Earlier this offseason, Houston coach and GM Bill O'Brien was attacked by the media and fans for trading four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for injury-plagued running back David Johnson, a 2nd-round pick and a future 4th-round pick.
The puzzling move erased a lot of goodwill O'Brien had built up over the past two seasons, in which the Texans have gone a combined 21-11 and made the playoffs both years. In last year's wild-card round, Houston overcame a 16-0 third quarter deficit to defeat Buffalo 22-19 in overtime. In the divisional round, the Texans blew a 24-0 lead to the Chiefs and lost 51-31.
Believe it or not, O'Brien is entering his 7th season with Houston, making him the 7th-longest tenured coach in the NFL, trailing Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid.
Despite little postseason success (2-4), O'Brien has gone a relatively impressive 52-44 (.542) with Houston, including four AFC South titles.
This offseason, Houston acquired former Rams wideout Brandin Cooks and signed former Cowboys receiver Randall Cobb. Houston was without a first-round pick as a result of acquiring offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Texans selected TCU defensive lineman Ross Blacklock in the second round.
Following the Hopkins trade, O'Brien has a bull's-eye on his back. Luckily he can lean on 4th-year franchise quarterback and superman Deshaun Watson. But does Watson have enough of a supporting cast to get it done, especially in a highly competitive AFC South?
The Texans' 2020 win total is set at 7.5. Right off the bat, this speaks volumes. Houston went 10-6 last season and 11-5 in 2018. In the previous four years under O'Brien, Houston went 4-12 and then 9-7, 9-7, 9-7. O'Brien has won at least 9 games in five of six seasons. That Houston's win total is 7.5 signals a step back from how they usually perform.
A pair of notable sportbooks are also heavily juicing up the under. FanDuel is hanging a win total of 7.5 with -120 juice on the under (over + 100). DraftKings is similar, offering 7.5 with -115 under juice (over -106). This signals a combination of sharp action and house liability on a 7-9 or worse season for the Texans.
Circa Sports and PointsBet aren't as lopsided toward the under, both offering 7.5 with even -110 juice on both sides.
As if losing Hopkins wasn't enough, Houston will also have to overcome a difficult schedule. The Texans' 2020 opponents went a combined 132-123-1 (.518) in 2019, giving Houston the 8th-hardest schedule in the NFL.
Here is the full Texans schedule
Week 1: at Chiefs
Week 2: vs Ravens
Week 3: at Steelers
Week 4: vs Vikings
Week 5: vs Jags
Week 6: at Titans
Week 7: vs Packers
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Jags
Week 10: at Browns
Week 11: vs Patriots
Week 12: at Lions
Week 13: vs Colts
Week 14: at Bears
Week 15: at Colts
Week 16: vs Bengals
Week 17: vs Titans
Oddsmakers don't expect Houston to make the postseason. The Texans are a -177 favorite to miss the playoffs at DraftKings and a + 144 underdog to make the playoffs.
Houston is + 350 to win the AFC South. The Colts are the favorite at + 110 followed by the Titans are + 180. The Jags are a distant + 2000.
The Texans are + 2500 to win the AFC and + 5000 to win the Super Bowl.
In terms of player props, Watson's over/under for passing yards is 4,050.5 and passing touchdowns 27.5. Last season, he threw for 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns. Watson is + 2500 to win MVP, tied with Drew Brees and Kyler Murray for the 7th-best odds. Patrick Mahomes is the favorite at + 400, followed by Lamar Jackson + 700, Russell Wilson + 800, Dak Prescott + 1400, Tom Brady + 1600 and Carson Wentz + 2000.
Cooks' over/under receiving yards is 850.5. Cooks hauled in 583 receiving yards with the Rams last season but missed time due to concussions.
Johnson's over/under rushing yards is 875.5. Johnson rushed for 345 yards in 13 games with the Cardinals last season.
J.J. Watt is + 700 to win Comeback Player of the Year, tied with Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford for the 3rd-best odds. Big Ben is the favorite at + 350 followed by Gronk at + 400. Watt was limited to 8 games in 2019 with a torn pectoral.
O'Brien is + 5000 to win Coach of the Year. He is tied with Adam Gase, Doug Marrone and Matt Patricia for the worst odds overall.