Welcome back to NFL Thursday as we continue to with our examination of every franchise’s best teams, in order from worst winning percentage to best, historically. We look at the Houston Texans today, a team that started in 2002 and has made the postseason just 6 times in its existence—always as a division winner, never as a wild-card team. Of course, the Texans also have never played in a Super Bowl, and they have the third-worst winning percentage (.422) of active teams.
No. 5: 2014 Houston Texans
With a 9-7 record, this team finished second in the AFC South Division and missed the playoffs. The offense was 14th in the league, while the defense was No. 7 overall. That amounted to a No. 16 SRS slot, and the Texans outscored their opponents by 65 points on the season. But Houston went just 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and that’s how this team failed to qualify for the postseason. Four AFC teams finished with nine wins, and they all missed January ball.
Defensive end J.J. Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year after posting 23 AV (Approximate Value). Other standouts on this team included running back Arian Foster (10 AV) and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10). After a 3-1 start, the team lost three straight games, but after hitting 4-5 at the bye week, the Texans won five of their last seven games to make a playoff push. Alas, it was too little too late for this squad. Seems like a waste of Watt’s fine season, obviously.
No. 4: 2009 Houston Texans
This was another 9-7 team that missed the postseason after a second-place finish in the AFC South. The Texans were No. 10 in offense, No. 17 on defense, and No. 13 in the SRS. Houston outscored its opponents by 55 points on the season, too, but when four teams in the AFC finished with with 9-7 records, two of them lost out on playoff tiebreaks—including the Texans. Again, it was close losses that buried Houston: Six times the team lost by 8 points or less. That’s just brutal.
Five players posted 11 AV or more: quarterback Matt Schaub (15), WR Andre Johnson (14), linebacker Brian Cushing (11), LB DeMeco Ryans (11), and DE Mario Williams (11). This team also featured assistant coaches Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, and Robert Saleh. That’s a lot of talent on the field and on the sideline, and despite winning their last four games by a combined 44 points, those one-possession losses just killed the Texans’ chances to make the playoffs.
No. 3: 2012 Houston Texans
With a 12-4 record, this squad set the team record for wins in a season as it won the AFC South. The Texans were No. 8 on offense, No. 9 on defense, and No. 9 in the SRS. They started off 5-0, but after reaching 11-1, Houston lost three of its last four games to lose grip on a better conference playoff seed. A lackluster 19-13 home win in the wild-card round smarted, and on the road against the cheatin’ New England Patriots, the Texans lost, 41-28, to end the best season in club history.
Watt (19), Schaub (13), Johnson (11), and Foster (10) formed the core of this excellent team as six players overall reached AV double digits. Yet all four regular-season losses came by at least 12 points each; five wins came by a TD or less, as well. This was really just a 10-win team that got lucky with scoring differentials. Still, the Texans were only down by 4 points at halftime to the Patriots, but New England exploded for 21 straight points after halftime to bury Houston deep in the well.
No. 2: 2018 Houston Texans
This is the most recent team on the list, finishing 11-5 with another first place in the AFC South. These Texans were No. 11 on offense, No. 4 on defense, and No. 10 overall in the SRS. Houston actually started the season 0-3 before righting the ship with 9 straight victories. Alas, all five losses came by a TD or less—sense a theme here? And after splitting with the Indianapolis Colts, a division rival, in the regular season, the Texans lost to them, 21-7, at home in a wild-card game.
Watt (17), QB Deshaun Watson (16), and Hopkins (13) topped the team in AV, although the nine-game win streak was followed by a 2-2 stretch to close out the schedule. That cost the Texans a first-round bye—and forced them into the third matchup against Indianapolis, which had finished 10-6 and one game behind Houston in the AFC South. No one wants to play a division rival in the postseason, and the Colts ran up 422 yards on the Texans defense to knock Houston out cold.
No. 1: 2011 Houston Texans
It’s interesting that the first playoff team in organizational history happens to rate out as the top sabermetric team in franchise history. A 10-6 record was enough to clinch the AFC South, and Houston finished No. 10 in offense, No. 4 in defense, and No. 9 in the overall SRS. Playing at home in the first round, the Texans blew away the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10, and advanced to face the Baltimore Ravens on the road. The offense committed four turnovers in a 20-13 loss, though.
Seven played reached double-digit AV marks, including Cushing (14), Foster (13), and Watt (10) in his rookie season. This team outscored its opponents by 103 points overall, the best scoring differential in team history (still). But another poor finish doomed Houston: losing the last three games cost the team a playoff bye. The final two defeats came by a combined 4 points! Against Baltimore, the Texans outgained the opponent, 315-227, but backup QB T.J. Yates threw 3 interceptions.