FALCON POINTS

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

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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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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