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Scouting the South: Houston Texans

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The Titans' hated rivals are up next in our division preview.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Recap: In Bill O'Brien's first season as head coach, Houston finished second in the AFC South with a 9-7 record. That wasn't good enough to land a wild card berth.

Free Agency Review: Most of the news on Houston's free agency this offseason focused on who they re-signed. Starting corner Kareem Jackson was given a four year deal worth $34 million while starting tackle Derek Newton landed $26.5 million over five years. As always though, the spotlight shines on the quarterback position, where the Texans brought back Bill O'Brien's pet project Ryan Mallett. He'll compete with another former O'Brien quarterback, Brian Hoyer, who the team signed from Cleveland. Regardless of who's throwing the football, I think the team made a smart move signing Cecil Shorts. Despite battling injuries he has managed to produce despite playing with subpar Jacksonville QBs. The team added another pass catcher in Nate Washington. It'll be pretty awful seeing him wear that jersey. Finally there were two defensive additions: Rahim Moore and Vince Wilfork. Both seem like good additions to the squad.

The two notable losses were Andre Johnson and Brooks Reed.

Draft Review: Kevin Johnson got the call with Houston's 16th overall selection. I thought this was an unspectacular choice but do think he'll end up as a pretty solid player. Many of the draft guys I respect feel he's a very polished player already.

I don't dislike the middle round crop of players picked by the Texans, but I don't like them either. I don't feel either Benardrick McKinney and Jaelen Strong (selected via trade up) will end up as consistent playmakers. Strong's got a solid chance to prove me wrong though - he and Shorts will battle for the second receiver spot.

Overrated Player: I really wanted to give this title to Jadeveon Clowney but since he spent most of the year injured it didn't seem fair. I remain skeptical that pick will work out. Do you think they regret passing on Khalil Mack? I'm going to break the rules here and pick head coach Bill O'Brien. He was someone I wanted the Titans to hire when they had their opening, and I really do think he's a pretty good coach. I just don't think he's worthy of the praise he's getting right now.

Underrated Player: Last year I picked DeAndre Hopkins and I still don't think he gets enough attention. He's a rare combination of great athleticism with good technique. Now that he sits atop the depth chart, expect his numbers to jump quickly.

2015 Outlook: Here's why the Texans are such a tough projection. Prior to writing this post, I expected most of the discussion to be on the QB position. As I began working, I saw their wins again from last season:

Washington
Oakland
Buffalo
Tennessee (2)
Cleveland
Jacksonville (2)
Baltimore

Baltimore is the one playoff team from that group, and Cleveland and Buffalo were tough to play against. The rest of the bunch featured teams that were focusing on the draft by midseason. Are the Texans as good as their 9-7 record, or was the turnaround aided by playing such weak foes? When up against better competition (Indy, Dallas, Cincy, Philly) they just weren't good enough.

Tying this back to the QB position, the Texans 2014 schedule shows a pattern. When up against teams with good or great QBs, Houston often lost, and when facing a team with a bad QB situation they often won (shocking, I know). Now the Texans go into the season once again with a question mark at the game's most important position. As a Titans fan I'll be rooting for Brian Hoyer to win the starting job. In the past three years (two as a starter) he has failed to post a completion percentage over 60% and has averaged just over one interception per game started. Bill O'Brien can believe strongly in his system all he wants. It seems extremely unlikely Hoyer becomes much better than what he is currently. That leaves Ryan Mallett, who only threw 75 passes before a season-ending injury. This option should be scarier to Titans fans simply because he's more of an unknown. There are many that think his slow release and immobility will doom him. Prior to the 2011 Draft, I thought he had the best deep ball accuracy in that QB class. I'm concerned Mallett will end up as a QB just good enough to push the Texans into playoff-contending status but my hope is that he condemns them to mediocrity forever.

My prediction is the defense remains the best part of the team while the lack of great QB production will continue to keep them out of the playoffs. Somewhere between 6-8 wins sounds about right.