The Sleeping Texans
Throughout the 2014 NFL season, the national storyline involving the Texans mainly related to JJ Watt dominating opposing defenses.
Aside from Watt, the Texans record at 8-8 says nothing more than an average football team.
Given that this is an improvement from the 2013 season when Houston finished 2-14, there is enough reason to suggest the Texans are primed for a double-digit win season and potentially a playoff bid in 2015. Although the Texans were a .500 team, all eight wins were by more than seven points and five of the Texans loss were within a touchdown and an extra point.
The Texans did finish the season with eye-catching numbers. The Houston defense ranked in the top-10 in points allowed and finished third in turnover differential with +12. Compare that to the team that won the division, the Colts, who were -5 in that area.
Offensively the Texans' rushing attack was top-10 in the league and the offensive line allowed just 26 sacks, good for fourth best. That offensive line will return all five starters from last year.
That Texans rushing attack can also be credited to of course Arian Foster, but there is depth at that position as well with Alfred Blue who looked good sharing some snaps with Foster.
More importantly, Houston spent the off-season improving the areas of weakness, specifically the passing game, both offensively and defensively.
In the draft Houston added receiver Jaelen Strong to give them a young duo with Nuke Hopkins, who posted a rather unnoticed 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, the Texans drafted Wake Forest corner Kevin Johnson, arguably was the top cover corner in the draft.The selection adds depth behind proven veterans Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph.
Factor in the signings of receiver Cecil Shorts and safety Rahim Moore and the Texans showed a strong commitment to ensuring the passing game improved on both fronts.
Then there is the schedule. Two divisional opponents, Tennessee and Jacksonville, don't project to be much of a threat this year. That could conceivably be four wins for the Texans. Additionally, Houston will face both teams in the final two weeks of the season. Even division favorite Indianapolis has some weakness.
The non-divisional schedule looks promising with road games against Atlanta, Buffalo and Miami, all of whom failed to make the playoffs in 2014. Houston’s home non-divisional opponents also look manageable with games against Kansas City, Tampa and the New York Jets.
This isn’t to say the Texans are without flaws. Defensively, outside of JJ Watt, there isn't another player who has shown much of an ability to rush the passer.
On offense, the Texans traded starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets, meaning there will be a battle between former Cleveland Brown passer Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Tom Savage also figures to be in the mix to some capacity. None of the three have been overwhelmingly good during their respective NFL stints.
Still, Houston had similar problems last year and they still found a way to put up an 8-8 record. It is far from a perfect team, but they seem to be poised for ascension for the 2015 NFL season due to their off-season additions and relatively light schedule for the upcoming year.