ESPN’s KC Joyner, in his clearly infinite wisdom, has chosen the Houston Texans as one of his two "sleeper" teams that should be on every fan’s radar as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2016. Prognostications like that are not shocking nor unusual for fanatical Texans supporters like myself, but seeing some members of the mainstream national media finally start to drink that Kool-Aid for once is certainly refreshing. Here is what Joyner had to say about Houston’s chances to bring home the Lombardi next year.
"It might seem odd to call a team that made the playoffs last season a Super Bowl sleeper, but the Texans' middle-of-the-pack ranking in the current 2017 Super Bowl odds indicate that their playoff berth failed to change the perception that this club is not a title contender. That should not be the mindset surrounding this team, as the Texans are well situated to mimic the 2015 Denver Broncos' championship path."
"Last season, Houston posted upper-tier totals in a wide variety of important defensive metrics. The Texans ranked third in percentage of opponents' drives that ended in a score (27.3 percent), sixth in points allowed per drive (1.5), fourth in Total QBR allowed (44.0) and tied for fourth in yards allowed per play (5.0). No defense forced teams to end a drive with a punt more frequently (51 percent), or allowed a lower third down conversion percentage (28.5 percent). As long as the Texans' defense plays at or near that level, Houston has an outside chance of going deep into the playoffs, but what puts this team at the top of the Super Bowl sleepers list is its offensive improvements."
Houston has a stronger offensive line, more stable quarterback situation, and certainly more speed at the skill positions on paper than Denver did last year. On the other side of the ball, considering that this Texans defense was actually statistically better than that elite Broncos’ unit over the back half of the 2015 season (thanks in large part to the benching of Rahim Moore), predicting them to repeat Denver’s historic championship run is not that far-fetched. In fact, from Week Eight onward (after Moore was removed from the lineup), the Texans allowed only 12.7 points per game in their last nine contests, including allowing only six points to their opponents in five of those games. Contrast that with the Broncos, who in that exact same stretch of the season allowed a fairly pedestrian 20.4 points per game.
In short, the Texans played their best defense when they needed to the most, while Denver’s defense regressed to being slightly above average while they were in the middle of a fight for the first seed in the AFC. Were it not for a legendary resurgence by that unit in the postseason, the Broncos may not have even made it out of the divisional round, let alone won the Super Bowl. If the Texans can repeat their incredible second-half performance in 2016 and actually sustain their amazing production over the course of the entire year, they may actually outdo that historic Broncos run by a considerable margin. Crazier things have happened, after all.
Damn, this Kool-Aid tastes good.