Thumbing through my Twitter timeline early on Friday morning, someone re-tweeted a Q&A from Esquire magazine. The subject, none other than J.J. Watt. There wasn't a whole lot in there that we hadn't heard or read from J.J. before, but the very last question and J.J's response got me thinking.
Esquire asked him what the challenges were heading into training camp in 2016. J.J. responded that they just wanted to head to training camp and start out fast.
That's something that we've heard the Texans players and coaches talk a lot about in this offseason. Think back to how the team finished 2014 with two sterling victories against Baltimore and Jacksonville and winning four of the last five, five of the last seven. The common held belief was that the Texans could and needed to capitalize on that momentum heading into 2015.
Consequently, a 2-5 start nearly ended the season before the end of October. Another outstanding finish allowed the Texans to win the AFC South and a berth in the 2015 playoffs.
All that said, how important is a strong start to the season? How valid is the common-held belief that a strong start to the season leads to an outstanding longer season? I went back in time and looked at the last few championship teams in the NFL and found that there's a common thread for the most part: getting out of the gate fast.
The 2015 Broncos won their first seven games and ten of their first 12 games.
The 2015 runner-up Panthers won their first 15 games.
The 2014 Patriots did have that season-changing hiccup in Kansas City early in the season, but won two of their first three games and eight of their first 10 games.
The 2013 Seahawks won their first four games and 11 of their first 12 games.
The 2012 Ravens won five of their first six games and nine of their first 11 games.
The 2011 Giants won two of their first three games and six of their first eight games.
That common thread amongst those teams, minus the Panthers? They all won a Super Bowl in those years.
So, why? Why does that fast start lead to a ring and a trip to the White House? It boosts confidence for the rest of the year, creates distance in the standings from opponents, helps earn the team a bye to start the playoffs and/or allows those teams to play home playoff games throughout the postseason. It seems obvious, but the result truly bore that out.
Now, the Texans have shown they can rebound from a slow first quarter, and first half, of the season to make something special happen at the end of the year. But take a look at one other thing. At the halfway mark of the season, each team noted above was 6-2 or better.
2015 Broncos - 8 - 0
2015 Panthers - 8 - 0
2014 Patriots - 6 - 2
2013 Seahawks - 7 - 1
2012 Ravens - 6 - 2
2011 Giants - 6 - 2
As such, The Texans have been 4-4 and 3-5 out of the box the past two years. The last team to win a championship with a .500 record or better at the halfway mark of the season was the 2001 New England Patriots. That was Tom Brady's first year as a starter and he didn't make his first start until Week 3. The Patriots then went 11-3 the rest of the way.
As such, J.J. and each and every Texan that's talked about a fast start may not have known these exact numbers, but it completely validates how important that fast start is in the NFL.
When you hear that in training camp from here on out, you'll understand that's not just player or coach speak. It's the reality in this league. It doesn't mean the season's over at 3-5 as the Texans found out last year. Furthermore, a fast start doesn't guarantee success, as the 2015 Panthers and 2012 Texans found out. But, the way this team has improved over the second half of the past two seasons and plays its best ball late in the year, combined with a strong start could lead to a significant, uh...something in 2016.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 11/23/2020)