If you believe the sportsbook odds, Houston Texans fans are in for a long old season in 2022-23.
The bookmakers believe that Lovie Smith’s team have next to no chance of reaching the playoffs, and so much so that their chances of winning the Super Bowl are the lowest of any franchise in the NFL.
And that’s even accounting for the gaping opportunity that will be afforded by a weaker-than-normal AFC Conference. Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs will be strong, there’s no doubt about that, but few pundits are convinced that either Cincinnati Bengals or Tennessee Titans can emulate their achievements of 2021-22.
The Patriots are not what they once were – Mac Jones still has work to do to get anywhere close to filling the shoes of Tom Brady, while the Dolphins and Steelers are considered nothing more than outsiders in the Super Bowl betting, with odds of +4000 and +6600 reflective of that.
So the door to the playoffs via the AFC Conference is ajar… can the Houston Texans take full advantage?
Only the mediocrity of the Jacksonville Jaguars prevented the Texans from picking up the AFC wooden spoon last season, with just four wins from their 17 games representative of how far away they were from being truly competitive.
David Culley paid for that with his job, and in his place comes Smith – a 64-year-old embarking on just his third NFL head coach’s role of a long career and one that has largely been spent coordinating defensive plays. It will be interesting to see if he can beef up an otherwise fragile Texans line.
The difficulty is that Smith inherits a roster sorely lacking in star names or even emerging talent. Not a single Texan was selected for the Pro Bowl last term, and while rookie quarterback Davis Mills showed plenty of promise, he is still down the pecking order of elite QBs in the NFL.
Watch out for Mac Jones in Year 2 🚀 pic.twitter.com/r72Nl5PRrJ
— PFF (@PFF) July 26, 2022
But it often pays to stay positive. In Brandin Cooks, Mills has a wide receiver to aim for that broke through the 1,000-yard ceiling for the sixth season out of his last seven in 2021, and while at 28 his best days may be behind him as a physical force, Cooks still can make good ground for his team.
Disposing of Deshaun Watson has helped to rid the Houston franchise of the controversy that hung over them for much of the prior campaign, and there are other reasons to be cheerful – rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr is, forgive, set to be ready for the start of the new season after battling back from serious injury, and if he can reach the levels expected of him after an impressive couple of terms at LSU then the Texans may have a young star on their hands.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) July 29, 2022
Steven Nelson is a solid enough addition to the defensive line, while Jonathan Greenard has shown a propensity for making a sack or two. Combined with the coaching nous of Smith, Houston’s defensive work could be a lot more solid than many expect.
And then… well, they need Mills to kick on and become a top-tier quarterback, they need Cooks to go and have a career-defining season, and, even then, they need new pass targets to emerge from their largely youthful ranks.
But, and it’s a big but, if they do, the Texans may just surprise a few pundits writing them off as no-hopers in 2022.