The Texans have been one of the league's most popular underdogs for years, and they're coming off the first winning season in their eight-year history. After narrowly missing the playoffs, the Texans feel like they've got the squad in place to make a run in 2010, so let's take a closer look at Houston on the 23rd stop of NESN.com's 32-day ride through the NFL.
2009 Record: 9-7 (missed playoffs)
2010 Schedule Difficulty: Their opponents went a combined 140-116 (.547 winning percentage) in 2009, which is tied for the most difficult schedule in the NFL.
Key Additions: Cornerback Kareem Jackson (draft), running back Ben Tate (draft), kicker Neil Rackers
Key Losses: Cornerback Dunta Robinson, running back Ryan Moats, quarterback Rex Grossman
Burning Question: Is this the year? The Texans have a heck of an offense, which ranked fourth in yards and 10th in points in 2009, but their defense is still marginal (13th in yards and 17th in points). Marginal doesn?t really cut it in a division with the Colts. After losing Dunta Robinson and replacing him with rookie Kareem Jackson, it's hard to wonder how the Texans could have really upgraded in the secondary, which was their weakest area.
The optimism in Houston is fantastic, and there's so much young talent in the organization, which will translate to some good teams for a few seasons. The Texans' 2010 schedule is absolutely mortifying, though, and this young and developing team will have to bring it every single week. The feeling here is they'll come up short yet again.
2010 Outlook: You've got to love the core in place with quarterback Matt Schaub, wide receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels, defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, among others. Houston's success might really rely upon Steve Slaton's two left hands or Ben Tate's ability to emerge as a starting running back. With too many deficiencies in the secondary, the Texans are going to have to continue putting up 30 points on a weekly basis, and their running game needs to complement Schaub's big arm.