Texans: Dream/nightmare scenarios

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Texans in 2012.

Dream scenario (12-4): Quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson return from injuries and have exemplary seasons, providing big plays that sync up beautifully with another excellent campaign by running back Arian Foster. New starters at right guard and right tackle take over and play well, and the offensive line continues to be a team strength, providing time for Schaub and room for Foster. They show it’s about the scheme and players with the traits that fit it, not necessarily about the specific people in the lineup.

In conjunction with the excellent offense, Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense picks up where it left off, swarming opposing quarterbacks and finding big plays that tamp down offenses just about every week.

This talented, deep squad does not get caught up in success and shows it can stand toe-to-toe with teams like the Packers and Patriots. In so doing, the Texans give Houston something it has never had before: a Super Bowl team.

Nightmare scenario (7-9): Schaub either can’t stay healthy or can’t return to form and he or T.J. Yates winds up throwing more to rookie receivers who struggle than to Johnson, who battles another round of leg injuries. The right side of the offensive line proves a huge issue as the team loses any hint of the cohesion that was such a key in 2011. That means trouble for Foster as well, and he doesn’t break through to the second level nearly as often as we’ve become accustomed to.

Defensively, the Texans can’t generate the kind of consistent pass rush they mounted last season as offenses do a better job countering than they did in Phillips’ first season heading up the 3-4. The secondary is asked to hold up too long and an injury to Johnathan Joseph leaves them susceptible at cornerback, the one spot that they lack depth. Opposing quarterbacks find too many big plays against them.

The return games are worse, not better, with Jacoby Jones now playing in Baltimore.

A nearly unanimous pick to win the AFC South before the season, the Texans fail to make the playoffs.