Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the Houston Texans.
1) The return of Deshaun Watson
The question is this: Can Watson jump back into the lineup and duplicate the spell he cast on opponents as a rookie? My answer: Why not? His 21 total touchdowns over seven games made the Texans one of the AFC's most watchable teams before Watson was lost to a torn ACL in November. The latest out of Houston is that Watson is expected to be ready for camp.
Go back and witness the two-game stretch where the first-rounder fleeced the Titans and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks for 10 scores and just one pick. Those two affairs highlighted Watson's dynamic arm strength, juicy scampering abilities and knack for the big play. He flung a touchdown on 9.3 percent of his throws last year -- best in the league -- despite seeing more pressure than any quarterback in the NFL. In his first seven games, Watson managed to throw for 8.33 yards per attempt, topping every other signal-caller around. Yes, teams have tape on him, but Watson is coming off another full offseason of absorbing the playbook and adjusting to life as a pro passer. In the start before his injury, Watson lashed Seattle's Legion of Boom for 402 yards. Expect more of the same for a quarterback whose game film doubled as a thing of beauty in 2017.
2) The return of J.J. Watt
Watt has played in a grand total of eight games over the past two seasons. It's fair to ask if the 29-year-old game-plan wrecker can operate at the level of his past glories. Watt was lost last season to a gruesome tibial plateau fracture after undergoing back surgery the previous year. Not fun, but the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has vowed to bounce back. "I feel great," Watt said in May, with a word for the doubters: "Just show up to training camp, watch how I play and then you can decide for yourself how I look."
Coach Bill O'Brien doesn't sound concerned about Watt's ability to destroy quarterbacks going forward, telling "Good Morning Football" last month: "I would never bet against J.J Watt. He's going to be back, he's going to be at full strength, and he's going to help us win a lot of games."
Until proven otherwise, I'm operating under the assumption that Watt will indeed rebound from two lost campaigns to wreak his unique form of havoc on the AFC South.
3) Jadeveon Clowney
Part 2 of Watt's return? Finally seeing him play a full season alongside Clowney, who has blossomed into one of the league's most ferocious run-stuffers and all-around defensive assets. With pass rusher Whitney Mercilus also back in the mix after missing all but five games last season with a torn pec, the Texans have the requisite power up front to drive enemies wild. The team also added cornerback Aaron Colvin and hyper-versatile defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. Houston needs all these guys to stay healthy, but the potential is there: Visions of Watt teaming with a height-of-his-powers Clowney are enough to keep AFC coordinators up at night.
4) The magical powers of DeAndre Hopkins
This ugly list of names packed Houston's clown car of subpar arms before Watson arrived to save the day.
But here's the thing about DeAndre Hopkins: While lesser skill-position players fade away without a quality quarterback on the field, Hopkins is the opposite. He's a week-to-week top-four wideout because of his consistently brilliant play no matter who's throwing the ball.
What he can achieve with Watson at the controls is the stuff of imagination.
5) Bill O'Brien
The presence of a powerful, dynamic quarterback tends to make everyone look good -- especially coaches.
O'Brien endured his share of rough patches when forced to sell us Hoyer vs. Mallett as anything other than a raging farce. That ugly chapter of "Hard Knocks" aside, O'Brien has proven himself to be a talented play-caller. After three straight nine-win seasons with nothing but junk under center, we (briefly) saw what O'Brien could achieve with a player like Watson at his disposal.