The Houston Texans are the most "under-the-radar'' team in the history of back-to-back NFL division winners, and in the estimation of the venerable John McClain of The Houston Chronicle, coach/GM Bill O'Brien "could have his best team'' ever in 2020.
But in addition to the Colts, Jaguars, Titans and the rest - starting with the league's September 10 season-opener at Kansas City - contending teams are this year faced with a most unique foe.
Who will be the big winner this season?
“I think it’s going to be the team that can keep the virus out,” O'Brien said as the team prepped for another challenge, the scheduled Thursday night scrimmage at NRG Stadium, plans that are being threatened by Hurricane Laura. “I think it’s going to be the team that can be in the best shape, the team that can improve from week to week. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Texans finished 11-5 and 10-6 in the last two seasons, and in addition to those two division wins, they've captured the AFC South in four of the last five seasons. In this time of league parity, that's almost dynastic. But ... they still haven’t advanced beyond the divisional round of the playoffs, and still haven't participated in an AFC Championship Game.
Super Bowl LV is of course the eventual goal. Surviving the first-month gauntlet of opponents - after Kansas City comes Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. - is a more immediate goal. But right now? O'Brien and his staff are attempting to teach and evaluate in most unusual circumstances in a football summer crunched by, and a world occupied by, the justifiable efforts to correct social injustices, by weather problems and by the coronavirus pandemic.
As the coach noted recently, "It's definitely challenging. It's definitely different. I think with the roster you have right now, this is basically your team.''
All of it adds up to some odd obstacles ... but some awesome opportunities.
“It’s a weird year,” O’Brien said. “It’s not the players’ fault. We’ve worked to get in better shape. We’re trying to do the best job we can to keep our injuries down, soft tissue (injuries) especially.”
Keep the injuries down. Keep the opponents down. And "keep the virus out.''