The Washington Redskins are coming off a harrowing 3-13 season, only a game better than the Houston Texans sudden, one-year 2-14 plunge. Now the two clubs hope to start their turnarounds in Week One of the new season Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
After winning their first two games of the 2013 season, Houston suffered a meltdown and lost 14 straight to earn the No. 1 pick in June’s draft. After firing Gary Kubiak and bringing in new head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans then signed former Tennessee and Buffalo starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and traded quarterback Matt Schaub to Oakland for a sixth round pick. Rather than draft a young passer Houston opted for highly-touted and talented defensive end Jadaveon Clowney to pair with former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
A feared rusher blessed with otherworldly size (6-foot-6, 249 lbs.) and skills, Clowney is the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and could help a Texans pass rushed that dropped from fifth in the NFL in 2012 to a tie for 29th last season.
Houston’s offense also plummeted due to Schaub’s 14 interceptions and top running back Arian Foster missing eight games due to injury. The Texans were 31st in the league in points scored, though wide receiver Andre Johnson posted a second straight season of 100-plus catches and more than 1,400 yards, and then-rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins showed lots of promise with 52 receptions for 802 yards and two scores.
It remains to be seen if Fitzpatrick can be any less turnover-prone than Schaub was, considering his career interception rate stands at 3.6, and he’s thrown at least 12 picks in the last four seasons. However the Texans face a much less complicated road back to the AFC South title, with the third-easiest schedule in the league in 2014.
During their offseason, the Redskins also tried to tinker with both sides of their lineup, pillaging NFC East rivals like Philadelphia for receiver DeSean Jackson and Dallas for Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Hatcher. Washington finished ninth in the league in total offense, but couldn’t put enough points on the board, ranking 23rd in the league with 20.9 a game. The defense also slipped to 30th in the league, allowing 29.9 points per contest and showed a propensity to give up big plays, with opponents racking up 58 plays of 20-plus yards, tied for eighth-worst.
With Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and consistent 1,000-yard rushing threat Alfred Morris in the backfield, quarterback Robert Griffin III could return to his rookie form when he scorched the league for 20 passing touchdowns and a 102.4 passer rating, and added another seven scores on the ground before succumbing to a major knee injury in the 2012 playoffs.
Last season it was believed Washington and now defunct head coach Mike Shanahan rushed Griffin back onto the field too soon, and he went 3-10 as a starter before backup Kirk Cousins was inserted in the lineup in the final three weeks of the season. Griffin still finished with nearly identical passing yard totals, but struggled with 12 interceptions, and likely out of fear of injury the Redskins cut his total number of rushes down from 120 attempts to 86. Now with first-year head coach Jay Gruden, formerly Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, Griffin and the Redskins can again be the team that racked up 27.2 points per game in 2012, No .5 overall that year.
The defense could also take a step forward this season, especially with the depth they added during free agency. Hatcher should immediately help the Redskins create some pressure up front, with former Philadelphia d-end Clifton Geathers providing some insurance after generating 3.0 sacks in the preseason. And linebacker Adam Hayward and rookie first-round pick Trent Murphy can help Ryan Kerrigan, Keenan Robinson and last year's sack leader Brian Orakpo hold down the middle.
Time: 1 p.m. EST
TV Channel: FOX
Betting Odds: Houston -3
Over/Under: 45 points
Predicted Score: Houston 17, Washington 14