We have rolled around the AFC South through the three other teams to end up here with the Champs and their reasons to be cheerful. As reigning champs they will be keen to repeat and to erase that embarrassing drubbing handed out by the Chiefs in the Wildcard Round. There are certainly reasons to think this will be absolutely achievable. Three of them are below:
A tooled-up offence
Last year the Houston Texans won the division with a rotating cast of cast-offs at quarterbacks. Brian Hoyer has the demeanour of Matt Saracen and whilst you are rooting for a nice guy to do well, he has a ceiling and it is not the Superbowl. Ryan Mallett has proven himself a joke. Brandon Weeden did what he always does, makes a good throw then cripples his team. Play-off winner TJ Yates even saw action.
You don’t want this to be the snapshot of the QB position for your team. Ever. Bill O’Brien has a reputation for coaching up QBs both in the pros and during his short stint at Penn State. We only have to look at last season for evidence of that! So the Texans went out and got their guy. All $72m of him.
Brock Osweiler is a Super Bowl winning QB. He didn’t play in the game but he was part of the reason the Broncos were there. He spent four years watching Peyton Manning, learning in a high quality offence and when called upon he was part of a team that won games. To say he led the team to victories would be a stretch but he can point to a victory over the New England Patriots. That’s pretty impressive.
He had his issues though. He never took control of the offence, he made mistakes. All to be expected from a back-up coming in relief in mid-season. But he is now the man with the keys at the Texans. He has to lead.
Around him he has everything he could ask. DeAndre Hopkins is a legitimate top five wide receiver and could lead the league in yards this year. Look at what he did with the rotating clown car under centre last year! He has the speed, the hands, the agility and the smarts to exceed last season’s lofty statistical performance. The decision on Friday 29th to walk out of camp is not the smartest and (at time of writing) there is no indication that this will do anything other than frustrate OB’s plans for training camp.
The Texans drafted Will Fuller out of Notre Dame in the first round. He is a speed machine in a class of WRs that by consensus is the slowest in a good few years at the Scouting Combine. He had issues with drops but provides a vertical threat and genuine No2 option that will give Nuk (if and when he is back – and I fully expect him to not miss any time) more opportunities. The also drafted Braxton Miller in the 3rd round, an intriguing prospect out of Ohio State. The former Buckeyes QB made the move to WR after being unable to regain his place following an injury lay-off. He is raw but with really intriguing upside. With solid vet Cecil Shorts III and returning sophomore Jaelen Strong (who needs to get in shape), the Texans have a really interesting group of pass catchers.
Lamar Miller is a hipster darling. Underutilised, perplexingly so, in Miami, he has flashed big play ability, workhorse like strength and good speed. So why wasn’t he a bigger hit in Miami? His carries were often limited and the game plan under Joe Philbin never seemed to flow through Miller. So in Houston he comes into a situation where the head coach loves to have a featured back, a new QB, a genuine star at WR with some nice young pieces around him. Miller has the chance to pop this season.
Along the line, the Texans upgraded at Center by drafting Nick Martin again out of Notre Dame (back-to-back Fighting Irish, President Bartlett would be proud – shoutout West Wing fans!). They replaced the departed Brando Brooks with free agent signing Jeff Allen, a former second round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
A stronger line, a beefed up WR corps, a true bell-cow back and a new, highly priced (if not prized) QB – this offence is a big reason to be cheerful down in Texas.
As long as you have JJ Watt, you have reason to be cheerful. More so, the talent on the upward trajectory feels like it outweighs those in decline. Jadaveon Clowney, Whitney Mercelius, Benardrick McKinney, Kevin Johnson are all guys that should be better than a year ago.
A mix of sophomores and more experienced vets, the defence also has guys like Vince Wilfork, Brian Cushing, Devon Still, Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. All guys that have done well, to varying degrees of success, in their careers.
They don’t need to be world-beaters on this D they just need to be tone-setters who help guide younger players and contribute.
Wilfork, Cushing, Still are all names we associate with positive influences on their teams. So you’d think there would be some leadership in the locker room. That can only be a positive for this team.
One element of this reason to be cheerful will crop up again in our reasons to be fearful, as you can probably imagine.
OB. Great on Hard Knocks. Also shot himself in the foot with his QB decision making, yanking Hoyer in the first game after calling him the starter. That aside though, he has proven himself eminently capable in the NFL and seems to have his guys behind him.
He understands how to get the most out of an offence and particularly a QB. Just look at his short tenure as HC of Penn State and the progress of Christian Hackenburg under his tutelage and since. He extracted the most possible from the limited talents of that cavalcade of mediocrity noted in reason 1.
OB has also proven himself unafraid of taking risks. If you want to enjoy your football, you want your HC to take some risks, be creative, do it all for the win. I’d rather have OB making mistakes where he can still get you to the play-offs than someone like Jim Caldwell who appears to allow most of the critical moments to pass him by during a game.
Gareth Duxbury enjoys football both American and Association. Follows Washington in the former, Sheffield Wednesday in the latter. His love of QB play only topped by his fandom of Inside Linebackers. He tweets from