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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The Astros are a force at home. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Fri, Sept. 18 - ARI: Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15) vs. HOU: Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77)

Sat, Sept. 19 - ARI: Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70) vs. HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22)

Sun, Sept. 20 - ARI: Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) vs. HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70)

STORYLINES

Staying Hot at Home? The Astros are now 18-7 at home in 2020 after taking two of three from the Texas Rangers. Conversely, the Diamondbacks are 8-19 on the road. It's a perfect blend for the Astros to continue their winning ways at home and position themselves in a more ideal spot for the playoffs.

Staff Settling in: Greinke and Urquidy taking the bump in a three game series brings a sense of normalcy to the Astros rotation. The days of Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia getting starts are in the past. McCullers looked fantastic in his outing against the Rangers, and Justin Verlander is close to returning. That is a staff capable of winning a World Series.

Sinking Ship: The Astros win over the Rangers Thursday night kept the Mariners three games back of the Astros with just 10 games left to play. The Astros also own the tiebreaker over Seattle, meaning Seattle really needs to make up four games to jump the Astros for a playoff spot. Of course, the Astros' series in Seattle starting Monday will play a big role in that.

PREDICTION

The Diamondbacks are reeling, and the Astros are a force at home. Zac Gallen presents some problems for a slumping offense, but the Astros break out against Weaver and Bumgarner to take two of three.

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