Today, we turn our attention to the Houston Texans, the AFC's Texas representative, and see if they can finally get over the playoff hump.
The Skinny: Well, it's year 4. Time for the Texans to prove that they have what it takes to win. The wide recievers are finally in place, the quarterback is there, the running back is there, the defense is there, but unfortunately, the offensive line will continue to hold this team back. You can't win in the NFL when your quarterback is constantly on his back.
Starter: David Carr has the talent to be one of the NFL's best. The problem hasn't been Carr, so much as it's been the talent around him. Domanick Davis has emerged as a great compliment and Andre Johnson has emerged as a great reciever, so if the offensive line gives him time, he should finally show his stuff. (That's a big if, though) Grade: B+
Depth: B.J. Symons has a banged up throwing shoulder and Dave Ragone has taken few NFL snaps. Tony Banks isn't consistent enough to be a backup. With David Carr likely to get injured no thanks to their o-line, this should have been shored up. Grade: D
Starter: Domanick Davis has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, and is considered one of the top backs in terms of fantasy players, but Football Outsiders ranked him 20th last year in DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement, similar to VORP for pitchers), which was behind a few backs that platoon. Grade: B-
Depth: Vernand Morency was a dependable back at Oklahoma State and performed well even against the likes of Oklahoma and Texas. Jonathan Wells led the team in rushing in 2002 before Davis' emergence, and Tony Hollings, when healthy, should be in the mix. Grade: B
Starters: Andre Johnson was a Pro Bowler last year, and Corey Bradford has decent hands, and can find the first down marker. Grade: A
Depth: Watch out for Rookie Jerome Mathis in 3-reciever sets with his oh-my-goodness-did-you-see-that 4.28 40-yard speed. Grade: A
Starter: Mark Bruener is a blocking first tight end, but if Chris Palmer is smart, he'll figure out that he's a decent safety valve as well. Grade: C+ until Palmer figures out how to utilitze the Tight End.
Depth: Bernie Joppru is finally healthy, but no one's sure if he can be the red zone threat the Texans need. Grade: F
Starters: Maybe it's the curse of Tony Boselli (who never played a down with the Texans, yet counted against their salary cap enough to make the Texans bargain hunters), but this offensive line has never given their quarterbacks enough time. Ever. 140 sacks in a 3 year period. Even worse, the Texans knew this and didn't draft anyone or sign anyone in free agency to address the problem. Perhaps it's time for Texans fans to demand Charlie Casserly's head. Grade: F
Reserves: The backups are no better, having already allowed one QB to get injured this preseason. Grade: F
Starters: NT Seth Payne and DE Gary Walker have been in and out of the lineup with injuries, but DE Robaire Smith is solid. Grade: C
Depth: Rookie Travis Johnson should help in a part-time role. Grade: B
Starters: While they lose Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman, free agent acquisitions Morlon Greenwood and former OLB Kailee Wong should solidify the inside. If current OLBs Antwan Peek and Jason Babin can develop on schedule, this should be a great unit. As it stands Grade: C+
Depth: Any injuries will kill this unit: Grade: D-
Starters: Phillip Buchanon, who came over to the Texans in a draft day trade, will make this unit much, much better. Dunta Robinson played well enough last year to get Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration. Grade: A
Depth: Demarcus Faggins (no comments about the man's name if he gets burned) needs to prove himself as a nickel corner, but he has the physical tools. Grade: B
Starters: Texas Tech's Marcus Coleman, a physical corner, now must make the transition to safety. As good as Coleman has been, being a safety in coverage is different than being a cornerback in coverage. Plus, he has to tackle running backs in addition to recievers. Also an unknown quantity is Glenn Earl, who will be the starter for a full season. Grade: C
Depth: Very shaky behind these two Grade: F
Kicker: Since moving indoors, Kris Brown has proven to be an inconsistent kicker. Guess it wasn't just Heinz Field after all. Grade: D
Punter: Chad Stanley has been injured, but should be fine this year. Grade: C
Returners: Reggie Swinton and Phillip Buchanon will help an average return game. So could Jerome Mathis if he wins a kickoff return spot. Grade: B
Head Coach: Dom Capers' defensive philosophies and game management are the reason this team isn't competing for a #1 pick. Grade: B-
Offensive Coordinator: I've never understood why Chris Palmer is considered a top coordinator. He's the prime reason Tim Couch never lived up to his potential, and he's basically running a vanilla offense in Houston. Grade: D
Defensive Coordinator: Vic Fangio is one of the leading experts on the 3-4 today. Most teams are transitioning to the 3-4, Fangio's already thinking of new wrinkles. Grade: A-
Best Record Guess: With a defense this good, and a decent running game, there's no reason why they can't win 8 games. But with an offensive line that can't pass protect, 8 games is the most they can win. 8-8, good enough for 3rd.
The Rest of the South
Indianapolis: With one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, a record setting offense, Indy will be back in the playoffs, but their defense will cost them a few games. Best Guess: 10-6, winning the division on tie breaker.
Jacksonville: Matt Jones? Who? Matt Jones? Who? Byron Leftwitch's new target. Should be a much improved offense with Jones, Jimmy Smith, and Reggie Williams making up one of the best receiving corps in the league. Defense made some key upgrades along the line. Best Guess: 10-6
Tennessee: It takes at least one year to transition to a new offense, and Tennessee's defense isn't in a position to carry them during the transition Best Guess: 4-12
Next: Part 10: NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
Back: Part 8: AFC North, AFC East, AFC West