At the start of the NFL season, I made a bold prediction
that the Houston Texans would not only make the playoffs for the first time ever, but make a run to the AFC Championship game. I projected they would be one of the most improved defenses in the league, and ended up finishing even stronger than expected with the No. 2 defense in the league (285 ypg allowed). Despite playing without top defender Mario Williams for extended time, the Texans managed the fourth-best rushing defense and second-rated pass defense. Their 3-4 defense was strong inside, as linebacker Brian Cushing was the team’s MVP, and the off-season acquisition of safety Danieal Manning proved to be very productive
. Manning will not only be anchoring the defensive backfield in the playoffs, but he’ll be returning kickoffs again starting Saturday. Manning averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff returns this season, but has not returned kicks since returning from injury in late November. Manning also led the NFL in kick return average in 2008.
The Texans beat the Bengals 20-19 in Cincinnati on December 11, as quarterback T. J. Yates passed for 300 yards and the Texans’ ground game outrushed the Bengals 144-101. Despite four turnovers, Houston was able to pull out a victory in the closing seconds with a touchdown. Wide receiver Andre Johnson did not play that game, and Houston then lost three-straight games to close the season. Houston will make its playoff debut without quarterback Matt Schaub, who went on injured reserve in late November (foot). But the ookie Yates will have Johnson at his disposal this game. Along with one of the league’s top running games, the Texans appear primed for a breakthrough and Reliant Stadium will be rockin’ Saturday for the first playoff game in Houston since 1994. Here are 12 reasons
why the Texans will beat the Bengals in the playoffs, as reported by a Texans beat writer.
BOLD PREDICTION (from 9/8/2011) - All the parts are in place for another sensational showing on offense especially when you consider Houston’s offense was third in the NFL last season and averaged the worst starting field position in the league. The ground game should be strong with the reigning rushing champ Arian Foster and the pass/catch combo of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson is one of the league’s best. Make no mistake, the Texans’ defense was a disaster last season, but their young and talented front seven should be much improved under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who plans on adding more pressure off the edge in his 3-4 scheme. Add in a revamped secondary and Houston’s D has the makings of being one of the most improved in the league. With Peyton Manning down for the count and mediocrity expected from Tennessee and Jacksonville, the AFC South is there for the taking. I’m projecting Houston to not only win the division crown but find its way to the AFC title game despite just six wins a season ago.