When to Watch
Unless you are a back end of the roster junkie, you probably don't need to gorge yourself on 16 quarters of preseason football. Remember that the starters often play sparingly early in the preseason.
If you have a tight schedule, you'll want to make sure you don't miss quarter one of the Panthers game. That will get your juices flowing for football season. Maybe you hang on until halftime to get your T.J. Yates fix, but the vast majority of the players who will have the biggest impact on 2012 will be done for the night.
Against the 49ers, the first half should be entertaining as the Texans will get a stern test of their running game. Again though, by the third quarter most of what there is to learn will be in the past.
If there's a can't miss preseason game, it has to be the Saints in the third week. It's a nationally televised affair from New Orleans, and you should get at least two and half quarters from many of the stars. Even after the starters are gone, the second string players will be playing for their jobs. Settle in for a full night of football.
There won't be much to learn by the time the Vikings roll into Reliant to close the preseason. The starters will get spot duty only, as coaches are uniformly terrified of injuries so close to the season. If there's a tight roster battle, you may see a final push, but by the second half most of the guys on the field will be making their final appearance for Houston. Don't feel bad if you check out early.
Who to Watch
All eyes are on the Texans receivers. If there was ever an reason to watch preseason games for a little longer than normal, the four-man battle for the third receiver spot is the perfect excuse.
The contenders are Lestar Jean, Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey and Bryant Johnson. Any one of the four could end up seeing the field regularly. The ultimate winner might not get on the field until the second half of some games, so be sure to chart all four guys if you want insight into who might win the job.
Also be sure to take in the rookies on defense. Pay special attention to Jared Crick and Whitney Mercilus on defense. As backups, they may get extended playing time.
What to Watch
Obviously, you have to be concerned with injuries first. As long as no one gets seriously hurt, the Texans will call the preseason a success.
Beyond that, watch how the run game deals with a stacked line. The right side of the Texans' line is still in flux, and I'd be surprised if Andre Johnson sees much action. That means teams will be loading up against the run, as they'll likely let the Texans' receivers prove they can have success in man on man.
A stacked box is nothing new for Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and they may face it more than they ever have before.
On defense, keep your eyes peeled for pressure. Wade Phillips won't be pulling out all the stops in the preseason, which is nice. Instead of sacks produced by scheme, the Texans preseason defense will showcase the raw talent of the pass-rushers it employs.
No coach wants to unveil his best tricks for games that don't matter, so if the Texans get a lot of heat on Alex Smith and Drew Brees, everyone will have a good idea of just how dominant the athletes are for the Houston D.
Finally, watch the place kicking battle. Shayne Graham and Randy Bullock will duke it out all preseason.
Just For Fun
Enjoy a couple of the best players in football without guilt. Cam Newton and Drew Brees are among the brightest stars in the NFL constellation. Most weeks, you couldn't watch them play your team without some pangs.
In the preseason, it's perfectly fair to enjoy their incredible skills. Newton probably will only get a single series, but if he makes some spectacular athletic play for a touchdown, don't sweat it.
What It Means
Repeat after me: preseason means nothing.
I mean less than nothing.
I mean the opposite of something.
In fact, winning in the preseason actually has a slight negative correlation with winning in the regular season.
The Texans need to make a strong showing defensively against the Saints and offensively against the 49ers. Other than that, they'll evaluate players and find out exactly what they can't know in practice.
Whether they win or lose is utterly irrelevant. There is no evidence of any benefit of any kind to winning preseason games.
If the Texans go 0-4 it reveals nothing about the team. If they go 4-0 it reveals nothing about the team.
Coaches want three things out of the preseason and nothing else matters:
- Good health
- Good play that's crisp and free of mental mistakes
- To evaluate players
Win or lose, preseason is time to enjoy the return of football without the weekly stress of the game's effect on the standings.
No matter what happens over the next month, as long as everyone stays healthy, Houston will still be the favorite to win the AFC South come September.