The Houston Texans underachieved last year to say to the least, winning just two games in 2005. They were considered by many experts to be one of the surprise teams going into the season having increased their win total in each of the previous three seasons. The Texans went from four wins to five, to seven and only disappointed from there, winning just two games last season. A couple of the big reasons for them winning so few games last year was their schedule, and not enough playmakers on offense or defense. This losing trend should continue for 2006 as they haven’t done much in the off-season to bring in playmakers, and they play a brutal schedule again in 2006-07.
The Texans hired a new GM, Rick Smith, and a new Head Coach, Gary Kubiak. Both come from Denver’s coaching staff and each will be experiencing their first season at their new positions. Kubiak was the Broncos offensive coordinator for eleven years and owns three Super Bowl Rings (two with Denver, one with San Francisco). Smith also spent eleven seasons with Denver, one as assistant GM. Smith is a big part of Broncos success because he was head of pro personnel operations, meaning he brought in free agents and was in charge of the scouts. It obvious that by bringing in a new coach and GM the Texans are looking to somewhat rebuild and regroup after last season.
The Texans 2006 off-season hasn’t been particularly impressive. With the thought of rebuilding in 2006 they started by throwing a major curveball in the 2006 draft by drafting DE Mario Williams instead of RB Reggie Bush, who was possibly the best prospect the NFL draft has ever seen. Sure Mario Williams is an intriguing prospect but you don’t pass on Michael Jordan if he’s available. The Texans have invested a lot of time and effort in quarterback David Carr and he has been reliable in his short career, starting 59 of 64 possible games, but he can’t carry this team offensively by himself. His overall stats aren’t overly impressive to say the least. In his first two years in the league combined he’s thrown 18 touchdowns to 28 interceptions. The last two years he has been better throwing a combined 30 TD to 25 Int’s. David Carr isn’t the main problem though, it’s the fact that his offensive line is like a sieve. Carr has been sacked a league leading 208 times in four years! Domanick Davis is a good running back as he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2003-04 and 976 in eleven games last year. However, he only rushed for two touchdowns last year after combining for 21 in 2003-04. Carr and Davis give the Texans a solid backfield, (would’ve been better if Bush was back there too!) and Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds give them a couple solid receiving targets. Moulds is probably the biggest name in free agency that the Texans have acquired. He is very talented, but may be on the downside of his career as he will turn 33 in July, and saw his stats slip a little last year. 81 catches is impressive, but a 10.1 yards per reception (lowest of career) only gets him 816 yards and 4 touchdowns. With those four players the Texans offense seems pretty good, but with a terrible offensive line they’ll struggle to move the ball and score points again in 2006-07. The Texans were able to churn out a total of 253 yards per game last season, good enough for 3rd to last in NFL. Also, it’s obvious that the Texans 3rd to last rankings in passing yards per game with 139 YPG was because David Carr was not getting enough time in the pocket. Don’t expect that to change much this year as the offensive line will again be bad. Another factor that won’t help the offense in 2006 is the departure of WR Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney, leaving Johnson and Moulds as the ONLY receiving threats for the Texans.
The Texans 2006 regular season schedule is the main reason why Houston will not win over 5.5 games; they start out the first three weeks by playing Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Washington, all of which are playoff caliber type teams. The Texans also have a stretch of games between week’s number six through fifteen that see them play seven road games and only three games at home (this is after their bye week)! In that stretch, they have three straight weeks on the road and play five of six away. Along with their crazy road schedule, they play all four NFC East teams, Washington, Dallas, NY Giants, and Philadelphia, which are all playoff contenders and tough games for any team. With a schedule like this, and so many questions on offense and defense for a rebuilding team, we feel the Texans are a great bet not to win over 5.5 games.
Green Bay Packers Over 7
The Green Bay Packers would like nothing more than to forget all about the disappointing 2005 season. The Packers made some changes in the off-season starting with a new coaching staff, key free agent acquisitions, and a very good draft. With a new coach, a veteran QB in Favre, a backfield where their first four people on the depth chart aren’t injured and an overall better defense, the Packers look to take advantage of a really weak schedule and are a great pick to improve to eight or more wins in 2006-07.
The Packers look to get back to the winning form they’ve enjoyed in the past and it starts at the top with a new Head Coach in Mike McCarthy. McCarthy was a smart choice as he was a highly successful offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints (2000-04), calling plays for the most prolific offensive era in that franchise's four decades. With McCarthy calling the shots, the Saints racked up ten offensive team records and twenty five individual marks. He was named NFC Assistant Coach of the Year by USA Today in 2000, and New Orleans led the league with 432 points and 49 touchdowns in 2002 under McCarthy. There won’t be a big transition time for Favre and the rest of the Packers offense because he was Green Bay’s QB coach in 1999 and a lot of the terminology and play calling will remain the same.
Packer fans may have been skeptical when they heard that QB Brett Favre will be returning for his 16th season in 2006 after his performance in 2005. From 2000-04, Favre averaged 28 Touchdown passes to 17 interceptions, showing last years 20 touchdowns to 29 interceptions was an aberration due to injuries and a poor supporting cast. The Packers suffered injuries to all four RB’s, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher, and Samkon Gado at some point in the 2005 season. They also lost pro bowl WR Javon Walker for the season, in the first game of the year. With all of the running backs healthy and ready to step in at any time, it will definitely help the running game that struggled last year, in turn, taking pressure off Favre. Also, with the losses of his two pro bowl guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, two years ago, he was forced out of the pocket more and holes were not open for the running backs. With more experience on the offensive line the running game will greatly improve and Favre won’t have to force everything and try to win games on his own.
The biggest acquisitions that the Packers made this off-season were on the defensive side of the ball as they improved each level of the defense drastically. They picked up DT Ryan Pickett who spent his first five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Pickett will be a good run stuffer and add more depth on the Packers defensive line. He will be a reliable player as he started every game for the Rams the past four years. In the first round of the NFL Draft the Packers selected LB A.J. Hawk from Ohio State. Going into the draft experts felt Hawk was the most NFL ready player on the board and Packers were fortunate he was available to them. Hawk, a first team All-American two years in a row and the Lombardi winner in 2005 (Best LB), will be a starter and a difference maker in what was a relatively weak linebacking corps last season. In the secondary the Packers picked up S Marquand Manuel who started for the Seahawks last year and their Super Bowl caliber defense. Probably the biggest addition for Green Bay is CB and former 1st round selection Charles Woodson. Anyone who watches the Packers knows that the Packers secondary really needed another good corner to start opposite Al Harris. With the Packers improving and adding depth to all three levels of the defense we can only see them being better in 2006.
The final reason why Packers will improve greatly in 2006 is their weak schedule. The NFC North division is particularly weak with the Bears, Vikings and Lions all unpredictable and all very beatable. They also play the relatively weak NFC West teams, St Louis, Arizona, San Francisco, and Seattle. None of those teams had winning records other than Seattle. With nine of the Packers sixteen opponents winning less than six games last year the Packers have a great shot at a .500 or better record in 2006.