The Houston Texans and New York Jets need to put up or shut up early. Right away, in fact, as the NFL season kicks off.
If the Texans are to contend for their first playoff berth, they must find a way to beat the Indianapolis Colts, who come to Reliant Stadium on Sunday. Houston is 1-15 against Peyton Manning and the boys since entering the league in 2002.
Talk that this is the year the Texans will challenge Indy in the AFC South will be meaningless if the Colts keep on dominating the series.
“The expectation for the organization is to win a championship,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “That can’t get done until we win the AFC South or make the playoffs, so we’ve got to stay focused on those two things and that will be our goal. But we’ve got to understand the work that has to come to accomplish those goals.”
Houston’s optimism is based on its first winning record (9-7) a year ago, plus an offense that led the NFL in passing. The Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson combination is as good as any in the league, and tight end Owen Daniels is back from a torn right knee ligament sustained midway through the 2009 schedule.
Of course, the Colts are coming off an AFC title and have surrounded four-time MVP Manning with an even better cast on offense. If the defense is decent, another trip to the Super Bowl is hardly far-fetched.
“One thing we’ve always done, whether finishing on top or finishing short, is to put the previous season behind us,” Manning said. “We are just going to keep trying to do things the right way.”
Some observers would say the Jets are doing everything the right way, adding stars such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie to their lineup. Others would say they are doing things far too loudly, from the profane “Hard Knocks” on HBO to their everyday verbosity.
“This is who we are,” coach Rex Ryan said without apologies. “Some people are going to like us and some people are not. At the end of the day, we want to paint an accurate picture of who we are.”
They should find out pretty quickly how good they are, with home matchups against Baltimore on Monday night and then against New England.
The Ravens are another hot choice to go far this year. They also have bulked up their offense by bringing in receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, joining versatile running back Ray Rice, dependable veteran wideout Derrick Mason, and a healthy at last TE Todd Heap. Their defense always is formidable.
“There’s still a lot to come from this offense because there are so many guys that can make plays,” Mason said. “When you’ve got more than two or three guys that can catch the ball, you’re allowed to open up and expand your playbook.”
Other openers include Green Bay at Philadelphia; Cincinnati at New England; Dallas at Washington; Atlanta at Pittsburgh; Denver at Jacksonville; Carolina at the New York Giants; San Francisco at Seattle; Miami at Buffalo; Arizona at St. Louis; Detroit at Chicago; Oakland at Tennessee; and Cleveland at Tampa Bay.
The other Monday night game has San Diego at Kansas City.
Opening weekend began Thursday with the Saints grinding out a 14-9 win over Brett Favre’s Vikings in a rematch of last season’s NFC title game thriller. A key stat: The defending Super Bowl champs held Minnesota to 253 yards of offense.