While the playoffs ended a few weeks early for the liking of Houston Texans fans, the team still has plenty of work to do in the offseason.
At the heart of the efforts of Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith will be figuring out how to prevent 2013 from ending the way 2012 did. A pair of beatings at the hands of the New England Patriots have to serve as a wakeup call to just how far from elite the franchise is.
The goal is to win a Super Bowl, and Houston is not a team of that caliber right now.
Like all teams, the Texans have multiple avenues to improvement. Their players will grow through coaching and offseason reps, and the roster can improve through free agency and the draft.
Texas finished the year at 10.2 Pythagorean wins, indicating that they were not perhaps as solid as their 12-win record indicated. Certainly their postseason performance reinforces that notion.
Working in favor of the Texans next season is a weak division, but their overall schedule will likely be more challenging than the 26th-ranked slate of teams they faced this past year.
The Texans absolutely have to improve or they won't even be favorites to win the AFC South in 2013, much less the Super Bowl.
Can the team recover from the obvious flaws that plagued them over the final months?
It's possible in theory, but it won't be easy. There are many factors working against improvement.
While fans are angry at head coach Gary Kubiak and quarterback Matt Schaub, the fact is that both men signed contract extensions before the season.
In other words, the Texans are counting on the plan that got them two division titles to help them win a third. The contract extension for Kubiak was ill-timed, and the team took a big risk by extending Schaub.
Now they have to live with both for the near future.
Free agency won't be a help to the Texas as the club has limited cap space and a long list of players to sign, not to mention $5 to $6 million left over for the rookie pool. Among the players who could be gone are Connor Barwin, Tim Dobbins and Glover Quin.
While the Texans can hope for help from the draft, one of the biggest issues they face got worse with the loss to the Patriots.
According to Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle, 2012 draft pick DeVier Posey tore his Achilles and will likely miss the 2013 season, meaning the team's major hole at wide receiver just got deeper.
Without money to sign new players, major weaknesses in both passing offense and defense will have to be solved either by the draft or by coaching up players currently on the roster.
Of course, a weak 2012 draft raises questions about how much more fans can expect from the talent already under team control.
It's possible the Texans missed their window with losses down the stretch in 2012. The team will enter 2013 with age creeping in at key positions.
While they should still have the talent to be competitive, Schaub will be 32, Andre Johnson 32, Owen Daniels 31 and Kevin Walter 32. Arian Foster is still in his prime, but has seen declining efficiency over recent seasons.
Given what could be another thinning of the roster similar to what the team endured in 2012, the Texans could well take another step back.
The course has already been set, and there's no way to change it now. The 2013 Texans are going to look very similar to the 2012 Texans, for better or worse.
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