Matt Schaub has quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
For NFL odds betting handicappers and regular fans alike, the Houston Texans were an absolute rollercoaster ride to follow in 2009. They came so close to winning a number of key games and making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Instead they came up short on almost every big occasion and have to regroup for 2010.
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Overall, it was another positive year for the Texans but everyone is still waiting on them to take that next step where they establish themselves as a true contender and not just a cute sleeper team.
What Has Changed
The Texans have become mentally tougher and if that was the only thing they gained this offseason, that alone would be enough. Last year was the proverbial growing year for the young squad and they spent the offseason figuring out how to get tougher.
New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and head coach Gary Kubiak are trying to instill a killer instinct. They have been pounding the red zone offense in organized team activities to make sure that when the league’s fourth-ranked offense gets there, they don’t come away empty-handed like they did against the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009.
Both coaches are determined to improve the running game and make this team more physical. Steve Slaton is healthy, Arian Foster is now a serious candidate to be the main runner and Ben Tate, the team’s second-round pick, will figure into the backfield significantly.
Lastly, they have focused on beating their neighbors. The Texans were an impressive 5-3 on the road and 3-1 against the NFC, but they were 1-5 against the AFC South with almost all of their losses within a single score.
Those are the three keys they have worked on to get over the hump and into the NFL playoffs in 2010.
Offensive X-Factor: Matt Schaub
Many people think that the running game will be the x-factor, but truly it’s Schaub. Part of why the Texans aren’t where they want to be yet is because Schaub hasn’t been healthy throughout his career with Houston. He played just 24 of the first 32 games in the first two years but made through the entire season last year. The Texans go nowhere without Schaub, who has quietly emerged as one of the better passers in the NFL.
Defensive X-Factor: Mario Williams
No longer does anybody debate who was the better player in the 2006 NFL draft between Williams and Reggie Bush, and no longer is he a lone cowboy on the Texans defensive line. Along with Connor Barwin and Antonio Smith, the trio combined for 18 sacks. He was bothered by a shoulder injury in 2009 but still played through it to notch nine sacks and earn a Pro Bowl invite.
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The Texans have a first-year starter (Kareem Jackson) and second-year starter (Glover Quinn) at cornerback so it’s integral that Williams dominates up front to ease the pressure off of an the inexperienced tandem.
The Texans regular season betting win total is set at 8.5 and bettors know that that is a tough number. They’ll face the NFC East and AFC West this year, which isn’t too arduous, but everything is contingent on how they start.
The Texans have been saying all of the right things in the offseason and have been growing to become into a contender. If they lose at home to Indianapolis in Week 1, the wind in their sails will deflate quickly. A road trip to Washington in Week 2 and followed by a Week 3 home game against Dallas could give them an 0-3 start.
But if they can beat the Colts and gain some confidence, and get through that opening stretch 2-1, a road trip to Oakland followed by home games against the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs could see the Texans in first or second in the AFC South by the start of November.
Realistically, this team has always lacked mental toughness so don’t be surprised if they lose their opener, have a tough start to the season and make Gary Kubiak sweat for his job a little bit.
Pick: Under 8.5 Wins