What Was the Betting Line on Houston vs Tampa Bay?

With the NFL Combine officially completed, the next phase of the offseason begins for the Houston Texans. The first order of business is to take a hard look at the roster and decide which players should be kept and which should be let go. As the saying goes, “everybody has a price”, and that certainly seems to be the case with this year’s free agent class. For some players, such as linebacker Brian Cushing, the price is clear and it’s been firmly agreed to: he’ll be back with the Texans next season. For others, such as running back Arian Foster, the price will be more open to debate. If he doesn’t get paid what he thinks he’s worth, there’s a chance he could be tempted to test the bidding war that will definitely develop on the free agent market this year.

This year’s free agent class is loaded with talented players, drawn from all the major conferences, including Ohio State, who will no doubt add some spice to rivalries next season. One of the most anticipated matches is the Houston vs Tampa Bay rivalry. If there’s one team that’s going to be looking for revenge after playing poorly this year it’s going to be the Buccaneers. The Texans are going to have their hands full next year trying to keep their #1 ranked defense intact while also trying to figure out what position to address first on the offensive side of the ball.

The Offense

Offensively, it seems like the Texans are in pretty good shape. They lost a few key pieces in last year’s off-season, most notably tight end Joel Dreessen, who got a $15 million payday from the New York Jets, and running back Andre Johnson, who went to the Houston Texans for $16 million. Those are big losses, both in terms of talent and contract size, but the offense still managed to keep afloat with some inspired play-calling and a lot of volume in the box score. They finished the season 11th in total offense, averaging just over 315 yards per game. In the postseason, they were even better, averaging over 370 yards per game. Through some good fortune (not many people seem to know how to tackle DeAndre Hopkins), the offense didn’t falter even when their leaders were out of the lineup. They even managed to put up 23 points in the Wild Card game against the Titans when quarterback Matt Schaub was sidelined with a concussion.

If the offense can continue playing at this level next year, there’s no reason to believe they can’t remain a top-ten unit. They have some key additions to make, however, if they’re to continue their rise to the top. Most notably, they need to find a way to replace Johnson, who is one of the best receivers in the game today and certainly their best deep threat. He’ll be hard to replace. The Texans also signed free agent wide receiver DeVier Posey, who was previously with the New York Jets. He gives them a nice injection of speed, something they didn’t have last year and, given the right matchups, could develop into a dangerous weapon.

The Defense

The biggest loss for the Texans this year was undoubtedly at linebacker, where Cushing tore his ACL during the offseason. He was their best and, arguably, only inside linebacker, racking up 116 tackles and 6.5 sacks in the regular season. It was a major blow to the defense, not just because of Cushing’s play-making ability but also the fact he was the only person, other than J.J. Watt, who could cover running backs and wide receivers. The team also decided to bring back J.J. Watt, who had 15.5 sacks and two interceptions this year, making him the best all-around defensive end in the NFL. They’ll need more from him if they’re going to make a run at the Super Bowl next season.

Other than Cushing and Watt, the linebackers don’t really bring much experience to the table. They do have some promising talent in the pipeline, such as Vince Wilfork, Christian Covington and Benardrick McKinney, but it’s still very early in their development. If they want to continue their success next year, the Texans are going to have to continue relying heavily on their two best players on defense. Watt and Cushing are going to have to continue leading the way.

The Special Teams

Place-kicking and extra-point kicking are still done by Jason Hallett and he didn’t miss a single one this year. He was perfect in the regular season, hitting all 30 of his field goal attempts. He also converted all 21 of his extra point attempts. Hallett had a rough patch in the preseason, going 2-for-6 on field goal attempts but still managed to make all 3 extra point attempts. He was a perfect 12-for-12 in the playoffs, including the Texans only win of the year against the Titans. It was a team effort, with Devin Hester, who broke several hundred-yard receiving records this year, hauling in 7 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Wild Card game. The place-kicking is one area the Texans could use some help in. They allowed the 4th-fewest yards per punt (just over 40 yards) and 2nd-fewest yards per kickoff (just over 60 yards) in the league this year.

The coverage teams were also good this year. The Texans had the 2nd-ranked kickoff coverage team in the league, allowing just 56 average yards per kickoff return. They were also 7th in punt coverage, allowing an average of just 27.5 yards per punt. Those are all good stats for a coverage unit. The only team they didn’t fare so well against was the Denver Broncos, giving up 551 total yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground (285 and 3 passing). It was a bit of a fluky performance, as a lot of the yards and scores came against rookie sensation Demaryius Thomas, who had a standout rookie year and caught 87 passes for 1,287 yards and 8 touchdowns. Thomas torched the Texans in every way, gaining 4.24 yards per carry on his 8 carries, scoring 2 touchdowns and adding another 12 receptions for 218 yards and 2 more scores. This is the kind of matchup the Texans need to be prepared for, as Thomas is still just one man and can be taken out of the game if the defense does their job correctly. When he’s playing well, he’s almost impossible to contain.

The good news for the Texans is there are still some bargains to be had in this year’s free agent class. A few of their players, such as guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and center Nick Mangold, are still available and could be had for fairly cheap, given their experience and knowledge. If the Texans want to add some depth and competition to their roster, they should certainly consider bringing them in. There’s also a decent chance some of the undrafted free agents, such as Phillip Dorsett and Jake Bailey, could make the roster out of camp.

The offseason is an interesting time of the year. Teams around the league are making moves to add more talent and depth to their roster. Some are making bold moves, such as trading for or signing free agents. Others are looking to the draft, seeking to find gems in the later rounds. The Houston Texans have a lot of work to do, even after losing several key contributors from last year’s team, but if they keep an eye on the right opportunities, they could improve their roster significantly.