10 Reasons to Believe the Houston Texans Will Finally Win the AFC South
We've heard it so many times.
"This is the year the Houston Texans finally turn the corner and win the division."
Yet every time it appears that they should do so on paper, they always seem to lay an egg in November. In fact, under the Kubiak regime, the team has posted an abysmal 4-16 record in five years in said month.
The team is looking good at 5-3 headed into November, but it isn't the first time they've been here. In 2009, they sat at 5-3 before dropping all four contests in November to fall to 5-7 and eventually miss the playoffs by a tiebreaker with the Jets.
Is it different this year? Most seem to think so, and I could reel off a number of reasons why this year will be different. In fact, here are a few of them now.
Jacksonville Is Rebuilding
When the Jaguars decided to cut David Garrard less than a week before the season started, it was clear that it was all about going young in 2011. They may have trotted Luke McCown out there the first couple of games, but it was quite evident that Blaine Gabbert was going to get to play much sooner than originally anticipated.
With Gabbert leading the way, Jacksonville is pretty much playing as expected. Their defense is stout, but their offense is as stagnant as any in the league.
It's very clear that it's about 2012 and beyond for the Jags. Therefore, with the Texans already besting them once this season, they should pose no threat to Houston's bid for the division crown.
They're a Better Team Than Tennessee
Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network very famously said earlier this season that the Titans would win the AFC South right after giving the Texans a "soft" label. And to his credit, the Titans started off the year very well.
But then they ran into the Texans.
Going into the game as underdogs on the road, the Texans thrashed the Titans 41-7 and dominated on both sides of the ball.
The Titans might be good enough to beat the other two teams in the division and some of the cellar dwellers in the league, but head-to-head, it was proven that they can't keep up with the Texans this year.
Without Peyton Manning, the Colts Are a Train Wreck
Everyone wants to give the division to the Texans by default since Peyton Manning is likely out for the year with a neck injury. And judging by the Colts performance through eight games without him, that might not be too far off.
I expected the Colts to struggle this season without Manning, but I never saw them being this awful. I mean, the last time I checked, Peyton didn't play defense. But this team is a complete disaster on both sides of the ball, as well as the coaching staff.
The entire team looks like they've checked out for the year already, and I see no reason to believe it gets better any time soon. If the Texans don't get their first win ever in Indy this year, they just might not ever get it.
A Healthy Owen Daniels
When Owen Daniels went down with an injury in 2009, the Texans were sitting at 5-3. Without him, the offense just wasn't ever the same, and Houston went .500 the rest of the way.
Two seasons later, Daniels is finally recovered fully from the ACL tear that sidelined him for well over a year. And he's picking up right where he left off in 2009. He may not have the same numbers, but his plays in the clutch are as huge as possible.
Joel Dreessen filled in for Daniels admirably while he recovered, and he is a terrific backup player who will make some big plays. But he doesn't have the homerun potential that Daniels does.
With that tandem at his disposal, Matt Schaub has one hell of a security blanket to fall back on.
Wade Phillips' Defense
There wasn't one person in Houston that didn't think the historically bad defense in 2010 wouldn't improve significantly this season under the tutelage of Wade Phillips. What no one thought of, though, is that through eight games, Houston would have the third ranked defense in the league.
Teams usually struggle for a season or two when making the transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, but the players on this roster have picked it up extremely well. Even with Mario Williams out for the season, they're still getting incredible pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Probably the player most effected by the change is linebacker Brian Cushing, who looks like he had the chains taken off or something. The guy is having an All-Pro type season and has blossomed into the leader of this young defense.
Wade Phillips deserves a large portion of the credit for turning this team around and making us feel confident about their chances in the second half of 2011.
The rest of the way, the Texans face only three teams that currently have a winning record. They also face three rookie quarterbacks (four is Locker supplants Hasselbeck) and a couple of underachievers in the Bucs and Falcons.
The toughest game left on their schedule is probably at Tampa Bay. They've been up and down this year, but they've remained very tough at home. Josh Freeman is always capable of putting together a big comeback, and the Texans have been known to let a game or two like that drop in their past.
Facing Atlanta could be tough if they start to put it all together, but I still like the Texans at home in that one. Matt Ryan seems to struggle outside of domed stadiums and blitzing defenses.
Honestly, every game left on the schedule is winnable; it's just up to them to not play down to their competition.
A Fresh Arian Foster
The best thing about Arian Foster missing the first three games of the season is that he has fresh legs. After being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, it's clear that it helped.
Sharing carries with Ben Tate has helped, too. Combined, the two have rushed for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns.
Going into the stretch run here, having both of those guys sharing the beating that a team's running back can take over 16 games will help significantly.
A fresh Arian Foster in the second half could be scary for opposing NFL defenses.
A Returning, and Rested, Andre Johnson
When Andre Johnson went down with the hamstring injury, all the "experts" started predicting the doom and gloom for the Texans. Yet, Houston is 2-2 in his absence and has the sixth ranked offense in the league.
But with the bye coming up in a couple of weeks, many are starting to target Nov. 27 as his potential return date, which would mean Johnson will have been off for nearly two months.
In my opinion, a guy like Andre won't have to worry about something like rust. He keeps himself in amazing physical condition and he'll get readjusted real quick.
A rested Andre Johnson being added to this team is like signing a major free agent in the middle of the year as you gear up for a postseason run.
It'll be worth the time he's missed.
Someone said the other day "Where in the world has Johnathan Joseph been?" because they never hear his name called too much on TV.
That's a good thing. If they aren't calling his name, that means he is doing his job.
For all of the media attention in the offseason, Johnathan Joseph has outplayed Nnamdi Asomugha on every level. In fact, short of Darrelle Revis, there might not be a better lockdown corner in the league. Opposing quarterbacks simply do not throw in his direction much anymore.
Locking down one side of the field has made the much maligned Kareem Jackson a target by opposing offenses, but thankfully, Jason Allen has stepped in and made some big time plays for this defense.
Joseph has made those around him better and made this secondary worthwhile. Best free agent signing in the history of this franchise already. He might be the best cornerback in team history already, too.
It's Just Time
It's almost impossible to think that it's been a decade since we got football back in Houston again. It's even more unfathomable when you realize how many expectations have not been met.
Bad luck, tough breaks and questionable front office decisions have plagued this franchise from day one. But it finally appears as if it is simply just time for something good to happen for Houston.
A bounce finally goes their way, they finally understand how to put away games in the fourth quarter and there is no team in the league they can't compete with.
There's a sense of urgency from this coaching staff for the first time in team history. Bob McNair is no longer allowing people to skate by and is finally demanding results.
The weak schedule, having a great offense and rejuvenated defense, combined with a coaching staff that is in win or get fired mode, make this the year that Houston finally gets over that hump and gets the city of Houston their first playoff football game in eighteen years.