Here’s a look at the first half of the season for the Houston Texans (5-3) and a preview of what to expect in the second half:
Grade: B. Though the Texans have been extremely inconsistent, especially on offense, they still sit at 5-3 with a one-game lead in the AFC South. But head coach Bill O'Brien and the players stressed last week that they know there is so much room for improvement. The Texans have dealt with injuries, particularly on defense with the loss of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt for the season following back surgery at the end of September. Quarterback Brock Osweiler has had an up-and-down season after signing a four-year, $72 million contract in the offseason, but he said he is happy to be 5-3 and 2-0 in the division.
Midseason MVP: Running back Lamar Miller. The rest of the team has been inconsistent, but the offseason addition of Miller has proved to be a great one for the Texans. In the first four seasons of his career in Miami, the Dolphins did not use him as a workhorse back. In Houston, Miller is getting those touches, both on the ground and through the air. He is averaging 21.9 touches per game, and when Osweiler is unable to get the offense into a rhythm, Miller is getting the unit started, especially at the beginning of drives. Miller said he played through a lot of pain in recent weeks after he injured a shoulder against the Broncos, so the bye came at a good time for him to rest and get treatment.
Best moment: The come-from-behind victory against the Indianapolis Colts. After three quarters in Week 6, Osweiler was struggling and the Texans were headed for a loss that would have dropped them from first place in the AFC South. But Houston's offense finally found a rhythm in the fourth quarter. Osweiler led the Texans on 75- and 53-yard touchdown drives in the game's final six minutes to tie the score. Then in overtime, Osweiler set up the winning field goal by delivering a perfect 36-yard pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Though it was against the then-30th ranked defense, those late drives were the best Osweiler has looked this season and showed a glimpse of what the 25-year-old could become.
Worst moment: The first two blowout losses on the road were bad -- 27-0 to the New England Patriots and 31-13 to the Minnesota Vikings -- but the loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 7 was the worst moment of the season for the Texans. Houston kept it close through almost three quarters in Denver, but the game changed with just less than five minutes to go in that quarter when running back Alfred Blue, who was spelling an injured Miller, fumbled in Broncos territory. At the time, the Texans were down just five points, but couldn't score the rest of the way, losing to Denver 27-9. The loss showed that the Texans, now 0-3 on the road, still couldn't win away from NRG Stadium or contend with the AFC elite.
Player to watch: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. After 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, Hopkins has not been able to produce in the same way for the Texans this season. Though his targets have picked up in recent weeks, Hopkins had a three-game stretch where he had just 10 catches for 116 yards and one touchdown on 23 targets. Osweiler and O'Brien have stressed the importance of getting the ball to their Pro Bowl receiver, so Hopkins could be in line for a much bigger second half.
Second-half outlook: The Texans' tough road schedule continues, including games against the Packers and Raiders. Houston is 5-0 at home but needs to start winning on the road if it wants to remain in the playoff picture. But the AFC South is a weak division, and the Texans have a lot of winnable games left. If they can go 5-3 the rest of the way to finish 10-6, they will likely take the division.