The Texans are entering new territory. Their defense is expected to be immensely improved under new coordinator Wade Phillips. The finely-tuned offense is humming on idle, waiting to tear up the regular season.
Heck, some experts are even saying they might win the division. And what's this? Peyton Manning won't be starting at quarterback in Sunday's opener against the Indianapolis Colts? It seems everything is clicking into place for the Texans -- finally.
Still, Texans defensive players aren't celebrating that Manning won't play in the opener, even though the Colts quarterback has been one of the most destructive forces against their team over the years.
Manning has a 16-2 record against the Texans, including a pair of escape acts at Reliant Stadium in 2008 and 2009.
It's definitely strange, but count on coach Gary Kubiak to keep his team focused inward.
"It's not weird to get ready for the Colts," Kubiak said. "We do it twice a year. It's always a good football game between us. Everybody's got problems this time of year. We've got ours, too. You've got to get your guys ready to play."
It will still be an adjustment when Kerry Collins lines up under center on Sunday. Collins has history against the Texans, too. He's 3-2 against them when he quarterbacked the Tennessee Titans.
Then again, Collins is 0-7 against Wade Phillips-coached defenses.
"He's a helluva player," Kubiak said. "He's been successful against us. My focus is on our football team. We've got to get ourselves ready to play. It doesn't matter who you play, it's how you play."
Texans defensive players aren't about to be distracted by Manning's absence while he recovers from offseason neck surgery.
"I guess it will be kind of weird, but at the end of the day, I play the receivers, I don't play the quarterback," safety Glover Quin said. "We've got to make plays in the secondary. The receivers are still playing."
Manning has riddled the Texans since the franchise was born in 2002. But they aren't expecting to go against an incapable quarterback in Collins.
"In my mind, I was still thinking Peyton was going to pull a hat trick," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "I heard today it's official that he's not going to be there. The only thing that changes is he (Collins) is a little less mobile than Peyton, so it's an easier target to get to.
"Collins is a veteran. He knows what he's doing. He's going to adapt to the offense and try to run it to the best of his ability. I think he's dangerous in that aspect."
The Texans opened last season with a 2010 victory over Manning and the Colts. Their only other victory against Indy was 27-24 late in the 2006 season.
A victory on Sunday will be sweet whether or not Manning is calling the shots.
"He's one of the best to ever play the game, and as a competitor you want to play against him and against the best," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "But that didn't change our game plan. We'll play our style of defense.
"They still have a ton of weapons on their team. Kerry Collins is a starting quarterback, and he's beaten us, too. A guy doesn't play in the league that long if he wasn't good."
Still, Manning has achieved a near mythical standing among Texans fans, who have been repeatedly disappointed by his continued pounding of the home team.
In Week 5 of the 2008 season, the Texans had the Colts down 17 points before Manning rallied Indianapolis to 21 points over a 2:10 span and a 31-27 victory. In Week 12 of the 2009 season, the Texans led 20-6 at halftime before Manning rallied for 21 fourth-quarter points and a 35-27 victory.
"I guess they may feel a little weird on their side because he's not playing," cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of the Colts. "But they'll still dress 45 guys to compete against us. (Collins) has had success over his career or he wouldn't still be around, so he's not a slouch at all. He's proven himself at many different places.
"We don't have it made. They have guys who can make plays, so they will help Kerry out a lot."
The Texans have practiced as if Manning would be behind center.
"Everything we prepared for was as if Peyton was playing," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "Everything we prepare for, we're going to run whether Peyton's in there or not. They will run the same plays as if he were in, so we'll run the same defenses. I'm going to prepare like they can run everything they did when he was there."
The Texans' starting defense has adjusted quickly to the 3-4 alignment installed by Phillips in a hurried preseason and training camp. Whoever turns up at quarterback, they feel good about what they are doing.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.