Players who need to have huge years for Houston to take the next step:
10. Connor Barwin
Four sacks was a nice rookie season for the second round pick. It matched Mario Williams' rookie total and led all NFL rookie DEs. But now we need more. The pass rush must continue to improve and for that to happen Barwin has to have a productive year
9. (Insert name of placekicker here)
Whether it's Kris Brown or Neil Rackers, the Texans cannot afford to miss big kicks at the moment of truth. Gary Kubiak has to have confidence in who is pulling the trigger so he doesn't feel he has to make overly risky calls at the end of games.
8. Kareem Jackson
We've all heard how Nick Saban got him NFL ready. Now it's time to produce. He has the task of replacing Dunta Robinson and facing Peyton Manning on opening day. Welcome to the NFL!
7. Bernard Pollard
Rick Smith should have won an award for plucking him off the street. He ignites the defense and must help the entire unit hit the ground running, especially with Brian Cushing absent the first four games.
6. Owen Daniels
Daniels got hurt during a victory at Buffalo then the team promptly lost four straight games. Coincidence? The offense was moving but not scoring as much as they wanted. A return to form, combined with a long awaited consistent running game could make this the top offense in the league.
5. Mario Williams
Two of Mario's four seasons, he has played banged up and kept his mouth shut about it. Here's to a healthy year with over a dozen sacks and even more offensive coordinator nightmares. This could be his biggest year if Barwin comes through strong on the other side.
4. Brian Cushing
Yes, he's out four games. But those will be done and before you know it, he'll be back. And right around that time, who knows, they might be dealing with an injury or some unforeseen adversity on defense. That's why Cushing has to return, guns blazing. A drop-off will only enflame the controversy around him, and hurt the team.
3. (Insert running back's name here)
Sure, Ben Tate was drafted high, but Arian Foster was huge in the two big wins late last year and Steve Slaton was better than Chris Johnson two short years ago. Everyone knows that the Texans must be better on the ground to get to where they want to go.
2. DeMeco Ryans
Cushing may make more noise, but DeMeco is a play-making quarterback on defense who is one of the most-loved players to ever don Deep Steel Blue. From the time he first stepped onto the practice field at the Methodist Training Center in 2006, he's been playing hard and is a big reason why the Texans are now winners.
1b. Andre Johnson
He draws double coverage. Defensive coordinators prioritize their game plans to take him our first. He is the very best at what he does. Any questions?
1a. Matt Schaub
As good as Johnson is, Schaub is the most important player on the Texans. Schaub was not only prolific last season but tough. He brilliantly bounced back from injuries and some mistakes to lead the team to the brink of the playoffs. Now it's time to get there and make some noise.
Offensive lineThe guys in the trenches should be ranked higher. If they don't do their jobs, it'll be a rough year. But they have pass-blocked exceptionally well the last couple of years. And the running game (keep your fingers crossed) looks like it's on the rise.
It's a team game. You're only as strong as your weakest link. Use whatever cliché you want. Everybody's important from Schaub down to every last special teamer.