they're still going to be trotting Blaine Gabbert out there every week as their starting quarterback, and Mike Mularkey isn't the guy who is going to fix everything for the Jags. This is the same guy who ran a mediocre offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, after all.
He was then pretty much told to find a new job or he would be shown the door in Atlanta.
The Titans had a pretty good season last year, considering that none of us thought they'd win six games in 2011. But to think that they're on the Texans' level in 2012 is truly laughable.
Remember that final game of the year when Tennessee had their starters playing against the Texans' third stringers in a game that they had to win to have a shot at the playoffs?
Yeah, the one that the Jake Delhomme-led Texans almost beat. I'm not concerned.
Playoff Loss Will Make Them Hungrier
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There are many great players to have played this game that never won a championship.
Then there are the guys who were good but didn't become great until they experienced stinging losses in the playoffs.
A loss similar to the one Houston experiences in Baltimore, when many left saying that the better team was going to be watching from home the following week.
The worst thing that can happen to a team is for them to get complacent, cocky and start believing their own press. The team had a great mentality all season with the "1-0" attitude week in and week out. I don't believe that they are the type to start feeling entitled about anything.
Sure, shedding that culture of losing will be liberating, and getting the that monkey off their back will help immensely. But to think that they'll go into 2012 feeling pressure because they have real expectations for the first time is lunacy.
A guy like Andre Johnson, who has been here longer than any of them and is ready to win now, is never going to let the team take on that persona.
They'll be ready in 2012, and the way that the 2011 season ended will be a testament to their success.
The Return of No. 8
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And last, but certainly not least, the return of QB1, Matt Schaub, is going to be the biggest boost this team has ever gotten.
I'm not going to sit here and detract from what T.J. Yates did when he was called to duty—not even close.
But the leap from Yates to Schaub is enormous in both talent and experience. All the people who were whining about wanting Schaub gone when the Texans were 3-3 after just six games last year started coming around about six weeks later.
They were also the biggest proponents of saying that if the Texans had a healthy Matt Schaub, they'd have made a Super Bowl run.
I don't play hypotheticals, because I believe if you're the best team, you win. If you lose, you're not the best team, and that's that.
But it's hard not to imagine how Houston's season would have turned out had Matt been able to stay upright. Remember that the Texans were starting to crush opponents every week with the top-rated defense and a top-10 offense.
Schaub was the ultimate field general, and he knows the playbook inside out, backwards and forwards.
Hopefully he comes back from the lisfranc injury with zero problems and we can see just how this team looks in the NFL postseason with him under center.