- J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are back from injury, and join Jadeveon Clowney to form a lethal pass rush. Expect the defense to have a major bounce-back year.
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Texans 2018 win total: 8.5 (over -130, under +110)
Texans 2017 record: 4-12
Key offseason acquisitions: CB Johnson Bademosi, WR Sammie Coates, CB Aaron Colvin, OG Zach Fulton, OT Seantrel Henderson, OG Senio Kelemete, S Tyrann Mathieu, S Justin Reid
Key offseason losses: OT Chris Clark, LB Brian Cushing, WR Bruce Ellington, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OT Breno Giacomini, S Marcus Gilchrist, QB Tom Savage, OG Xavier Su’a-Filo
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Texans’ win total
1. When Deshaun Watson tore his ACL on a mundane play in a mundane practice on November 2 of last year, effectively ending Houston’s season, the team was 3-4, with one of those losses coming in a game Watson didn’t start. The wins were over Cincinnati, Tennessee and Cleveland, while the losses were to New England, Kansas City and Seattle by a combined 14 points. In those losses, Watson led the Texans to 33, 34 and 38 points, throwing for a combined 964 yards, 10.26 yards per attempt and 14 touchdowns, while running for 139 yards on 19 carries. We’re operating on a small sample, but Watson is for real.
2. We’re not done with Watson. He started six games before we were reminded that we can’t have nice things. It’s not a stretch to say he was the best quarterback in the league when healthy. The league itself essentially said it, naming him AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. He completed just shy of 63% of his passes in his six starts, racking up 1,597 yards, 8.82 YPA and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He was a force with his legs as well, running for 253 yards and two scores on 34 carries. You should always take pace stats with a grain of salt, but those numbers but him on a 16-game trajectory for 4,248 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, 674.7 rushing yards and 5.3 scores on the ground. The guy could break the NFL.
3. The injuries in Houston weren’t limited to the offensive side of the ball. J.J. Watt fractured his tibia and missed the final 11 games of the season. Whitney Mercilus suffered a torn perctoral in that same game and joined Watt on the IR. In one fell swoop, the Texans went from having an elite pass rush to a MASH unit. The good news was that Jadeveon Clowney had the best season of his career, playing all 16 games and totaling 9.5 sacks. Imagine what he could do with Watt and Mercilus occupying some attention.
4. If there was one true weakness on this team last year, with or without Watson and not influenced by injuries, it was the offensive line. Pro Football Focus graded Houston’s offensive line as the league’s worst pass-blocking unit. Watson faced pressure at the highest rate of any quarterback last year. The second-highest? It was his backup, Tom Savage. The front office completely overhauled the line in the offseason, bringing in three new starters—right tackle Seantrel Henderson, and guards Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton. At the very least, this group can’t be worse than last year’s, and it’ll likely be significantly better.
5. Houston’s schedule is relatively navigable. The two games with Jacksonville will be challenges, but neither Tennessee nor Indianapolis is particularly imposing. The AFC South draws the East divisions in both conferences this season, which gives the Texans very winnable games against the Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Giants, Cowboys and Redskins. Thanks to their last-place schedule, they’ll also face the Browns and Broncos. The Texans are early favorites in nine games, the exact number of wins they need to hit the over.
PICK: OVER 8.5 wins