Here's five NFL teams that will take a step forward this year, and five that will take a step back.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
No one has ever won an NFL championship in the spring and summer, and no one has ever lost one either. That’s not for lack of trying, of course.
Just ask the “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, or any of the up-and-comers pumping up their chests and thinking about a Super Bowl run. There are probably 32 teams thinking that way at the moment, even though a few of them are clearly braced for a fall.
An in-depth look at the Texans' offense, defense and special teams this year.
Gary Kubiak is in select company. It is very rare that a head coach who has only one winning season and no playoff appearances on his résumé is asked to return for a sixth season. In fact, Bart Starr of the Packers (1975-83) is the only other coach since the NFL-AFL merger to be so fortunate.
Even Kubiak thought 2010 was a “playoffs or bust” season. He was given a reprieve and a new defensive coordinator. What can he do with them?
• Inside the Locker Room
With Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle
What are the chances that Arian Foster can repeat his elite 2010 season?
One key to Foster’s breakout season was the hands-on offseason work from Texans running backs coach Chick Harris. Harris knew which buttons to push, and he played a huge role in turning Foster into a weapon. The lockout kept them apart. How Foster handled the offseason and his new fame is anyone’s guess. Remember, Foster still had mild discipline issues during the season (he was late for and missed meetings), which is why he didn’t start at Oakland. Even if Foster comes into the season ready to roll, expect his load to be lightened by Derrick Ward and 2010 second-round pick Ben Tate, who sat out the entire season because of a broken ankle. The Texans will want to keep Foster healthy, so he is unlikely to see 327 carries again. Before Foster, 31 NFL running backs had 1,600-yard seasons. Only seven of them did it two years in a row. Among those who didn’t: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
What’s the most intriguing question regarding fantasy football and this team in your opinion?
Never draft a Texans defense should be on Page 1 of any reputable fantasy football manual. That might not be the case this year, though, thanks to the arrival of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. Where Phillips goes, good defense tends to follow. The seven times Phillips has taken over as a team’s new defensive coordinator (including 2009 in the middle of his stint as the Cowboys’ head coach), the squad allowed on average 80 fewer points than it did the previous season. Deduct that many points from the 427 the Texans gave up in 2010, and you’d have the third-lowest total in team history. Phillips’ new defenses forced an average of 33 turnovers in his first season. The Texans’ franchise record for turnovers is 30 (2004).
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @CIN, CAR, @IND
Gone are the days when we used to wonder only what pass Ds were going up against the Texans (for the record, they get the 14th, 11th and 13th pass Ds from a year ago). Need anymore of a reason why Arian Foster is the No. 1 player overall? The Texans take on the 19th, 23rd and 25th run defenses during their fantasy playoff run.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Jacoby Jones, WR Deep-Sleeper: Ben Tate, RB Overvalued: DeMeco Ryans, LB Top Rookie: J.J. Watt, DL Bounce-Back: Brian Cushing, LB Top IDP: Mario Williams, DL/LB
• Try to Avoid
Owen Daniels, TE
Daniels has failed to stay healthy the last two seasons, missing 13 games over that span. In what may be the deepest year ever for tight ends, Daniels is only worth a mid-to-late-round flier as a backup. WAIT UNTIL: 11th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
After finishing 30th in the NFL in total defense, the Texans devoted most of their attention in the draft to this unit. Watt and Brooks Reed add depth to the defensive line, and both are good fits for Houston’s new 3-4 scheme. The secondary remains a huge question mark, but Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael are capable of contributing immediately. Expect the Texans to feature one of the NFL’s most-improved defenses. T.J. Yates has long-term upside but will be Houston’s No. 3 quarterback in 2011.