The Houston Texans went into the 2017 season with a ton of optimism around a team that was coming off back-to-back division titles and just landed what many thought was the best quarterback in the draft in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
For whatever reason head coach Bill O’Brien decided to go with Tom Savage over Watson as the Week 1 starter. Savage played poorly in a 29-7 loss at home to the Jaguars and Watson was named the starter for Week 2 at Cincinnati. It didn’t take long for Watson to get comfortable in the NFL. In fact, he was putting up record-breaking numbers before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in a Week 8 loss to the Seahawks.
Houston could not recover from Watson’s injury and ended up closing out the year with a 1-8 record over their final 9 games. They would end the season dead last in the AFC South at 4-12.
Given how much injuries played a role in last year’s poor record, this is one of the rare instances where you have a team coming off a 4-win season that is a legit Super Bowl contender.
Whether or not the Texans will be able to live up the hype, will ultimately come down to Watson’s ability to stay healthy. If he misses an extended period of time, it’s going to be really hard for this team to reach their potential. Keep in mind that last year the team averaged 34.6 ppg in Watson’s 6 starts and a mere 13.0 ppg in the 10 games he wasn’t the starter. That same level of drop-off is going to occur if backup Brandon Weeden has to take the field.
Houston knows how valuable Watson is to this team and that’s why they made it a major priority to improve the offensive line in the offseason. The team signed Zach Fulton to be the new starter at left guard, Seantrel Henderson to be the new starting right tackle and Senio Henderson to push for a starting spot against holdover Jeff Allen at right guard. Nick Martin is back at center and is a solid option. The big question is who will be the starting left tackle. Julien Davenport played well at the position late last year, but will be pushed by 3rd round pick Martinas Rankin.
The hope is that not only will the improvements up front help keep Watson upright, but also open up things in the running game. Starting running back Lamar Miller averaged a career-worst 3.7 yards/carry in 2017 (career avg. is 4.3 ypc). He’ll once again be the primary back, but look for an even bigger role for second-year back D’Onta Foreman, who flashed before getting hurt in his rookie season.
DeAndre Hopkins will be the primary target of Watson, but the team is going to need some other guys to step into bigger roles. Will Fuller has the potential to be a big time playmaker with his ability to stretch the defense with his speed, but he can’t seem to stay on the field. Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller are viable options, but will be pushed for time by 4th round rookie Keke Coutee. At tight end the Texans unexpectedly lost starter C.J. Fiedorowicz to retirement (chronic concussions), putting a lot of pressure on veteran Ryan Griffin and 3rd round rookie Jordan Akins.
While the offense had to deal with the loss of Watson, Houston’s defense lost All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt to a broken leg after just 5 games. This comes after being limited to just 3 games the previous year because of back problems. If Watt can return to anywhere close to his previous form (3x Defensive Player of the Year), it’s going to have an overwhelming positive effect on the defense.
Watt will be the anchor up front as the 3-4 defensive end, but the real strength of the defense is at linebackers. Houston has another elite player in outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who is just as good against the run as he is at putting pressure on the quarterback. Whitney Mercilus will be back as the other outside linebacker after being limited to 5 games and his absence was greatly felt. Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are an intriguing young duo at inside linebacker.
The secondary was considered the weak link for Houston’s defense and the team did everything it could to make sure that wouldn’t be the case in 2018. The Texans added two new starters in free agency by signing corner Aaron Colvin away from the Jaguars and safety Tyrann Mathieu away from the Cardinals. They are also expecting their 3rd round pick of Stanford safety Justin Reid to compete for the starting spot opposite of Mathieu. The top two holdovers from last year’s secondary are veteran corners Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph.
As you can see, there’s plenty of reason for Houston to be excited about the direction of this team going into 2018. Now it’s just a matter if they can avoid losing guys like Watson and Watt to serious injuries.
2018 Texans Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
Projected Wins: 9.24
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 8.5
I know the sample-size was extremely small, but there’s little doubt in my mind that if Watson can stay healthy, he’s going to be one of the top quarterbacks in the game. Keep in mind Watson had 19 touchdown passes in his limited time and was on pace to throw for 43 (Russell Wilson led the NFL in 2017 with 34). I just don’t think it’s asking a lot of team with that kind of talent at the quarterback position to post a winning record, as all we need is for Houston to go 9-7 to cash a winner.
It feels even more likely that the Texans will win 9 or more games when you factor in the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball. If Watt returns to form, which I think he will, Houston has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Even if he’s not the same player, there’s enough talent on that side of the ball that Houston can win a lot of games by simply outscoring the opposition. Keep in mind they averaged a ridiculous 39 ppg in Watson’s final 5 starts.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +1800
I certainly feel like you have to include the Texans in the mix of teams with a legit shot at winning the Super Bowl in 2018. Oddsmakers certainly agree, as there are just 6 other teams with better odds to win the title right now.
The only problem with Vegas being on board, is there’s not quite as much value with Houston as other big time sleepers in the AFC like the Jaguars (+2200) and Chiefs (+3000). With that said, I wouldn’t fault you for wanting to take a shot on Houston at this price.
Odds to Win the AFC: +850
Similar story here with the limited value on the Texans to win the AFC. Only the Steelers (+400) and Patriots (+250) have better odds to win the conference in 2018. You could certainly argue that there’s some value here, but I personally would rather take my chances on Houston at +1800 to win it all than to take them to win the AFC at +850.
Odds to Win the AFC South: +185
I don’t think it would surprise anyone if the Texans reclaimed the top spot in the AFC South. The thing is, it’s not going to be easy overtaking the Jaguars in the division. Jacksonville is one of the most talented teams in the league that looks even stronger than the one that won the AFC South last year.
With that said, oddsmakers are giving the two teams a pretty equal shot at winning the division, as the Jaguars have just slightly better odds at +180. I personally think it’s a complete toss-up and there’s just not enough value for me to get involved with this prop bet.