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Catching up with … the Texans

06.11.12 at 5:13 pm ET

Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers and Broncos. Now, it’€™s the Texans:

The Texans had the best season in franchise history, winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record (good for the third seed in the AFC) and beating the Bengals in a wild-card matchup at home. (They lost at Baltimore, 20-13, in the divisional round of the playoffs.) Houston suffered some serious injuries along the way, but a young and aggressive defense that evolved into one of the best in the league under coordinator Wade Phillips kept them playing into mid-January. Ultimately, it was a very a successful year for Houston.

Who they added: Even though they technically didn’€™t add him, it’€™s important to note that they avoided a holdout with All-World running back Arian Foster, signing him to a long-term deal. In the draft, they picked up defensive end Whitney Mercilus (16 sacks and nine forced fumbles as a junior) with their first-round pick out of Illinois.

Who’€™s gone: Houston arguably suffered more significant free-agent losses than anyone in the league: on defense, outside linebacker Mario Williams and cornerback Jason Allen departed, and on offense, right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston also left. And inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.

Analysis: When healthy, the Houston offense — led by Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Adrian Johnson — is among the best in the league. In addition, despite the losses, there are a lot of choice elements remaining on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive lineman J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph. In 2011, they took advantage of a down year for the AFC South (no Manning in Indy, while the Titans weren’€™t quite there yet and the Jags were, well, the Jags), and put together an impressive season. However, every year there seems to be one playoff team who ends up coming back to the pack the following season, and with the sheer talent and veteran leadership that departed Houston in the offseason, one has to wonder if the Texans will be that team in 2012.

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