There is no such thing as a dynasty in the NFL – but there is a country club. The structure of the NFL makes it easy for a handful of established teams to stay in power for an extended period, while at the same time keeping the door open for new members to join the circle. The Houston Texans are that new team for 2012.
As of Week 12, Houston owned the best record in the AFC at 9-1 (7-3 ATS), three games ahead of the Indianapolis Colts for the lead in the AFC South Division. The Texans were also 5-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl at Bovada. Those odds reflect not just how well the team is playing, but how likely the Texans are to qualify for the playoffs.
That likelihood is close to 100 percent. In addition to holding a three-game lead in the AFC South with six games remaining, the remaining schedule is pretty soft for the Texans. The only game they might not be favored to win is in Week 14, on the road against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
Houston has been steadily working its way up the ladder since joining the NFL for the 2002 season. This is head coach Gary Kubiak’s seventh year in Houston, and his sixth season with quarterback Matt Schaub, who aside from health issues has been very reliable. The Texans finally made the playoffs for the first time last year, beating the Cincinnati Bengals (+4) 31-10 in the Wild Card round but losing 20-13 to the Baltimore Ravens (–7.5) in the Divisional round.
The Texans have one of the league’s better offenses with Schaub at the helm. He’s 31 years old with a decent arm, throwing smart passes in the short-to-intermediate range and keeping his mistakes low. Schaub is ranked No. 8 in the NFL with a 96.8 passer rating.
Houston’s running game is powered by Arian Foster, one of the very best tailbacks in the league and already a two-time Pro Bowl player entering his third full season. Foster is fourth in the NFL with 949 yards rushing, although his 3.8 yards per carry is a career-low. He’ll get about 25 carries in a typical game as the Texans control possession of the ball.
As good as the offense is, Houston’s defense is even better. The breakout star player for 2012 is defensive end J.J. Watt, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound beast from Wisconsin who’s third in the NFL with 11.5 sacks and tied for sixth with 11 passes defended. Watt is also one of the reasons the Texans are the only team in the NFL yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
The only bad mark on Houston’s report card is for special teams. Veteran place-kicker Shayne Graham was signed as a free agent at the start of the season to replace injured rookie Randy Bullock. At 34, Graham has been dependable on shorter field goals, but he’s just 6-of-10 from 40 yards or longer, and his kick-offs are easily the weakest in the NFL.
Even with the concerns on special teams, the Texans have the profile of a true Super Bowl contender. We’ll see if they can make that next step.