The Houston Texans are a very difficult team to preview, they are in one of the most evenly matched divisions in the entire NFL, and therefore one of the least predictable. Their team seems to be getting significantly scarier on both sides of the ball, but their most lingering problem is being somewhat ignored, as we’ll discuss later. The return of their two fallen superstars will be cause for excitement going in to 2018, but how did they do last year?

2017 Summary

From a neutral perspective, the new-look Texans offense were absolutely electrifying to watch throughout parts of last season – most notably when their breakout rookie signal-caller Deshaun Watson was under centre – and, yet, the season was absolutely agonising for Texans fans. Having gone 9-7 the year before, without even having a particularly exciting offense (although they had one of the best defenses), they now flipped the script.

In Week 1, Watson didn’t start, and they were up against it playing the Jaguars, which would never be an easy game -but from then on the Texans had a very good stretch.

In Week 2, they defeated the Bengals, and then the next week the rookie QB went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady. The Texans found themselves in a shootout against the Patriots, and lost by just the three points, at Foxborough – that is a sensational effort for any offense, the game ending 33-36.

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They followed this up with an absolutely ridiculous outing against their AFC South rivals Titans – winning 57-14… Yeah, 57. Watson threw 4 touchdowns and for 283-yards and rushed in for a score as well. This was one of the most dominant QB performances of the entire season, and it wasn’t just the fantasy guys that were amazed; Watson’s Week 4 heroics were insane, and a lot of people started taking the Texans seriously with him at the helm.

In Week 5 they had another shootout, this time with Kansas City, losing 34-42; a game where Watson threw five more TDs. They bounced back against the Browns seven days later. Going into their bye week, the Texans had won three games out of their six to open the season, losing only to Jacksonville, New England, and the Chiefs. That isn’t a bad start at all.

And then their season ended… Deshaun Watson got injured against the Seahawks, tearing his ACL, in week 8 and from that point on the Texans only won a single further game; ending the season 4-12. It was ugly.

Personnel Changes

The Texans are getting back two of their three best players, going into 2018, both now recovered from injuries, Deshaun Watson of course rejoins the team, but also the 4-time First-team All-Pro, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year, and 2-time NFL Sack Leader JJ Watt. The Texans’ number 99 will be fired up, and the superstar Defensive End is ready to get back on the field, having played in only 8 games since the end of the 2015 season. For context, he won the DPOTY in 2012, 2014 and 2015 – so him missing out the vast majority of the last two seasons has been an unfortunate pause in an incredible career, but now he’s back.

The biggest acquisition made by the Houston front office this season is another defensive play-maker, ‘The Honey Badger’, Tyrann Mathieu. The ex-Cardinal Safety took a pay-cut this season to switch out his familiar surroundings of Arizona for the revitalised Texans, and he is a massive addition to the defensive side of the ball, to sure up the secondary. When you have JJ Watt forcing the opposition to work quickly and on the back-foot, you can look forward to a lot of rushed passes – he could have a great year ahead.

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But there’s something missing in this section… Some new, good offensive linemen. Seriously though, it really didn’t help that they didn’t make a single pick in the NFL Draft until the third round, but still – that O-Line really needed help, as we’ll talk about more soon.

Team Strengths

Now, obviously Watson isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL after appearing on the field only 7 times, but you can’t ignore how insanely he performed over a span of four weeks. He threw 14 touchdown passes, 1,070-yards and only four interceptions. Those stats would pace out to a monstrous 60 total touchdowns (56 through the air), 4,280-yards, and for you fantasy players, out there, an average of 33.4 fantasy points per game. That was just for fun – there’s no way that’s happening in 2018, but it demonstrates my point. Deshaun Watson has the potential to fall anywhere between being the best QB the Texans have had in years (not a very big feat) to being one of the best in the entire league; and he will have to settle somewhere on that scale.

The biggest offensive star on this team, however, remains DeAndre Hopkins. At only 26-years old, Hopkins is currently enjoying his prime, and he has been a dominant wide receiver even with awful quarterback play. Now he has a real talent throwing him the ball, it’s going to be very fun to watch. 2017 was DHop’s most fruitful season yet, with 13 receiving touchdowns to compliment his 1,378-yards – and 6 of those TDs came in the awful games after Watson went down; if he gets a good, healthy QB for 16 games this season, it could be very fun to watch.

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The d-line is absolutely phenomenal (rated 5th in the entire league by Pro Football Focus) and should not be forgotten when talking about how good the Texans can be. Jadeveon Clowney is an animal, and JJ Watt’s return to the team is another huge upgrade, so there will be plenty of sacks in Texas if they can stay healthy for the first time in three years.

Team Weaknesses

Speaking of sacks… The inarguable weakest link in this team is its offensive line. It is absolutely awful. All of this talk of amazing wide receivers, and exciting quarterbacks sounds so great, but the guys who are protecting Watson are not good enough. Last year they were playing some the best offensive football in the league, and yet they had the worst pass-protection in the entire NFL. PFF rate them as the stone-dead last rated o-line of them all, and Deshaun Watson was pressured on 48% of snaps; the most of any QB all season.

The running game is a weakness in Houston, averaging only 4.1 yards per rushing attempt over both of the last two seasons. In 2017 they only scored 8 rushing touchdowns all year, making them tied for 25th in the NFL. Lamar Miller is a decent enough back, and can make himself available in the passing game too. They will have D’onta Foreman coming back from injury, but they will need to do much better, to take advantage of the fact that all-of-a-sudden they have a more than competent (and very athletic) quarterback for their defensive opposition to keep an eye on.

Best Case Scenario

Deshaun Watson really is that good… He returns to the team and absolutely dominates, proving himself to be one of the elite QB’s in the NFL, he throws more than 25 TD’s for around 4,000 yards, whilst unlocking the potential of their WR’s – particularly Will Fuller, who scores 7 TD’s over the season. Hopkins solidifies his status as a WR1 and scored double digit touchdowns once again. The run game opens up due to the success of their QB, and the Texans offense as a whole is electric. The Defensive side of the ball is equally terrifying, as JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney find themselves fighting over who can lead the NFL in sacks. Watt comes out of top in that battle and wins the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and the Comeback Player of the Year. The Texans squeeze into the Playoffs behind the Jaguars, finishing with a very respectable 8 or 9 wins – at least doubling their 2017 record.

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Worst Case Scenario

Their quarterback is never the same. JJ Watt gets injured again. Tyrann Mathieu can’t do it on his own. The offensive line is despicable and gives up the most pressures in the NFL for the second year running. Watson finishes with an average amount of touchdowns and above-average number of interceptions. The hype around the team subsides by the time they lose to the Buffalo Bills in Week 6 and they end the season with a similar record to how they did in 2017. They end up in last in the division with their second consecutive sub .300 season. Texans fans can barely remember the dizzying heights of 2016 anymore.

Prediction

Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt will both come back firing on all cylinders. The Texans hype train isn’t exclusive to the fans – the players really believe in themselves. I think that their offense will, although obviously nowhere near the success of the ridiculous stretch when Watson came in last year, be a very worthy opponent for any NFL Defense. That side of the ball is stronger too, with Watt and Mathieu being massive upgrades on the personnel who were on the field for the majority of last season. The team as a whole is improved in all but one place – the o-line. That line really costs them, and will cap their overall offensive success, meaning that – even when being a very competitive team week in and week out – they still settle in the end for a middle-of-the-pack record; and in that division it isn’t enough to make the playoffs. They finish in either third or fourth in the division (depending whether Andre Luck is healthy or not) with a disappointing 5-7 win season.