Breaking Down the AFC Playoff Contenders: Houston Texans Remain Favorites in AFC South

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 02: Wide receiver Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers splits the defense of cornerback Brice McCain #21 and linebacker Brian Cushing #56 of the Houston Texans on October 2, 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.Texans won 17 to 10. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

The Houston Texans had the NFL's best coached defense in 2011.

An arbitrary statement that will likely be argued - and can be. But there wasn't a challenge they didn't rise to accept, especially when they went through a period of time in which they couldn't get a quarterback to don a Texans helmet and step on the field without maiming himself in some way.

The fact they made it as far as they did was impressive.

It was also a let-down.

Houston had the best all-around team in the AFC in 2011, if you take out the quarterback. Unfortunately for them, that position is pretty much required to play well to achieve post-season success. Rookie T.J. Yates in Baltimore was about as overmatched as any player has been in the NFL, but Houston's defense held them in it, losing by a touchdown.

They improved in many ways, too.

After losing DE Mario Williams in October, their defense rallied around a nearly unbreakable scheme, and only surrendering 30 total points in two playoff games. After letting Williams walk in free agency - a smart financial move, considering the success they had without him - they return a young nucleus of budding stars, like DE J.J. Watt, ILB Brian Cushing and CB Brice McCain.

Their offense will see another strong output, with the return of veteran QB Matt Schaub, the signing of RB Arian Foster and a healthy WR Andre Johnson. While the release of RT Eric Winston was troubling, their decision to keep C Chris Meyers around speaks to their desire to continue with a dominant zone-blocking scheme that's propelled Foster to the top of his position.

They'll likely be challenged by an up-and-coming Tennessee Titans team in the AFC South, but with Indianapolis and Jacksonville mired in rebuilding projects, taking the division again seems likely for the franchise that qualified for its first post-season berth in 2011.


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