Sam Schneider | May 24th, 2020
Memories are short among NFL fans. Many do not even recall that the Houston Texans finished the 2019 season with a division championship at 10-6 and beat an upstart Buffalo Bills team in the first round of the playoffs. Following that, they went up by 21 points in the divisional round before the eventual SBLIV Champion Kansas City Chiefs went on a rampage and sent them packing. A tumultuous offseason then erased those memories for fans outside of Texas.
Of course, the biggest news was Bill O’Brien trading DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a package that included David Johnson. The fans were understandably perturbed as Hopkins and Deshaun Watson were the dynamic duo of the franchise. That said, we are not here to re-hash the offseason moves. I’ve got five bold predictions for the AFC South defending champs in 2020, so buckle up and have a look at what might be in store for this season.
Make sure to check out all of our other team bold predictions here.
Duke Johnson eclipses 1,000 yards rushing
It is going to be Duke, not David. As we already know, David is a big back who (when healthy) has been dynamic, but 2020 is going to be another entry in the injury books for him and I believe Duke will take over. Fans across the league are fond of labeling a running back as a “change-of-pace” or “pass-catcher”. Duke filled that role in Cleveland and then also did so in Houston last season. He has never really been given the chance he deserves as a featured back. He is the same size as Dalvin Cook, outweighs Melvin Gordon, and is taller than Marlon Mack. It is time to start seeing him as the hard-nosed runner that he really is. He pops off for just over 1,000 yards in 2020.
Bill O’Brien is fired after four games
The schedule-makers did not do Houston any favors in early matchups for this season. The fans are already calling for O’Brien’s head after the Hopkins trade. When the Texans get out to an 0-4 start against the likes of the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Vikings, the writing is on the wall. Ownership has the fodder they need to send him packing, much to the satisfaction of Battle Red Nation. The bright spot in the early going is that the defense appears to be a cohesive unit, though they are often victimized by short fields. Thanks to the defensive gusto, assistant head coach Romeo Crennel takes over in the interim and stays in the position for the remaining 12 games.
Whitney Mercilus logs 12 sacks
The ninth-year linebacker will have a resurgence of sorts, thanks in part to J.J. Watt being on the field for all 16 games. Considering his longevity in the league, Mercilus did have a solid 2019. His 7.5 sacks, two interceptions, and 16 hits on the quarterback was all done with Watt missing half of the season. The Texans front is still stout and with Watt playing every game in 2020, the opposition will be looking for him with double-teams. The oft-blitzing Mercilus will set up shop in the backfield and wreak havoc on the quarterback while adding plenty of tackles-for-loss on running backs.
Isaiah Coulter leads the team in receiving
The Texans are no strangers to wideout injuries. Kenny Stills (hamstring), Keke Coutee (same), Will Fuller (same but even more often) all missed time in 2019. They traded for Brandin Cooks who was not the same guy last year after a pair of concussions. It appears that free-agent signee Randall Cobb (3 years, $27 million) is the focal point going forward but Coulter (6’3”, 190lbs) is the closest thing to Hopkins on the current roster. The former Rhode Island Ram has the size and moxie to be a star wideout in the league. He likely won’t start on day one (especially with an abbreviated offseason) but when O’Brien is shown the door and the inevitable injuries start creeping in, he locks down a starting spot that he’s not likely to give up. If he develops a solid rapport with Watson, lookout.
Houston makes the playoffs
A lot needs to happen here, as there will be significant competition in the AFC, but with an extra playoff spot starting this year, it is far from outlandish. This is a team that won their division in 2019 and still has talent on both sides of the ball, including a star quarterback in Watson and an underrated line. If Houston dodges the injury bug (at least mostly) and gets production from Johnson and Johnson, they nab a Wild Card. With some regression in Tennessee and an uninspiring season from Philip Rivers in Indianapolis, they contend for the division title again.
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