There are two weeks to go in the NFL regular season. The Houston Texans can clinch a playoff spot, the AFC South and/or a first round bye. The latter has never been accomplished by this franchise, which played its first season in 2002.
CLINCHES PLAYOFF SPOT
- Baltimore Ravens loss or tie; OR
- Pittsburgh Steelers loss; OR
- Tennessee Titans loss or tie + Houston clinches Strength of Victory tiebreaker over the Ravens
After starting 0-3 this season, the thought of any playoff berth would have been considered a positive. But now, after their historical turnaround, the Texans, their fans and the media would all consider it a colossal failure if the team slid into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
CLINCHES AFC SOUTH
- Houston Texans win or tie; OR
- Indianapolis Colts loss or tie + Tennessee Titans loss or tie
The Texans are past the phase in franchise history where AFC South championships are celebrated. Sure, acknowledge the accolade after the season, but it doesn’t feel like the accomplishment it once was for the Texans.
By no means is that a knock on what the Texans have achieved. Actually, it’s a tip of the hat to a franchise finally getting over the 9-7 hurdle. No letterman’s jackets, no Albert Haynesworth or TJ Yates. This is real. This is a championship caliber team, but to reach that potential, they’ll need to seize every advantage.
CLINCHES FIRST ROUND BYE
- Houston Texans win + New England Patriots loss or tie; OR
- Houston Texans tie + New England Patriots loss
This is the ultimate regular season prize: a postseason bye week. By securing the bye, the Texans would also, obviously, play one game fewer in the playoffs, automatically jumping to the next round of the AFC playoffs.
While the Texans heal and watch their future opponent, they’ll do so at home. Their opponent would have to travel to Houston after playing an extra game to take on the rested Texans. Consider the advantage: Another week of rest and/or preparation for Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Dunn, JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, DeAndre Carter and any other newly acquired or promoted player who steps in due to a week 16 or 17 injury.
Lately I’ve been writing about Deshaun Watson and how he’s a different beast in big moments. Later I found some splits from ESPN, and they, too, point to Watson elevating his game when the pressure is at a breaking point for normal mortals. Here are more splits from Watson’s 2018 season through 15 weeks:
Deshaun Watson (stats I didn't use for today's article)— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) December 18, 2018
71-97 (73.2%) 785 yds
4 TDs 0 INTs
Non-Sunday & Primetime:
90-116 (78%) 1,118 yds
10 TDs 1 INT
19 TDs 0 INTs
On 4th down
6-7 (85.7%) 43 yards
2 TDs 0 INTs
I previously mentioned Watson’s performances in back-to-back College Football Championship games against the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide defense. In those two games he threw for 825 yards and 7 touchdowns to only 1 interception and tacked on 116 rushing yards and one touchdown. He’s a different creation.
Watson now has the Clemson Connection with DeAndre Hopkins, the NFL’s best wide receiver to throw to in big moments. This tandem will be at its peak over the next month and a half.
It’s not only the Super Bowl that is motivating them. Hopkins is on the cusp of doing something that hasn’t been done since 2014. That was the year Antonio Brown had 129 receptions for 1,698 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, leading the AFC in all three categories. That’s known as the Triple Crown for wide receivers.
Hopkins is in the running for the AFC wide receiver Triple Crown this season. There are three wide receivers in the AFC who have a shot with two games to go:
DeAndre Hopkins recorded career highs in receptions and yards in 2015 with 111 receptions for 1,521 yards. His career high in receiving touchdowns came last season when he hauled in 13. To set career highs in all three categories, he’ll need to catch 18 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns over the next two games.
Whether he reaches the Triple Crown or not, people are already noticing that DeAndre Hopkins is not one of the best receivers in the NFL; he is, in fact, the top receiver in the game. Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports tweeted these impressive numbers on the sixth-year playmaker:
DeAndre Hopkins' 2017 season in #ReceptionPerception among all sampled receivers (2014-17):— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) December 20, 2018
- Highest % of sampled routes vs. double coverage (16.1%)
- 2nd highest % of sampled routes vs. press coverage (52.5%)
- 14th highest % of sampled targets in contested situations (28.8%)
Hopkins and Watson are the best young quarterback-receiver tandem in the NFL. Watson plays his best in the biggest of moments. The more highly-contested windows in the postseason are a non-issue for Hopkins, as this is where he excels.
This Texans team has a lot to play for over the next two weeks; a Wild Card spot or the AFC South crown will not feed the appetite of this city and this team. The coming matchup with the Eagles is no regular Week 16 game; it’s an elimination game, and the Texans have to play with an elimination mindset.
If the Texans beat the Eagles, they’ll only have a Jaguars team standing in front of them and a berth into the second round of the AFC playoffs. A win would ensure that the Texans wouldn’t leave the city of Houston until the AFC Championship game, at the earliest.
It’s Christmas time in Houston, and if you’re still not convinced that the Clemson Connection has all of your Holiday needs taken care of, take solace in knowing the Houston sports gods received an extra sacrifice just in time to ensure victory in this game. I had thought the injuries to Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers and others, along with the Astros sacrificing back-to-back titles, would be enough to appease them, but apparently they required Chris Paul’s hamstring ... again.
It’s the way things work down here. We aren’t allowed to have everything go right. The price has to be paid. Watson gave up another ACL for the Astros last year, so it’s only fair that Chris Paul would sacrifice his hamstring for the Texans. Better now than in Game 6! D’oh, still too soon.