Twelfth in a 13-part series on the teams the Green Bay Packers will face in the 2016 regular season.
Get ready for one heck of a chess match when the Houston Texans travel to Lambeau Field in early December.
The Green Bay Packers should have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this fall, but they’ll have a monumental challenge slowing down J.J. Watt. The Texans' world-class defensive lineman has been the near-consensus best all-around defensive player in the game for the past four seasons, recording a league-high 69 sacks since 2012.
Week 11: Monday night rematch in Washington
Watt has the ability to be a one-man wrecking ball against opposing offenses. Of course, Packers two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the same ability against opposing defenses. Something will have to give when these two playoff teams from a year ago pit two of the NFL’s best players against each other.
Here are three things to know about the Texans.
» Some high-Watt production: Four straight Pro Bowl trips. Four straight first-team All-Pro selections. Three defensive player of the year honors. To understand how successful the Pewaukee native and former Wisconsin star has been in his first five seasons, just look at his closet full of hardware. Still, the numbers really hammer home Watt’s dominance. And it isn’t just the 74½ sacks since being drafted 11th overall in 2011, a trajectory that could make him the fastest player to 100 career sacks. Watt has an astounding 45 defended passes, only one fewer than 2011 first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith’s 46. He has forced 15 fumbles and recovered 12, and his lone career interception was returned 80 yards for a touchdown. There have been 20-sack seasons only 11 times since it became an official stat in 1982, a group that includes Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Chris Doleman and Michael Strahan. Watt is the only player to do it twice. Only 27 years old, Watt is on a potential hall of fame path. And to think, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted quarterback Blaine Gabbert one spot ahead of him.
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» Ready to rule the South? For the better part of the past two decades, the Texans have been a hound chasing the rabbit. Since becoming a franchise in 2002, the AFC South has belonged to the Indianapolis Colts. The Texans have been the challenger, not the challenged. That has swung the other way in recent years, with the Texans winning three of the past five division titles. They have arguably the best overall player in the division (Watt), a coach with a winning track record (Bill O’Brien) and an exciting, new quarterback (more on that below). What they don’t have is a sustained playoff run, never advancing past the divisional round in any of their three playoff appearances. That is the next step for an ascending franchise. You can sense the power shifting.
» A QB coup: In one of the greatest coups the NFL has seen in some time, the Texans stole developmental quarterback Brock Osweiler away from the defending Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos for the cool price of $72 million over four years ($37 million guaranteed). Osweiler was drafted by the Broncos in the second round four years ago, expected to season for a couple of years behind Peyton Manning. When Manning retired, it was assumed Osweiler would assume his starting job in Denver. He and the Texans had another idea. There is no guarantee Osweiler will become a longtime starter, but he gives the Texans something they have sorely lacked, namely the chance of having a franchise quarterback. Osweiler showed what he could do filling in for the injured Manning last season, going 5-2 as a starter and finishing with 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and 1,967 yards in eight games. He will find other benefits in Houston, like a quarterback-friendly coach in O’Brien and one of the league’s better defenses. Still, there is some risk leaving the defending champions high and dry. The money notwithstanding, it will be interesting to track whether Osweiler made the right football decision.
Packers schedule glimpse
Dec. 4 vs. Texans, noon, CBS
Week before: at Eagles, Nov. 28
Week after: vs. Seahawks, Dec. 11
On the horizon: at. Bears, Dec. 18
Coach: Bill O’Brien (18-14, third season)
2015 record: 9-7, first AFC South
Scoring offense: 21.2 points per game (T-21st in NFL)
Total offense: 347.8 yards per game (19th)
Scoring defense: 19.6 points allowed per game (T-7th)
Total defense: 310.2 yards allowed per game (3rd)
Series: Packers lead 2-1.
Last meeting: In a bit of an upset, Aaron Rodgers won the chess match the last time he squared off against Watt. Behind a historic day from the MVP quarterback, the Packers trounced the Texans 42-24 on Oct. 15, 2012 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. It was the Texans’ first loss six games into the 2012 season, while the Packers improved to just 3-3. Despite two sacks from Watt, Rodgers completed 24-of-37 passes for 338 yards and a career-high six touchdowns with no interceptions. His favorite target was Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Oddly, the road team has won each game in this abbreviated series. The Packers lost 24-21 in their lone home game against Houston, a cold day on Dec. 7, 2008.