Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- As I scribbled out lists of ideas, questions and people I hoped to talk to during my time here for joint practice between the Texans and Saints, I found myself pondering perhaps the biggest theme attached to this team:
That after consecutive 8-8 seasons the Texans are on the cusp of something big.
I'm quite familiar with the story of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers of 1996-98 who posted three consecutive 8-8 records. Reinvented in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans, they got the pass rush spark they were missing from rookie Jevon Kearse, went 13-3, earned a wild-card berth and went on to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXXIV.
I wondered, what's become of other teams that went 8-8 at least twice in a row?
Flipping through the NFL Record & Fact Book, I went all the way back to 1978, when the 16-game schedule was born. Only six teams have set the table for a season the way the Texans have.
We've talked a lot about the reasons to feel like the Texans are more likely to follow the course of the Titans, Seahawks Raiders or Bengals than the Jets, Packers, Redskins or Saints:
They've got a quarterback in Matt Schaub who can get in a great rhythm when healthy and make for a vertical offense throwing to a premier receiver (Andre Johnson) with a good batch of secondary pass targets starting with Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels.
They've got a second-year running back in Steve Slaton who broke into the league with a giant year -- 1,282 rushing yards, a 4.8-yard average, nine touchdowns and 50 receptions.
They've got the potential to rush the passer better as they've brought in three players to help defensive end Mario Williams and the defensive front -- free agent lineman Antonio Smith and the two top draft picks, strongside linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin.
ay it often, because it's true: The single biggest factor in the NFL's incredible popularity is its unpredictability. Seven of 2008's 12 playoff teams were not in the postseason in 2007. Teams come out of nowhere to have big seasons every year.
So now we try to do good guesswork and predict who they will be.
Houston's a popular choice for many, and anything less than a playoff berth will be judged a failure.
"There is really no way to sugarcoat this year," right tackle Eric Winston said. "It's time. If we go 11-5 like the Patriots last year and don't get in, then that's just kind of bad luck. Ten and six and don't get in? But it's one of those things where we need double digit wins this season, there is no way around it. We need to be playing in some really important games down the stretch."
We've seen eight teams since 1978 go .500 in consecutive seasons or over three seasons. Four went to the playoffs the next year. Four didn't, with three of them falling back with a major thud.
The 2009 Texans get to be tiebreakers.
Or they can go 8-8 and I can redo this post in August of 2010.