With J.J. Watt leading the way and Jadeveon Clowney healthy, the Houston Texans would appear to have the defense to carry them back to the playoffs.
The offense could hold them back and faces plenty of questions ahead of Sunday's opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, namely star running back Arian Foster's health.
Watt was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons after racking up 20 1/2 sacks, and the attention paid to him could clear the way for Clowney to compile his own gaudy numbers after an injury-shortened rookie season.
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The 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick had seven tackles and no sacks in four games before undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee.
"I'm just counting down, just ready to get out there and play," Clowney said. "I'm looking forward to being out there again. It's been a long time. I'm excited."
The Texans brought over the sizable Vince Wilfork from New England to clog up the middle of the line and tried to shore up a pass defense that ranked 21st by taking cornerback Kevin Johnson with the 16th overall pick. Houston still ranked seventh with an average of 19.2 points allowed in 2014 despite a weaker secondary.
The rushing attack was even better, finishing fifth at 135.1 yards per game. Foster ranked sixth with 1,246 yards despite missing three games, but when he'll begin playing this season is unclear because of groin surgery.
"I think he'll be back sooner rather than later," coach Bill O'Brien said.
Alfred Blue is likely to fill in after rushing for 528 yards as a rookie, including 280 in three starts when Foster was out, but the Texans could have a more difficult time making up for Andre Johnson's departure.
Johnson left for Indianapolis after compiling 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns on 1,012 receptions in 12 seasons. DeAndre Hopkins had a team-best 1,210 yards on 76 catches in his second season but won't have a player of Johnson's stature to divide a defense's attention.
"I've still got the mindset I had since I was a rookie, and that's to come out here and dominate," Hopkins said.
Brian Hoyer is slated to throw to Hopkins after winning a training camp duel with Ryan Mallett. Hoyer made 13 of his 17 career starts for Cleveland in 2014, posting a 76.5 passer rating that ranked third-worst among qualifying QBs.
Kansas City's Alex Smith had a solid year under new coach Andy Reid with a 93.4 rating despite not throwing one touchdown pass to a wide receiver, but that certainly could change now that he has Jeremy Maclin. Drafted by Reid in 2009, Maclin is returning to his home state of Missouri after posting career highs of 85 catches and 1,318 yards last season with Philadelphia.
Plus, the Chiefs could have a healthier Jamaal Charles. He posted a fifth 1,000-yard rushing season in 2014 despite nagging injuries, but Kansas City went 9-7 and missed the playoffs - just like Houston.
The Chiefs open with an inexperienced offensive line for their daunting matchup with Houston's formidable defensive front.
Left tackle Donald Stephenson will make his 15th career start and first since 2013. Second-round pick Mitch Morse will start at center, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will make his first NFL start at right guard.
Kansas City is also moving former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher from left to right tackle, and he's spent most of training camp nursing a sprained ankle.
"It's a huge challenge," said guard Ben Grubbs, a two-time Pro Bowler. "I think the most important thing for us will be film work, understand what they do as a defense as a whole."
The Chiefs could welcome back Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe following back surgery, which kept him out of much of training camp.
"Right now, it's exactly where we thought it would be at this stage. As the days go on, we'll see how it is," general manager John Dorsey said. "You want to do what's best for the kid."
While Poe was a key run stuffer in 2014 and had six sacks, Justin Houston has the difficult task of trying to match his league-best 22 - a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan's single-season record.
Houston led the way for a unit that gave up the second-fewest points in the league (281) and ranked seventh with 330.5 yards allowed per game. Safety Eric Berry returns, though in a limited role, after being diagnosed with lymphoma last December and undergoing many rounds of chemotherapy.
The Chiefs and Texans have split six all-time meetings, with Kansas City winning 17-16 in the most recent in 2013.