HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but it seemed no sooner than the Texans had exited Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium as second-round playoff losers the hype for this season started.
Simply advancing to the AFC Championship game for the next step was too modest. The city, the Texans fans and even some so-called NFL experts had the Texans as the early favorites to win the Super Bowl this season.
What’s interesting is those through-the-roof predictions have only gained more traction as the Texans get ready to enter their “Season of Great” on Sunday when they open the season against the Miami Dolphins at Reliant Stadium.
While the city and the fans are abuzz, the Texans coaching staff and players are doing their best to put the noise on mute and focus on the enormous challenge that is the NFL schedule.
“You can’t sleep on any team in this league,” said Texans left tackle Duane Brown. “You can’t look at what you’ve done against any team in the past. You’ve got to take every game one game at a time and respect every opponent you have. We know we’re not going to play a perfect game, but we’re just trying to come out and execute. We’re not so much worried about what they’re going to do, but how we can produce.”
The first opponent seems easy enough for the heavily favored Texans, who get a struggling franchise and a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill entering Reliant Stadium. It’s easy to count this one in win column well before the noon kickoff on Sunday.
But Texans 10-year veteran Andre Johnson cautions anyone from being over confident and listening to the hype. He remembers his rookie season when the Texans – a second-year franchise at the time –went on the road as the biggest underdogs of NFL opening weekend to face a Miami Dolphins team that was favored by 14 points.
The Texans came away the talk of the opening weekend when they shocked the Dolphins and the NFL with a 21-20 win over the Dolphins after Kris Brown booted a 35-yard field with 25 seconds remaining.
“When I think about this game, I think about my rookie year, when we went down there and played them and everybody was saying they were going to win the Super Bowl,” said Johnson, who caught six balls for 76 yards in his NFL debut in front of his home town that day. “We didn’t have a chance. One article said it was going to be like a scrimmage game. We went out and beat them and they didn’t make the playoffs that year.
“So that’s what I think about when I think about this week alone. We are in the same position they were in when I was a rookie. You can’t overlook anybody in this league. I know that and we know that as a team.”
The Texans can’t take much for granted. They finally made the playoffs for the first in franchise history last season, but like most NFL teams had to make some tough decisions in the offseason, which creates some question marks.
The right side of the offensive line had to be remade, while defensively stalwarts Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans are no longer on the team.
Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub returns after suffering a season-ending foot injury last November that forced him to miss the team’s run to the playoffs and the playoffs. And while it is difficult to admit, Johnson may not still be his Pro Bowl self after a series of hamstring injuries and knee injuries forced him to miss a chunk of last season and much of the preseason.
It also can’t go unnoticed that while the Texans do have a couple of promising young receivers the team did not go out and get that veteran receiver to take the pressure off Johnson and solidify the their Super Bowl hopes.
As it is in the NFL, there are few guarantees. There may be even fewer for a team that still has much to prove.
But there is no question this Texans team certainly has the firepower on offense and a strong enough defense to reign supreme in the AFC South again and take its place as one of the top teams in the league.
“My message always to our guys, and they know this, if we play good, then we can beat anybody,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “If we don’t play good, then you’re going to get beat in this league.”
But with standout players like running back Arian Foster, linebacker Brian Cushing, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, safety Danieal Manning, defensive ends Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, Brown, Schaub and Johnson the pieces seem to be in place for a special run.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” Brown said of this team’s potential. “I think we have all the potential in the world to be a great offense.
“Like I said, it’s just about executing. You’re not just going to show up out there and have a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns; you’ve got to execute the plays that they call and you’ve got to sit them down up front, and the quarterback, running back and receivers have to do their thing.”
If those things happen and the Texans have a little bit of luck perhaps they can end up in this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans. But to a man the Texans say the Super Bowl hasn’t even been a discussion to this point and probably won’t be there until the playoffs.
“We have the right guys in this locker room, the right leadership,” Schaub said. “The coaching staff has really made sure to just keep our focus on the next at hand. Whether it be throughout training camp, the next practice, the next play, next preseason game to get ourselves as best we can be ready week one. I think we’re there. No one once training camp hit has any focus down the road. We know it’s one game at a time.”