No, no, no -- you read it wrong. I didn't mean to say that the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons would meet in *last season's* Super Bowl. I meant that they would play in Super Bowl L -- you know, following the 2015 regular season.
At least, that's what I should've written.
But Houston and Atlanta both have taken major steps toward getting back on track this offseason, making moves that should energize their respective fan bases. These two squads will be back in contention very soon.
Let's start with the team that started off the 2014 NFL Draft. Houston's reboot began at the end of last year, when the Texans landed the perfect head coach in Bill O'Brien. He's an NFL guy who also just enjoyed great collegiate success despite facing unparalleled adversity at Penn State. O'Brien is built for this job. And the man just cleaned up in the prospect marketplace.
Make no mistake about it: The Texans simply won the draft. Houston snagged the best player available in Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall. Opponents now must deal with a pass rush that includes Clowney and the great J.J. Watt. Does it get any scarier than that?
Indeed it does!
Houston general manager Rick Smith could get arrested for stealing Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix in Round 3. He's an ideal specimen for coordinator Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense, and I thought he'd go much higher than he did. Bottom line: The Texans landed two instant-impact defenders in the draft's first two days. And it's not like they ignored the other side of the ball ...
With the first pick of the second round, Smith and O'Brien wisely upgraded the offensive line by adding Xavier Su'a-Filo, another prospect who's ready to contribute now. And as predicted -- albeit a day later than expected -- Tom Savage joined the QB-needy franchise. He's exactly the kind of cannon-armed pocket passer O'Brien craves. I don't believe Savage is ready to start immediately for the Texans; it's a muddled quarterback room, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is the leader in the clubhouse. Still, Savage absolutely has the talent to be the guy for 2015, when the Texans will really be ready for prime time.
That said, I fully expect Houston to be back in playoff contention this year. Flanked by all the talent he's gathered this offseason, O'Brien will have an Andy Reid-like effect on the Texans. With that pass rush and a healthy return from running back Arian Foster, I could easily see the Texans going 4-2 (at minimum) in the AFC South. Add in a 5-5 record outside the division, and you're in the wild-card conversation. This is very feasible to achieve, especially given the watered-down competition in their division -- and in the conference as a whole.
The Falcons don't enjoy this luxury. As I wrote back in March, all four NFC South teams will enter the 2014 season with legitimate division-title aspirations. Oh, and the broader NFC landscape? Yeah, it's a beast, chock full o' juggernauts.
But don't lose sight of how general manager Thomas Dimitroff has shrewdly reconfigured (and retouched) these Falcons. Atlanta just put together an incredibly strong draft -- right on the heels of a smart free-agency period that will pay immediate dividends.
When I talked to Dimitroff on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," during the week of Super Bowl XLVIII, he stressed that Atlanta would be very active in making savvy moves to aid the team in the trenches. Sometimes, GMs tell the truth.
In free agency, Dimitroff added defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who made the Pro Bowl under current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan when they both were together in Miami. Dimitroff also brought in defensive lineman Tyson Jackson and offensive guard Jon Asamoah, both of whom were drafted to Kansas City by Scott Pioli -- Dimitroff's close friend, confidant and recently minted assistant GM.
Schein: Round 1 winners and losers
With the No. 6 pick in last week's draft, Dimitroff plucked a franchise offensive tackle in Texas A&M standout Jake Matthews. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked a career-high 44 times last season, gets better with that pick. And wait until he gets receiver Julio Jones back healthy. Truth be told, Roddy White was never quite right physically last year, and that helped magnify the team's offensive problems as the season quickly slipped away.
Dimitroff stayed true to his trench mantra by pilfering Ra'Shede Hageman in Round 2. Many people around the league thought the defensive tackle would be drafted on Thursday night. Hageman, Soliai and Jackson will infuse the beleaguered defense with some much-needed talent up front. And Dimitroff added a host of prospects to the back seven, as well.
In March, the Falcons GM told me on SiriusXM Radio that he would look to address the running back position later in the draft, and he wound up finding a gem in fourth-rounder Devonta Freeman. The Florida State product has great hands and is physical for a smaller back. He's the perfect complement to the rushers in Atlanta, and great insurance if Steven Jackson either doesn't stay healthy or fails to regain his old form.
I still believe in Ryan. I still think he's a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. With a severely limited arsenal around him and a porous offensive line in front of him, Ryan lost his mojo last season. I have no doubt he will regain his 2012 form -- and actually improve upon it, even with tight end Tony Gonzalez retired -- in the coming fall.
Houston and Atlanta actually have a lot in common, beyond just underachieving last year. Both franchises have outstanding owners, smart general managers and deep, well-respected coaching staffs. They also have passionate fans waiting for the goods to be delivered.
Maybe hitting rock bottom in unfathomable fashion last year will prove to be a blessing in disguise.
And then, next year around this time, maybe I'll rekindle that Super Bowl talk. And maybe you'll read it correctly.