Reasons To Believe
1. Defensive Front Seven - If the Texans' defence is anything, it is young and fast. In his first season as defensive coordinator, Phillips used his defences strengths to pressure opposing offences into creating mistakes. The play of Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Brian Cushing – who combined for 33.5 sacks – will allow the Texans to absorb the loss of former first overall pick Mario Williams to Buffalo via free agency, relatively easily. The selection of Mercilus gives Phillips yet another piece to play with.
2. Offensive Playmakers - The combination of Kubiak's run schemes with the offensive talent the Texans feature make the unit one of the most formidable in the league. Johnson and Foster are two of the best at their position and Schaub has thrown for 83 touchdowns and 52 interceptions in 64 career games in Houston. The Texans big three each lost games due to injury in 2011, so if they are able to stay on the field, Houston's offensive output for 2012 should be even better than last season.
3. Onwards And Upwards - After falling short of expectations in previous seasons, the Texans finally got over the hump in 2011. Peyton Manning's neck injury may have had something to do with the Texans' rise (the Colts had won the South seven of the last eight years before Manning's injury). Still, Houston's divisional title and Wild Card playoff game win propelled the franchise to a new level. They are now the divisional favorite and have the pieces to contend for a Super Bowl.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Where's The Action? - The Texans success on offense is based around running the ball and passing off of play-action. The team was second in the NFL in rushing yards last season, but lost the right side of their offensive line in the off-season, including pro bowl tackle Eric Winston. Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler are being counted on to fill the holes, but that is a lot to ask from a pair of career backups. If the two struggle, the run game will suffer and that may lead to further offensive problems.
2. Receiver Depth - Despite all his talent, Johnson is entering his 10th NFL season and has missed 12 games over the past two years. Following the loss of Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter is locked into the No. 2 receiving role, but after him the Texans are depending on rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin. Another injury to Johnson – he had off-season knee surgery and has battled a groin injury in camp – would put even more pressure on Houston's run game to produce and that may be asking a lot.
3. Road Tests - After their playoff win last season, the Texans will not be sneaking up on anyone in 2012. Although the Colts and Jaguars should provide four games in which they Houston will be heavy favourites, the Texans' schedule outside of the division will provide a test. A winning record in road games versus the Broncos, Jets, Bears, Lions and Patriots will almost certainly ensure a second straight playoff berth.
What To Expect
Barring significant injuries on both sides of the ball, the Texans should expect to make their second straight playoff appearance in 2012. The defence will only get better, so Houston's playoff chances will likely depend on whether Schaub can elevate his performance in the post-season – a time of year where he has yet to make a single start.