FALCON POINTS

5 key factors for the Texans to have a big season in 2020

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFL season starts tomorrow night, and maybe things will start to feel right in the world again. When last we left the Texans, they were blown off the field by the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. They have since paid their quarterback, jettisoned their best offensive weapon and done little to improve a porous defense. So why will things be different on Thursday?

They probably won't. But if the Texans are to make waves this season, these five things that have to happen:

1) The Texans can not start the season 0-2. Yes, they get both the Chiefs and Ravens, teams that dominated them last season and figure to vie for the top seed in the AFC again. But they were able to upset the Chiefs in the regular season last year, and the Ravens game was an odd effort coming off a trip to London. While the odds say they will lose them both, a big effort in one of the two games could set a good tone for the season. They could start 0-2 and still make the playoffs, but a win over a legitimate contender would go a long way to justifying the off-season moves.

2) Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb will have to combine for more production than DeAndre Hopkins. It might seem like a long shot, because both have to stay healthy. We'll see if Cooks plays this Thursday, but if he does, and they can add some explosiveness to the offense, the Texans could be on path for a solid season.

3) David Johnson has to party like it's 2016. The overpaid running back has been widely dismissed as a poor part of the Hopkins trade, but Johnson has not had a lot around him in Arizona the past couple years, and injuries have derailed him. His 2016 efforts got him paid (and made him a fantasy legend) but that season has been an outlier. He will have a better offensive line to work with and is presumably healthy and motivated. A repeat of 2016 where he had over a combined 2,000 yards rushing and receiving would be huge for the Texans.

4) J.J. Watt has to stay healthy and productive. It's asking a lot. Watt has played a full season just once in the last four years. The other three years he played 16 games combined. In the healthy year, he had 16 sacks, a number he will need to approach again, because the rest of the defense is shaky at best, and that's being kind.

5) Bill O'Brien has to figure it out. Year seven on the job for O'Brien has to be his best yet. He has rid himself of anyone who threatens him, and has had things all his way. There are no more excuses if the team does not contend for at least a spot in the AFC title game. If not, then O'Brien has clearly reached his peak with the Texans.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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