Somehow, Houston will be Playing for their First Playoff Berth This Weekend
I don’t know how many more times I’ll have to bury the Texans this year, but the same team that is 1-5 in its last 6 games and has fallen prey to themselves no fewer than three consecutive weeks in a row is somehow just one last hot December away from reaching the first ever postseason in the history of the franchise.
At 5-7, it’s remarkable they are still in it. Even more remarkable than last season, when 5-7 became 9-7 and the tiebreakers would have broken for them had someone just been kind enough to actually play the New York Jets in the last two weeks of the season. This year, there are no crazy tiebreakers at stake, rather, the Texans are just two games out of the AFC South division, and need only to make up the difference in order to play in the postseason for the first time.
Unless the Indianapolis Colts can win out (or the Jacksonville Jaguars win their next three games…and those things both can’t happen since they meet in Week 15), Houston would control it’s destiny in the AFC South division. In other words, the help they need amounts only to the winner of that Week 15 tilt between the two teams NOT winning the rest of their games. That means they’ll be looking for help from Oakland or Washington (against Jacksonville), or Tennessee or Oakland (against Indianapolis). Expecting to get something to break in their favor, the hardest part of coming back from the rather dead to HOST a playoff game: winning out.
It’s not easy by any means, but it is something the Texans have done in both 2008 and 2009, and it’s what head coach Gary Kubiak will need to do in order to save his job. Replicate it, and all probability suggests that the end-0f-year result will be something that isn’t completely academic.
Lost in losing 7 of their first 12 games, all 7 in their last 10 and 5 of 6, is that the Texans do a number of things well. Neil Rackers can still boom it, and he’s been a really underrated addition to their team. And…well, that’s about it for non-offensive players on the Texans doing well. But what a great offense this group is. Their best Tight End this season: Joel Dreessen. Both Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter are having great years again. Matt Schaub’s production has declined a bit from his career year in 2009, but that’s okay, because he can hand the ball to the best player on the offense.
Houston’s best unit — as it is with most great offenses — might be it’s offensive line, and not enough people really talk about these guys. The weak spot is the LT position, but the team has a prospect it really likes in Duane Brown, and when he missed time due to a suspension, they turned to Rashad Butler, a waiver pickup from before the 2007 season, and he played great at LT in this offense. To the right, they have Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Antoine Caldwell (or Mike Brisel), and Eric Winston. That group hasn’t been together longer than a year, (and Smith was a 2010 FA pickup), but they’ve been one of the best units in football.
Their opponent on Monday night will be their toughest remaining opponent of the season: the Baltimore Ravens. As big as the game is for the Texans, it might be bigger for the Ravens, who are currently holding on to the sixth seed in the AFC playoff field. That is now a 1.5 game lead over last night’s winner, Indianapolis. A loss makes it a one game lead over the Colts (and possibly the Raiders and Chargers and Dolphins as well), and then here come the winning streaks of the Saints and the Browns…specifically Cleveland who needs to catch the Ravens for second in the AFC North division to make any noise in the playoff race. The Ravens need to beat the Texans to cut off these problems before they start. A two game lead with three to go qualifies as safe. A one game lead ahead of four teams is never safe.
The terse feel of the moment is what makes me think that the Texans are a true contender in the AFC South with this win. A loss puts them two games behind the Colts and Jags: over at that point. And a 6 loss out of 7 wouldn’t surprise anyone.
However, this is largely the same Texans team that beat the Patriots in Week 17 last year, making it factually-based that their quality wins come in December and January. Here again is that time of year, and this is the quality game remaining on their schedule. If the Texans are going to make a late-season run for the third straight year, and actually pay it off with a playoff berth, now is the time to put everything together.