Call it the Texans' Two Step.
One season after the team captured the AFC South, defeated the Bengals in the wild card playoffs and then lost to the Patriots in the divisional round, the Houston Texans captured the AFC South, defeated the Bengals in the wild card playoffs and then lost to the Ravens in the divisional round.
However, for the second straight season, Gary Kubiak's club wasn't playing its best football down the stretch. And that will be hard to get away with in 2013 with the improved Colts nipping on their heels.
Still, the Houston Texans will make a third straight trip to the playoffs…
If: Quarterback Matt Schaub can rebound from a late-season slump. The Pro Bowl signal-caller threw one touchdown pass, three interceptions and was sacked 12 times in the team's final four regular-season games--three of those resulting in losses. And Schaub wasn't much better in the playoffs. While veteran Andre Johnson remains one of the best in the business and comes off a 112-reception season, the team could use another reliable threat from the wide receiver position.
And: The team's three free agent pickups produce as expected. Veteran free safety Ed Reed, off a Super Bowl championship with Baltimore, gives Wade Phillips' defensive unit a ball hawk that the franchise has lacked for years. Longtime Raiders' punter Shane Lechler is now in Houston and should help the special teams. And fullback Greg Jones (Jaguars) gives Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster the escort he lost a few years ago when Vonta Leach signed with the Ravens.
But: If the Texans' defense doesn't bounce back to last season's first-half form. Including their playoff split with Cincinnati and New England, Kubiak's club allowed nearly 100 more points in their final nine outings (242) as they did during the team's 8-1 start (143). That's despite the presence of NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who totaled 20.5 of the team's 44 sacks this past season. Injuries were certainly part of the problem for this unit but they don't tell the entire story.
So what do you think? The Texans looked like the AFC's best team for three quarters of 2012 before their late swoon. Is it possible that hangover carries over into 2013 and they miss the playoffs altogether?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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