This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.
The Houston Texans have been a popular pick to have a bounce back season in 2018 after being decimated by injuries in 2017. The long injury report included superstar DE JJ Watt, the underrated LB Whitney Mercilus, and the star rookie quarterback, DeShaun Watson. Although the Texans high first round selection was defaulted to the Cleveland Browns as part of the Watson trade, that does not mean that the Texans went without adding a difference maker in the offseason. Former Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu signed a one year “prove it” deal with the Texans after the Cardinals did not match the money he was looking for in a long-term contract extension. Mathieu has made NFL All-Pro teams in the past, but his injury history deterred the Cardinals to commit to an extension. Mathieu will be out for blood this season, and I expect this to be his best season to date.
The offensive unit is an interesting one. DeAndre Hopkins, when he has consistent quarterback play, has the ceiling to be the best receiver in the game. Before Watson suffered his injury, he and Hopkins proved to be nearly unstoppable, connecting for seven touchdowns in the seven games the two played together. WR Will Fuller, who was out for the first three games of last season, has also shown the ability to take the top off the defense. The backfield of Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue will continue to hold their own. The big question for this offense will be the poor offensive line play carrying into 2018. Former Texans quarterback Tom Savage was pulled at halftime of the first game of the 2017 season due to the fact the offensive line had no chance of protecting him, and at least Watson is athletic enough to evade defenders by scrambling, like the way Russell Wilson has had to do with the Seahawks. This is not promising when your young franchise quarterback is coming off a torn ACL. I fully expect this offense to produce big numbers, but do not be surprised when elite defenses like the Jacksonville Jaguars neutralize this offense by exposing their fatal flaw, the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, it all comes down to one thing: STAYING HEALTHY. The Texans have four potential Pro Bowlers in Watt, Mercilus, Mathieu, and LB Jadeveon Clowney. The problem is all of them have battled injuries within the last two years. Second year LB Zach Cunningham looks to improve upon his rookie season and become the leader in the middle of the defense, while veterans like CB Johnathan Joseph and SS Kareem Jackson lead the secondary along with Mathieu. The potential is there, but the NFL season is a long one, and only time will tell if the roster will weather the storm to make a run in January.
I am a DeShaun Watson believer. He is a winner. He torched two elite Alabama defenses on the biggest stage in college football. One time he won on the final play of the game where he rolled out and threw a flare to his tight end, and another appearance where the best head coach in college football history was forced to attempt an onside kick to prevent Watson from getting the ball back. The dude is the real deal, and if none of this is proof, just remember the Cleveland Browns passed on him. That should tell you all you need to know.
The Jags are too good this year, but the wild card is where I have the Texans slotted in 2018.
Favorite Potential Storyline: DeShaun Watson MVP hype after he beats the Patriots week one. I think Watson has a good year, but you know everyone is going to go bananas if the Texans head into Foxborough week one and Watson shines. Alex Smith did the same thing to the Patriots last season in week one, and to Smith’s defense, he lived up to that hype for the first half of the season, but Watson is still young, and he might need some guys that can protect him before he can take the next step.
Prediction: 11-5 (2nd in AFC South, 5th seed in AFC Playoffs)
The Indianapolis Colts are my “one year away” team in the AFC. Chris Ballard is in year two of his tenure as the general manager of the organization after being a key cog of the Kansas City Chiefs rebuild to relevance. Ballard has proven his ability to take a team from mediocracy to a contender in a relatively short amount of time. The team will be led by former offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, Frank Reich, after New England Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, got cold feet and decided to stay with the Pats. Reich was a quarterback for the Colts during his playing career and is familiar with what is expected throughout the franchise.
The big question that everyone has, and all that really matters, is if Andrew Luck is going to return to form after not being a factor for the team that past two seasons. Luck looked good during his first preseason performance, and all reports out of camp tend to follow that notion. The Colts are making it a priority of making sure Luck will stay upright, spending their first-round draft pick on a sure-fire talent in LG Quenton Nelson. They also drafted RG Braden Smith in the second round. Luck’s health is the only chance of the Colts to turn this franchise around. T.Y. Hilton is one of the best playmakers in the league, Marlon Mack showed the ability to be every down back last season, and the tight end unit, one of Luck’s favorite places to go in the offense, can be productive with Jack Doyle and former Lions first round pick, Eric Ebron.
The defense is young. Really really young. Jabaal Sheard is unanimously their biggest gamechanger in the front seven, but other than that, the Colts are heavily relying on young talent and unproven veterans to produce week to week, which is concerning. Malik Hooker showed his star potential early last season before his ACL injury, and I fully expect him to come back, and make another major leap toward his Ed Reed comparisons coming out of the 2017 draft. The secondary will be led by Hooker, and second round selection from 2017, Quincy Wilson. The defense has too many questions for my liking to think the Colts can compete for a playoff spot this season.
The NFL misses Andrew Luck, and I am excited to see how he bounces back from multiple shoulder surgeries. If he returns to form, I could see GM Ballard going all out next offseason trying to fill major voids in the roster through free agency and addressing the rest of those weaknesses through the 2019 draft. Luck at full strength is a top five quarterback in this league. With Luck’s potential and Ballard’s brain, I think Colts fans should set their eyes on 2019. All the old veteran quarterbacks will be a year older (Brady, Rivers, Big Ben), and the Colts could have a franchise quarterback entering his prime, and a significant amount of cap room to spend. The future is bright Indianapolis… maybe.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Andrew MF Luck. Enough said.
Prediction: 5-11 (4th in AFC South)