NFL team previews: Houston Texans

With the 2012 NFL season approaching fast, we go around the league to preview every team. Up next: the Houston Texans.

OUTLOOK

2012 is about taking the next step for the Texans, as they went to and won the franchise's first playoff game last year. Houston will go as far as quarterback Matt Schaub takes them, and Schaub was lost for the 2011 season in November, effectively crushing the Texans' Super Bowl hopes.

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Houston will look toward its dominant offensive line to establish fantasy stud Arian Foster and keep defenders off Schaub. If Schaub stays healthy, with the Texans' explosive running game and newly dominant defense, Houston is on the very short list of AFC title contenders.

OFFSEASON

Houston's free agency period graded out as a net loss, as they lost starters Mario Williams, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Eric Winston, along with two-time Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was traded to Philadelphia.

The Texans acquired former Cowboys linebacker Bradie James and former Rams punter Donnie Jones. It's difficult to believe that Houston can be a better team in 2012 after losing top-quality players in Williams, Ryans and Winston.


J.J. Watt has quickly established himself as one of the league's best defensive ends.

ROOKIES

Houston spent its first-round pick on former Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who they hope can mitigate the loss of Williams. Looking for a complement to the explosive Andre Johnson, Houston selected Ohio State wideout DeVier Posey in the second round. The Texans went with Miami (OH) guard Brandon Brooks in the third, followed by Georgia center Ben Jones. Houston rounded out its draft by selecting Michigan State wide receiver Keshawn Martin, Nebraska defensive end Jared Crick, Texas A&M kicker Randy Bullock, and Purdue offensive tackle Nick Mondek.

For the Texans to pick up where they left off in 2011, they will need major contributions from Mercilus and Posey, along with one of the two rookies on the interior line.

THE SCHEDULE

After early road trips in Weeks 2 and 3 to Jacksonville and Denver, Houston only leaves the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium once from Sept. 30 all the way until a Nov. 11 game at Chicago. The Texans have an opportunity for a quick start as the first quarter of their season has very winnable games against Miami, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

October stiffens as Houston travels to New York to take on the Jets, followed by home dates against Super Bowl contenders Green Bay and Baltimore before hitting a much needed Week 8 bye. The third quarter of their season finds the Texans with winnable games against Buffalo and Jacksonville and tough road tests in Chicago and at Ford Field with the Detroit Lions.

Houston closes with three division games in its final five as they travel to Tennessee followed by a tough road date against New England before a home date against the Minnesota Vikings, which is sandwiched around a home-and-home with the Indianapolis Colts.

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Arian Foster, running back. Foster should continue to be a fantasy and reality monster as he's poised to eclipse the 1,200-yard mark for the third consecutive season.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER

J.J. Watt, defensive end. Watt was one of the very best defensive ends in football as a rookie, and although he doesn't put up huge statistics, he makes life much easier on the rest of the Houston defense.

WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...

The Texans are clearly the most talented team in the AFC South and they'll win the division if Matt Schaub and their talented offense stays healthy.

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