The Houston Texans have most of the pieces to make a championship run, but can they all stay on the field for once?
As the old adage goes, your best ability is availability in the National Football League. If the Houston Texans can get some of that from their best players this season, they might very well be playing into February.
The Texans appeared primed for a postseason run a year ago, but injuries derailed those dreams. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were injured on the same drive in a Week 5 game, scuttling both for the campaign. Less than a month later, Deshaun Watson suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact practice, putting him on the shelf and Tom Savage under center. The result was predictable. Losses.
Houston finished 4-12 but didn’t even have the customary silver lining of high draft picks, having traded away its first-round choice for Watson and it’s second-round selection as a penalty for signing Brock Osweiler. Still, the roster is brimming with talent on both sides of the ball, after retaining all key players while adding Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin to the secondary.
In short, the Texans have the best roster in the AFC … if it can stay healthy.
The if is a huge one considering all the question marks in that department. Watt hasn’t played a full season since 2015, the previous two being derailed by back and knee injuries. At 29 years old, it’s fair to wonder if Watt can get back to his previous form, or anything remotely close to it.
While Mercilus was significantly injured for the first time in 2017 with a torn pec, there’s always the question of bouncing back. While not on Watt’s level, Mercilus is an important figure on the defense, totaling 19.5 sacks in the two years prior to last. His bookend, Jadeveon Clowney, has his own injury woes. The former No. 1 overall pick has played only 47 games in four seasons, making him a perennial injury risk.
Then there’s Mathieu, the headlining acquisition of Houston’s free-agent class. The Honey Badger is dynamic when right, but too often in the tub. In his five seasons, Mathieu has missed 14 games with a variety of injuries, although it must be noted he played a full season for the first time last year.
Offensively, Watson is the chief concern. While the talent is evident, so is a checkered history of being available. The national champion at Clemson tore his left ACL while with the Tigers in 2014, the same year he sustained a broken right hand. The torn ACL from 2017 was in his right knee, but the pattern of fragility continues on.
For Watson, his biggest concern should be the line charged with protecting him, easily the worst position group on the team.
All told, the Texans have the goods to dethrone the New England Patriots and storm into the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They just have to stay healthy.
Top 10 toughest quarterbacks of all time
1. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
2. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers
3. Joe Namath, New York Jets
4. Bobby Layne, Detroit Lions
5. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers
6. Norm Van Brocklin, Philadelphia Eagles
7. Steve DeBerg, Kansas City Chiefs
8. Phil Simms, New York Giants
9. Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers
10. Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskins
“I don’t know how many times I can answer this question. When they clear him, he’ll be cleared. I’m not going to put myself in a box, I’m not going to put my quarterback in a box. I’m not going to do that. And I’m not going to go on a limb and I’m not going to say that. So either ask it a different way or otherwise you’re going to get the same answer.”
– Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Carson Wentz’s status
Less than two weeks away from the NFL’s opening night, Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz hasn’t been cleared for contact. The Eagles have played coy on whether Wentz or Nick Foles will start Week 1, perhaps the biggest league-wide storyline from now until Sept. 6.
If Wentz can’t play early on, or isn’t 100 percent, the Eagles become significantly more vulnerable to NFC powerhouses such as the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. With the conference so loaded, every game is critical in the race for home-field advantage.
While Foles was terrific in the playoffs, it’s a large ask for him to repeat that performance.
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The Seattle Seahawks were founded in 1976. They didn’t win the first game after a bye week until 1995.
Info learned this week
1. Josh Allen struggles (and so do Bills) in third preseason game
The Bills aren’t likely to be very good this season, and their performance on Sunday was an indication of why. First-round quarterback Josh Allen started for Buffalo against the Cincinnati Bengals and was boxed around, sacking the Wyoming product five times in the first half.
Allen, who showed flashes throughout the preseason, got his first taste of action with the first team and struggled mightily, completing 6-of-12 attempts for 34 yards. While much of the issues can be traced to a non-existent offensive line, Allen still showed why he’s raw, and why sitting him for a year is the right decision.
Buffalo isn’t the only team that would be wise to give its rookie quarterback a virtual redshirt season. The Baltimore Ravens should (and will) allow Lamar Jackson to mature behind Joe Flacco, while Baker Mayfield should sit early on behind Tyrod Taylor for the Cleveland Browns. Mayfield has ample talent, but much like Allen in Buffalo, the supporting cast isn’t ready to help along a youngster under center.
2. Bridgewater continues to perform, earn trade value
The Jets never have a reliable quarterback. Suddenly, they appear to have two. New York is likely to start rookie Sam Darnold in Week 1 after a strong preseason, leaving veteran Teddy Bridgewater as a backup and an extremely valuable commodity.
Bridgewater, who went 11-of-15 for 104 yards against the Giants on Friday, has looked fantastic throughout the preseason. The Jets, who are without a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft after trading theirs to the Colts this spring, should be hunting for capital.
So which teams would presumably be in the market for Bridgewater? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make the most sense considering Jameis Winston is suspended and has underwhelmed when on the field (and certainly off it).
Additionally, the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals would also be intriguing options. In Denver, Bridgewater would be a quality insurance plan in case Case Keenum regresses. For the Bengals and Dolphins, he would push Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill respectively, perhaps usurping them if things go sideways.
3. Cowboys’ Frederick announces illness
On Wednesday, Dallas Cowboys All-Pro center Travis Frederick announced on Twitter that he has Guillain Barre Syndrome. The illness is thankfully curable, but expect the Cowboys to be without him for a few months, likely landing Frederick on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If that move takes place, the former University of Wisconsin star will be out for the first six weeks of the season.
Dallas is dealing with major injury issues up front. In the team’s second preseason game, guard Zack Martin was forced to leave with a knee injury that might keep him out of the season opener on Sept. 9 against the Carolina Panthers. Even if Martin returns, the absence of Frederick will be pronounced for Ezekiel Elliott and Co.
4. Jaguars should be concerned about offense
The Jacksonville Jaguars recked the AFC Championship Game last season, largely on the back of their defense and in spite of Blake Bortles. Still, management signed Bortles to a three-year extension, believing he could yet turn the proverbial corner. If the preseason is any indication — and it may well not be — that isn’t the case.
Bortles has been minding at best, throwing three interceptions over the last two weeks, including a pair against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday. In addition, the Jaguars may be without top receiver Marqise Lee for the season after an ugly knee injury. If Lee is done for 2018, Jacksonville will be without its three best receivers from a year ago, with Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson gone via free agency.
5. Decker calls it a career
Eric Decker called it quits on Sunday afternoon, announcing the move via Twitter. Decker played eight seasons in the NFL, starring with the Broncos and Jets before finishing up with the Tennessee Titans. Decker signed with the New England Patriots on Aug. 3, but he no longer felt he could contribute.
All told, the former University of Minnesota star caught 439 passes for 5,816 yards and 53 touchdowns. His best years came in 2012-13 with Peyton Manning, averaging more than 1,100 yards with 24 touchdowns in that span.
Decker won’t end up in Canton, but he had a quality career.
George Blanda played in the NFL until he was 48 years old before finally retiring in 1975, still the oldest player to grace the league. Blanda played in four decades, starting with the Chicago Bears before catching on with the Baltimore Colts, the Bears again, the Houston Oilers of the American Football League and finally, the Oakland Raiders.
During his 26 years in the NFL, Blanda played linebacker, quarterback and kicker. It’s safe to say we’ll never see the likes of him again.
No team is being more forgotten about this season than the Arizona Cardinals.
Situated in the desert with little media coverage and a middling roster, the Cardinals are the forgotten son in a large family. The play in a division loaded with stars, and yet they have only three in Chandler Jones, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. The latter is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and yet his quiet manner and intellect almost makes him to boring to turn into a headline.
Most assume the Cardinals will finish toward the bottom of the standings, something they have done for most of their history. Yet a closer look reveals a team that, with good health, could be a sneaky contender for a playoff spot. Arizona trotted out Blaine Gabbert for much of last season, didn’t have Johnson, and still went 8-8.
The Cardinals are an afterthought and understandably so, but the talent is there for a surprise run.