What to watch for in pro sports

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) tries to evade Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

As 2018 begins, questions abound in professional sports. Can the Astros repeat their world championship season? How will the Texans and Rockets fare? What can we expect from two of sports biggest names? Here is the Defender’s forecast.

Texans’ shake-ups, signings 

The Texans experienced their first losing season in four years. Was the season due to excessive injuries or mismanagement? It was clear that Tom Savage, the backup to DeShaun Watson, was woefully incompetent. Head coach Bill O’Brien is in the fourth year of a five-year contract that has seen him go 9-7 the previous three seasons. Does he deserve a contract extension? Should owner Bob McNair clean house, including GM Rick Smith? Will they be able to sign a quality back-up QB as an insurance policy? The Texans have some critical personnel decisions to make this offseason.

In addition, the team is without a first- or second-round selection in the 2018 draft due to the Watson deal with Cleveland. The team does, however, have a significant amount of money under the salary cap. They have urgent needs along the offensive line, secondary and receiver group. Stay tuned to the latest episode of “Who wants to be a Texan millionaire?”

Will Watson be as good as new? 

All of Houston is dying to know the prognosis. Watson had major knee surgery (left knee) while at Clemson University and returned to lead the team to back-to- back national championship games. The current injury is to the right knee. It only took six games for fans to fall in love with the talented rookie. The Texans were leading the NFL in scoring and Watson was the league’s leader in TD’s passes before his injury. The key to the future success of the franchise is directly tied to Watson making a full and complete recovery.

Road to the Super Bowl 

Super Bowl LII is a month away and as the playoffs begin one can’t help but wonder what two teams will be left standing in Minneapolis the first Sunday in February. Can Atlanta make it back again? Will unlikely MVP candidate Case Keenum of Minnesota (who played college ball at the University of Houston) host and play at home for the Super Bowl? Can upstart Jacksonville be David to New England’s Goliath or is there a dark horse team out there? Regardless of any stigma associated with the national anthem protests or declining ratings, the NFL is still must-see TV.

Astros’ outlook, acquisitions 

The Astros got off to a hot start last spring and rode it all the way to the World Series. Can lightning strike twice in 2018? The core pieces are all intact and GM Jeff Luhnow is looking to add just the right pieces. Could All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish soon be wearing Astros orange and blue? The hot stove period in MLB started with a bang when the Yankees traded to acquire NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Florida Marlins. The Astros have countered by adding quality arms to their bullpen. The champs to date have signed right-handed relievers Hector Rondon and Joe Smith. Is there more to come?

Is this Rocket team the one? 

The Rockets have the best record in the NBA and had a 14-game winning streak. Chris Paul has been as good as advertised. Clint Capela continues to improve, both offensively and defensively. P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute provide a needed blue-collar presence and James Harden continues to play like one of the top players in the NBA. If all of the key pieces of the puzzle can remain healthy, there’s no reason the Rockets can’t be in the conference finals. In addition, never under-estimate GM Daryl Morey’s ability to pull off a deal at the trade deadline.

Can Serena return to form? 

2017 was a big year for Serena Williams. The tennis queen gave birth to a bouncing baby girl and recently married. Sources say she is training to resume competitive play in 2018. Word has it that Williams, 36, is planning to play in the Australian Open later in January. She won the open last year in the early months of her pregnancy.

What about Tiger? 

Can Tiger Woods come back from a multitude of physical issues and addiction to pain killers? Woods recently had an encouraging showing at the Hero World Championship. He finished tied for ninth, 10 strokes off the winner Rickie Fowler. Expect Woods to be more visible in 2018.