Texans season prediction: 12-4

The Houston Texans were hot at exactly the wrong time last season.

“You look over the years, once the playoffs start, the team that plays the best always ends up being the champion,” said receiver Andre Johnson, now in his 11th NFL season. “It doesn’t really matter what you do during the regular season. It’s about getting to the playoffs.”

Houston will win the division for a third consecutive season. But the Texans’ schedule gets tougher this year, including a matchup with the NFC West.

December, traumatic last season, will be difficult again. The New England Patriots visit Houston on Dec. 1 and the Denver Broncos will follow Dec. 22. The Texans also will play the entire AFC South on the road in December.

Health will affect the Texans’ postseason success. No player will spell catastrophe for Houston if lost, but the task will get considerably harder if the Texans lose certain starters. That fact was made plain by the loss of inside linebacker Brian Cushing last year, which changed the Texans defense.

Even healthy, there are questions about the Texans at safety and whether the right side of the offensive line will improve. They shouldn’t be enough, though, to keep Houston from the AFC Championship Game.

Predicted finish in AFC South: first