NFL

Who Have The Texans Beat

It’s that time of year again: time to play “WHO...HAVE...THEY...BEAT!”

Every season as the playoffs grow near, fans from every fan base start believing more in their franchise. Part of this holiday tradition is to look at other possible playoff teams and ask the question, “Who have they beat?” Let’s answer that question as we head into Week 16.

I’ve decided to look at the top contenders in the AFC to see who they have beaten, lost to or tied. Let the festivities begin!

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Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

  • Signature Win: Week 1 in L.A. they knocked off the (11-3) Chargers 38-28
  • Other Wins vs teams .500 or better:

Week 2 - 42-37 at Pittsburgh (8-5-1)

Week 14 - 27-24 vs Baltimore (8-6)

  • Worst Lost: No losses to a team .500 or below
  • Other Losses:

Week 6 - 43-40 at New England (9-5)

Week 11 - 54-51 at Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

Week 15 - 29-28 vs Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Browns (6-7-1)

Broncos (6-8)

Broncos (6-8)

Bengals (6-8)

Jaguars (4-10)

49ers (4-10)

Cardinals (3-11)

Raiders (3-11)

Chiefs’ glass half-full: They haven’t lost to anyone with less than nine wins.

Chief’s glass half-empty: While they haven’t lost to anyone with a .500 record or worse, they are only 1-3 against teams with nine or more wins entering week 16.

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Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

  • Signature Win: Week 14 in K.C. they knocked off the (11-3) Chiefs 29-28
  • Other Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 7 - 20-19 vs Tennessee (8-6)

Week 9 - 25-17 at Seattle (8-6)

Week 13 - 33-30 at Pittsburgh (8-5-1)

  • Worst Lost: Week 11 - 23-22 vs Broncos (6-8)
  • Other Losses:

Week 1 - 38-28 vs Kansas City (11-3)

Week 3 - 35-23 at Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Browns (6-7-1)

Bengals (6-8)

Bills (4-9)

49ers (4-10)

Raiders (3-11)

Raiders (3-11)

Cardinals (3-11)

Chargers glass half-full: Second most wins in the AFC playoff race vs teams with a winning record.

Chargers glass half-empty: As with the Chiefs, 10 of their 11 wins have come against teams with 8 wins or fewer and are 1-2 (including a split with the Chiefs) when facing teams with more than 8 wins.

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Houston Texans (10-4)

  • Signature Win: Haven’t beaten a team with more than eight wins
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 4 - 37-34 at Indianapolis (8-6)

Week 5 - 19-16 vs Dallas (8-6)

Week 8 - 42-23 vs Miami (7-7)

Week 11 - 23-21 at Washington (7-7)

Week 12 - 34-17 vs Tennessee (8-6)

  • Worst Lost: Week 3 - 27-22 vs Giants (5-9)
  • Other Losses:

Week 1 - 27-20 at New England (9-5)

Week 2 - 20-17 at Tennessee (8-6)

Week 14 - 24-21 vs Indianapolis (8-6)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Browns (6-7-1)

Broncos (6-8)

Bills (5-9)

Jaguars (4-10)

Jets (4-10)

Texans glass half-full: Tied for the second most wins against teams that are .500 or better, in the AFC. Houston has lost by a total of 18 points in their four defeats, with totals of 7, 3, 5 and 3 points being the amount they have come up short in their four losses.

Texans glass half-empty: Haven’t not been tested with a tough schedule. Have only played one team with more than eight wins. That game was back in Week 1 in Foxboro and saw the now (9-5) Patriots win 27-20.

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New England Patriots (9-5)

  • Signature Win: Week 6 vs Kansas City (11-3), 43-40
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 1 - 27-20 vs Houston (10-4)

Week 4 - 38-7 vs Miami (7-7)

Week 5 - 38-24 vs Indianapolis (8-6)

Week 7 - 38-31 at Chicago (10-4)

Week 13 - 24-10 vs Minnesota (7-6-1)

  • Worst Loss: Week 2 - 31-20 at Jacksonville (4-10)
  • Other Losses:

Week 3 - 26-10 at Detroit (5-9)

Week 10 - 34-10 at Tennessee (8-6)

Week 14 - 34-33 at Miami (7-7)

Week 15 - 17-10 at Pittsburgh (8-5-1)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Packers (5-8-1)

Bills (5-9)

Jets (4-10)

Patriots glass half-full: Five wins against teams with a winning record. No other playoff contender has more than three such wins. New England also has three wins against teams who have won 10+ games, while no other AFC team has more than one.

Patriots glass half-empty: Patriots are 3-5 on the road this season and 6-0 at home. They are a bad road team, which shows in all five road losses coming to teams with eight or fewer wins. This is tied with the Dolphins for the most such losses.

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Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

  • Signature Win: Week 15 vs New England (9-5), 17-10
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 9 - 23-16 at Baltimore (8-6)

  • Worst Lost: Week 14 - 24-21 at Oakland (3-11)
  • Other Losses:

Week 1 - 21-21 TIE at Cleveland (6-7-1)

Week 2 - 42-37 vs Kansas City (11-3)

Week 4 - 26-14 vs Baltimore (8-6)

Week 12 - 24-17 at Denver (6-8)

Week 13 - 33-30 vs Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Browns (6-7-1)

Bengals (6-8)

Panthers (6-8)

Bucs (5-9)

Falcons (5-9)

Jaguars (4-10)

Steelers glass half-full: The early season loss to the Ravens was the only one for the Steelers this season by a margin greater than one possession.

Steelers glass half-empty: They’ve only beaten two teams all season that currently have eight or more wins, including a split with the Ravens. They are 2-3 in these games.

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Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

  • Signature Win: Haven’t beat a team with more than eight wins
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 4 - 26-14 at Pittsburgh (8-5-1)

Week 6 - 21-0 at Tennessee (8-6)

  • Worst Lost: Week 8 - 36-21 at Carolina (6-8)
  • Other Losses:

Week 2 - 34-23 at Cincinnati (6-8)

Week 5 - 12-9 at Cleveland (6-7-1)

Week 7 - 24-23 vs New Orleans (12-2)

Week 9 - 23-16 vs Pittsburgh (8-5-1)

Week 14 - 27-24 at Kansas City (11-3)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Bengals (6-8)

Broncos (6-8)

Bills (5-9)

Bucs (5-9)

Falcons (5-9)

Raiders (3-13)

Ravens glass half-full: Lost by a total of only four points to the 12-win Saints and 11-win Chiefs.

Ravens glass half-empty: As is the case with the Texans, the Ravens haven’t beaten a team with nine or more wins this season, and as is the case with the Steelers, Baltimore is 2-3 (including a split with Pittsburgh) when playing teams with eight or more wins this season.

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Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

  • Signature Win: Week 14 at Houston (10-4), 24-21
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 2 - 21-9 at Washington (7-7)

Week 11 - 38-10 vs Tennessee (8-6)

Week 12 - 27-24 vs Miami (7-7)

Week 15 - 23-0 vs Dallas (8-6)

  • Worst Lost: Week 6 - 42-34 at New York Jets (4-10)
  • Other Losses:

Week 1 - 34-23 vs Cincinnati (6-8)

Week 3 - 20-16 at Philadelphia (7-7)

Week 4 - 37-34 vs Houston (10-4)

Week 5 - 38-24 at New England (9-5)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Bengals (6-8)

Broncos (6-8)

Bills (5-9)

Bucs (5-9)

Falcons (5-9)

Raiders (3-13)

Colts glass half-full: Indianapolis is 4-0 in their last four games vs teams that are .500 or better.

Colt glass half-empty: The toughest competition that they have faced was the Texans (10-4) and the Patriots (9-5). They split with the Texans and lost to the Patriots. That goes along with two losses to 4-win teams, early on this season.

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Tennessee Titans (8-6)

  • Signature Win: Week 2 vs Houston (10-4), 20-17
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 4 - 26-23 vs Philly (7-7)

Week 9 - 28-14 at Dallas (8-6)

Week 10 - 34-10 vs New England (9-5)

  • Worst Lost: Week 5 - 13-12 at Buffalo (5-9)
  • Other Losses:

Week 1 - 27-20 at Miami (7-7)

Week 6 - 21-0 vs Baltimore (8-6)

Week 7 - 20-19 at Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

Week 11 - 38-10 at Indianapolis (8-6)

Week 12 - 34-17 at Houston (10-4)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Giants (5-9)

Jets (4-10)

Jaguars (4-10)

Jaguars (4-10)

Titans glass half-full: One of only three AFC teams to have multiple wins over teams with nine or more wins.

Titans glass half-empty: Most likely playing for a wild card spot, which would mean a first-round road trip. Tennessee is 3-5 on the road this season. They have lost four of their last six games against teams that are currently in the hunt for the NFL playoffs.

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Miami Dolphins (7-7)

  • Signature Win: Week 6 vs Chicago (10-4), 31-28
  • Wins vs teams .500 or better

Week 1 - 27-20 vs Tennessee (8-6)

Week 14 - 34-33 vs New England (9-5)

  • Worst Lost: Week 7 - 32-21 vs Detroit (5-9)
  • Other Losses:

Week 4 - 38-7 at New England (9-5)

Week 5 - 27-17 at Cincinnati (6-8)

Week 8 - 42-23 at Houston (10-4)

Week 10 - 31-12 at Green Bay (5-8-1)

Week 12 - 27-24 at Indianapolis (8-6)

Week 15 - 41-17 at Minnesota (7-6-1)

  • Wins vs teams under .500:

Bills (5-9)

Jets (4-10)

Jets (4-10)

Raiders (3-11)

Dolphins glass half-full: Tied in the AFC with the Titans for the second most wins against teams with nine or more victories this season.

Dolphins glass half-empty: Miami has an equally awful loss to match each quality victory. They are 1-6 on the road this year.

You have your ammunition now; happy hunting!

The Real Difference between 2018 and 2012 Is Deshaun Watson

I’ve heard over the last few weeks that “These Texans aren’t as good as the 2012 Texans.” I decided to pull the stats for comparison’s sake. What I found was encouraging.

The Texans still need two more wins to match the 12-4 record from the 2012 season. Houston travels to Philadelphia this weekend to take on the reigning world champs. Nick Foles, the Texas high school star quarterback and the savior of the 2017 miraculous championship ride, is back in the saddle for the 7-7 Eagles. The Texans then finish out the season at home against the Jaguars.

When I dig into the stats, what really jumps out about 2018 is how the Texans are 30th in red zone and goal-to-go percent on defense this season. On the opposite side of the ball, the Texans are tied for 26th in red zone percent and tied for 27th in goal-to-go percent. These are troubling categories for this year’s club.

The rest of the numbers were intriguing, especially what Brad Seely is doing with the Texans special teams unit on both sides, in year one. After looking all of the columns over, I found it odd how similar the points per game were. Neither of these teams were “fluke” four-loss teams.

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The biggest difference between the 2012 and 2018 teams for the Houston franchise is at the most important position in all of sports, quarterback. While we can’t compare Matt Schaub’s 16 games from that season to Deshaun Watson’s 16 games for this season yet, the 14 games in the book do give us a large enough sample size for a fair comparison into who they were as quarterbacks during their team’s success and failures.

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*splits courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Deshaun Watson is built for this; but Matt Schaub was what Kirk Cousins is today. A Schaub or a Cousins will get the big contract because he can be a top 10 regular season fantasy quarterback, run the offense, and get you to the playoffs, if there is a strong enough team around him.

Watson elevates the team around him. He always has. Watson has shown in high school, college and the pros that he’s among the best of the best. He’s also shown that he can take his game to the next level whenever he needs to. Whether it’s the playoffs or a game the team needs on the road in Philadelphia in late December, the 2012 team didn’t have a big moment quarterback. Watson excels in the biggest moments; Schaub exacerbated those moments.

Saying the 2012 Texans team was/is better than the 2018 Texans team is the same as being the guy who said back in 1992, “Christian Laettner is a better fit on the Dream Team than Shaq.”

Houston Texans Playoff Scenarios

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

  1. Baltimore Ravens loss or tie; OR
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers loss; OR
  3. 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

  1. Houston Texans win or tie; OR
  2. 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

  1. Houston Texans win + New England Patriots loss or tie; OR
  2. 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.

Prime-Time Watson

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:

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:

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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:

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.

Where's the Buzz in Houston?

The Houston Texans just won their 10th game of the season and have a chance to secure a bye week in their next two games, but there is little to no buzz around the city. More than likely you have heard someone attempt to convince you to enjoy this season, a season that includes a nine-game win streak and 10 wins out of 11 games. On paper, it’s hard to understand why any Houstonian needs convincing to enjoy the ride. Houston hasn't seen this much success since its playoff runs in 2011 and 2012; so why does it seem like there was a bigger buzz during those years than this season?

2011 Houston Texans Season

A season that almost didn’t happen due to a NFL lockout in negotiations of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, 2011 was Gary Kubiak’s do-or-die season. In 2010 it seemed like his regime had bottomed out, going 6-10 for the season. It took virtually everyone in Houston by surprise when Bob McNair chose to keep him the following year. The unpopular move made sense: offense was never a problem under Kubiak’s regime, but after having the worst defense in the league, it was time for an established defensive coordinator. In came Wade Phillips, and he proved to be the difference in turning the Texans into a playoff team.

Kubiak, entering his sixth season, could not afford to have a rough start, especially when he had spent five years with the team but still had never achieved a playoff berth. In this 2011 season he had every reason to collapse under such immense pressure; and Arian Foster, the 2010 league leading rusher in yards, being out for the first three games of the season didn’t help either.

This was just the beginning of a season where the Texans embraced the phrase “next man up.” Andre Johnson would be out several weeks after suffering a non-contact hamstring injury in a scary scene against the defending AFC Champ Pittsburgh Steelers. Mario Williams seemed to be reborn under Wade Phillips’s system, but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Oakland. Most notably, Houston lost its starting quarterback Matt Schaub; this happened in the middle of a hot four-game win streak that destroyed opponents like the Titans (41-7), Jacksonville (24-14), Cleveland (30-12), and Tampa Bay (37-9).

Houston was erupting with passion for the Texans, who were having their most successful season at 7-3 despite all the injuries to its biggest of stars and core players. When TJ Yates led the team to its eighth victory, optimism was restored, and Texans fans were thinking why not us and why not TJ Yates? The buzz only grew when TJ led the Texans to victory against an Atlanta Falcons team that was 7-4 and winners of five of their last six. When the winning streak continued on the road in December in Cincinnati, clinching the division and a playoff berth, the city’s enthusiasm was at an all-time high. A franchise that had never been to the playoffs, that dealt with injuries to their best running back, their best wide receiver, their best pass rusher, and their best quarterback, didn’t make excuses. Instead the Texans rose to the challenge and earned their first division championship and playoff berth, and had the city believing in the possibility of a Super Bowl berth with a 5th round, 3rd string quarterback.

2012 Houston Texans Season

After losing to the Ravens in the Divisional Round by just 7 points, Houston maintained its buzz, and any skepticism about Kubiak’s future was in the rear-view mirror. The Texans would enter the season losing two of their best offensive linemen and losing Mario Williams to a big pay day. But they regained their starting quarterback that many believe would have taken them all the way the previous year. The Texans would have their best start in Franchise History, going 5-0 with games that included the eventual comeback player of the year Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Houston Fans were now beating their chests as they saw their team carrying on just as they had been before Schaub’s injury.

New fans had jumped on board during the Texans’ first playoff run, but the bandwagon really blew up on this 2012 run. In 2011, Sonic restaurants had run a promotion that offered customers a free Slush if the Texans scored on the first drive of the second half. In 2012, the offer was applied to any Texans win, creating a whole new fan experience. There are still places in Houston that offer freebies for Texans victories, but none blew up like the Sonic offer. It was the Great Texans Slushes Epidemic, with lines that spilled into the street; demand was so high that employees brought out carts of Slushes just to get the line moving. If you happened to drive by a Sonic on a Tuesday, it was rare to find one without heavy traffic.

Texan fans were excited about their team dominating the league, with wins against Peyton Manning, a dismantling of the eventual Super Bowl Champs Ravens, a cold and muddy slugfest with the one-loss Bears in primetime, back-to-back overtime victories that included a thanksgiving comeback against the Lions … I could go on, but I digress. A hype song for the season, Texans superfan Dre Ladon recorded a hype song for 2011 and made a new song for 2012 titled “H Up 4 Dem Texans.” It featured an Antonio Smith cameo, along with Rich Lord of Sports Radio 610 and Josh Innes in a generic Texans jersey.

When the city buzzes as loud as Houston was, Houston Legends will take notice. Slim Thug, Paul Wall, and Z-RO teamed up with Director Michael Artis to make another Texans Hype song called “Houston.” The video included Texans players such as JJ Watt, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, and Duane Brown. If you haven’t heard it before, shame on you; if you have, it brings back the nostalgic memories of the Houston feeling like our appetite for a championship would be fulfilled.

2018 Houston Texans Season

Here we are in 2018, a season that now claims the franchise’s longest win streak under head coach Bill Obrien. It’s our fourth winning season in five years, but there is a clear difference in the city’s reaction to its wins. On paper, seeing the Texans 10-4 with a chance to clinch a bye, with Deshaun Watson as your Quarterback, JJ Watt back to his defensive MVP form, Deandre Hopkins looking like the best wide receiver in the game, we should feel like this championship is ours to lose. As the Texans take it one game at a time, so have we seen it as one game at a time, and although the results say W, reactions of fans are as harsh as if it were an L. Week after week, we have heard the classic “A win is a win,” or “It may have been ugly, but at least we got the W.” I get it, no team is perfect, but these quotes should be an anomaly during a successful season. Instead, they have been the theme of the entire season.

A season that started 0-3 to turn around and go 10-4 shouldn’t find any fan needing to be convinced to enjoy the ride. It’s understandable if you feel that way, if you feel that this entire season has been a “Muppets Meme” saying “This ain’t it, chief.” You don’t have to force yourself to think otherwise; if you feel that is urine hitting your back, don’t let anyone else convince you it is rain. But this team has the potential to be where they belong, in Deshaun Watson’s hometown Atlanta Georgia, in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in February. The Texans have all the right ingredients to be the last one standing this year; it’s up to the chef to know how to prepare it.

The Bit: Spoiled Fans and Media Declare Sky Falling

The Texans sit astride the AFC South at 10-4 with a two-game lead over the Titans (8-6) and Colts (8-6), having split a game each with the foes. Not only do the Texans hold the reins of their division, they have a chance to obtain a rare gem not ever held by the organization before: a bye week with at least one guaranteed home game to follow.

How do the Texans accomplish such a feat? They simply win two more football games against two teams who do not have winning records.

Sadly, it’s not the simple, but before we look into the future, let’s take an embarrassing dive into Texans-past…

As I watched the Texans and Jets battle, I could not help but check Twitter to see what was being said. After all, Twitter is the home to absolute experts and unemployed NFL GMs, so why not gather their input?

Instead of support, I read what seemed to be a millennial protest.

Dread spewed forth from the Twitter outlets of fans and media alike, and I get it. It’s acceptable to expect your team to play at a high level. But who the hell says the Texans should have beaten the brakes off the Jets? The Jets average around 20 points per game and 23 points over the past 3 games, and the Texans have beaten the brakes off few teams this year; they aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. They are an offense with a limited run game—due to talent at the position and the offensive line—the quarterback often holds on to the ball too long when given plenty of time to throw, and too often do the Texans settle for 3 points instead of 6.

Even before the Jets took the lead, I witnessed complete jackassary from many. The fans have been spoiled by 10 wins, mostly due to the 9-game win streak, and have forgotten that a good team can *gulp* not hold the lead the entire game. It was no surprise that “the Texans were overrated” or “same old O’Brien” was diarrhea’d all over my timeline when the Jets went up 22-19 with 5 minutes left in the game. Let’s not forget “the secondary sucks.”

These same fans quickly kissed the buttocks of one Deshaun Watson when he engineered a brilliant end-game drive to retake the lead.

What stood out most to me was a tweet from the Bengal Killer himself, T.J. Yates:

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The Texans have played their butts off, and the fans/media completely disrespected and undervalued a Jets team that has put up 48, 34, 42, and 27 points in their four wins. The Jets have also beaten three teams that gifted wins to the Texans.

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(What kind of handsome egomaniac would quote their own tweet in their own article?)

The Jets, while inconsistent, will often put points on the board. (Sound familiar?) Yet, the fans and media expect a shutout, on the road, on a short week, after an exhausting division loss at home.

What happens this week when the Texans go on the road to face the red-hot, defending Super Bowl champs? I do not expect the Texans to be favored, nor should they be, as the Eagles just smacked the Rams in the mouth in LA. Will the sky also be falling if the Texans have to, dare I say, fight to Week 17 to secure the division, in a division where three of the four teams have winning records?

Or what happens if the Texans blow the #2 seed and give it back to the Patriots? Will fans stop cheering in protest? Hell no. The same crying fans will fill every damn seat at NRG Stadium on December 30th to watch the Texans try and secure the AFC South.

If they play for 60 minutes, then wait 60-damn-minutes before you start crying on social media. As the Bengal Killer said: find a real problem.

Leave the game to the athletes and coaches.

Texans Aim to Outfly Eagles as Playoffs Loom

The Houston Texans’ first round bye possibilities appeared bleak two weeks ago following a 24-21 loss to the Colts. That changed with the Miracle in Miami as the Dolphins upended the Patriots. Thanks to a come-from-behind performance against the Jets along with the Steelers delivering New England's second straight defeat, the Texans will travel to Philadelphia in the driver’s seat of the AFC's number two seed. While Houston is primed to be a top two seed, the Eagles still have faint playoff hopes, staying alive by beating the Rams 30-23.

The Texans enter the contest with a struggling run game. In their previous two games, Houston posted 89 yards against the Colts, and just 47 yards against the Jets. In both games, quarterback Deshaun Watson was the Texans’ leading rusher. Though it’s great to see Watson making plays with his legs, keeping a starting quarterback healthy is a huge issue.

In these final two games, the Texans need to not only get Lamar Miller healthy following his ankle injury, but also get both Miller and Blue back to on track to take the pressure off Watson. Since the Texans bye, there has been much speculation about the return of running back D'Onta Foreman. Foreman, recovering from an Achilles injury, has yet to play this year, and could make his debut at Philadelphia Sunday. If Foreman is unable to go Sunday, the Texans would be best suited to sit him for the remainder of the year, including the playoffs, in order to have Foreman ready to go for training camp.

Keys to the Game

The Texans need one more win to secure the AFC South, two for a first round bye. The defending champion Eagles, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to win out in order to get back to the playoffs, but it would help their cause. What do the Texans have to do to snag a win?

Offensively:

  1. Run the ball. The Texans have struggled to run the ball in the last two games. They’ll face an Eagles defense which is 11th against the run, allowing 105 yards a game, but 19th in the league allowing 12 rushing touchdowns on the season. Getting Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue going again will be a huge step towards generating balance, as well as alleviating the pressure on Watson.
  2. Continue to play mistake-free. The Texans have gone four consecutive games without committing a turnover. On the road against the defending champions, in a hostile environment, the Texans are going to have to add a fifth consecutive turnover-free game if they want to come home with a W.
  3. Get everyone involved and score touchdowns. I love Watson's ability to extend plays, and his play-making instinct is incredible. However, always trying to make plays can be Watson's downfall, because he has a tendency of holding the ball too long, taking unnecessary hits and sacks. Deshaun also loves going to Hopkins, which is great, but if Watson can utilize his tight ends and running backs more in the passing game, the offense should see a more consistent flow. As a unit, the offense is just weird: against the Colts, the Texans scored three touchdowns and no field goals, but lost; against the Jets, the Texans scored two touchdowns and kicked five field goals, but won. The offense has to find its balance and start generating some consistency.

Defensively:

  1. Get pressure and tackle. The Texans’ front seven has been pretty quiet in the past three games, registering just nine sacks on 13 quarterback hits in the previous three games. Some of the lack of heat is attributed to the opposing quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly. Assuming the Eagles put that kind of plan in place for Foles who will start in the place of the injured Carson Wentz, Watt and company are unable to generate pressure on Foles; the Texans must hustle and tackle in open space, to prevent a short to intermediate gain, to turn into a huge play.
  2. Play disciplined. The Texans must play disciplined up front (I'm looking at you, Clowney), especially late in the game. It's tough enough to stop offenses in today's game; there is no need to make life more difficult and give the Eagles free yardage.
  3. Compliment the offense. I don't mean tell Deshaun Watson his socks look cool. I mean that when the offense scores, the defense must follow it up with a stop. The lead will increase; the confidence of the team will increase; and the team will have a happy flight home for their grand finale against Jacksonville.

Final Word

While the defending champion Eagles have not been as dominant as most expected, they are still the champs, and they still have a shot at the playoffs. On the road against a desperate team, with a first round bye on the line, the Texans get a chance to flex their muscles and show that they belong in the championship conversation. Sunday's game is also a test for Coach O'Brien to see how well he can match wits with an elite coach such as Doug Pederson, prior to facing the likes of Belichick and Andy Reid in January.

Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are 0-4 against the Eagles all time. What better time to bust that streak than Sunday? The Texans control their destiny not only for the division but also for a first round bye. Winning Sunday gives the Texans the AFC South, and winning the final two games guarantees a first round bye. There is even a possibility the Texans could secure both the division and a bye on Sunday, by coupling a victory with New England's third consecutive loss.

"Throw the Ball, Deshaun!"

The hottest phrase in Houston sports right now is: “Throw the ball, Deshaun!” Fans and media alike are all just clamoring for Deshaun Watson to get rid of the ball instead of taking sacks.

This new phrase is so hot, it has now surpassed Texans’ fans and media’s early season hot phrase leader: “Just take the sack, Deshaun.” Let's take a look at the 2018 Texans’ “hot phrase” counter:

Texans Hot Phrase Counter*

1) “Throw the ball, Deshaun” --- 7,324,091 and counting

2) “Just take the sack, Deshaun” --- 6,999,872

3) “Bill O’Brien is …..when leading at halftime” --- 6,782,110 and rolling

*Editor’s Note: Data tabulation source is Jayson Braddock’s numerical gut feeling.

You may be puzzled looking at the counter. How could the same media and fans who screamed daily for Deshaun to just take the sack and protect the football, come back in the same season and now want Watson to just throw it away?

Do they know that the Texans are the first team to start 0-3 and then go on and win 9 games straight? Do they not realize how hard it is to win 10 of 11 games in the NFL? They have to know that Watson has completely changed the way he played mid-season, again, to protect the football.

Watson is 13-7 in his career with the Houston Texans. After one of the best statistical 6-game stretches for a rookie (starts), he tore his ACL. Watson went 3-3 during his six starts as a rookie. In his three losses as a rookie, his team put up 33 points in Foxboro, followed by 34 at home against the Chiefs, and finally, 38 in a loss in Seattle.

The ACL Watson tore was the opposite knee from the one he tore in college. He spent the entire offseason rehabbing. On top of that, Bill O’Brien decided to change the playbook for his second year star quarterback, while he was returning from the injury.

Watson looked unidentifiable in a Week One loss to the Patriots. He quickly started to find his form in a Week Two loss that saw him throw for 310 yards and two touchdowns. The next three games, Watson attempted to take the team on his back by passing for 375 yards or more in each game. The Texans started to find their winning way as Watson rounded back into form and found a grasp for the new offense. Yet Watson had thrown at least one interception in every game and the Texans were still only 2-3. The close win against the Bills was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Watson had another two interceptions in that game and Nathan Peterman was the latest fluke-y opposing player / coach to bail the Texans out.

It appeared that the Texans, realizing that the defense and running game were starting to play sustainable, winning football, knew that they needed to play to their strengths and win the turnover battle and they could beat anyone. That next week in Jacksonville, it appeared that Watson and the Texans started a conscious trend: protect the football and only throw when you need to and it’s safe to do so. Let the running game and defense win games, and if they need you to make a throw or run, they know they have that in reserve.

Watson didn’t attempt more than 24 pass attempts in any of the next five games, throwing for exactly 24 pass attempts in four of those five games. Since that Jacksonville game, Watson has thrown for 15 touchdowns and has limited his interceptions to just two, both of which came in Washington. Watson has also run for 233 yards on 42 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown during that stretch.

A Tale of Two Seasons

(2018 Games 1-6)

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(2018 Games 7-14)

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The Texans’ keys to the regular season:

1) Win;

2) Stay healthy;

3) Run the ball;

4) Bend / Don’t Break defense; and

5) Don’t turn the ball over.

Braddock3.png

When the Texans make it to the playoffs, you’ll see a different offense, defense, and most importantly, a different Deshaun Watson in elimination games. The Texans have won 10 of their last 11 games without showing too many wrinkles and while limiting the hits on Watson.

Henry Anderson recorded three sacks on Deshaun Watson this past Saturday. Going into this game, Anderson had six sacks for his entire career, a career that spans over four seasons and 42 games played, before Saturday. The Texans only ran 53 offensive plays and still gave up six sacks, three of which came to a guy who had never had more than three sacks in a season before Saturday’s game.

Higher Level of Criticism

Watson, in his 20th career start, receives more criticism than warranted, from a fan base that has never had a franchise quarterback, unless you go back to the last franchise that played football in the city of Houston. The Houston Oilers had Steve McNair, Warren Moon, Dan Pastorini, etc. The Texans have had David Carr, Matt Schaub, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, and Brock Osweiler.

I spent Sunday watching future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger make similar mistakes to what Watson had done earlier this season, but corrected.

In a similar play to a pressure Watson drew, Rodgers took an A-gap blitz from the safety; he attempted to make him miss to buy time for his receivers to open up in their route. Watson too, took a sack from the Jets’ stellar safety Jamal Adams in his game this weekend. It was zero coverage and “everyone could see it coming,” but why did Watson take the sack? “He can’t see the blitz.” Or, “He holds the ball too long.”

Against the Steelers the following day, Tom Brady took pressure and tried to fling the ball up towards the sideline to give his big target a chance or it’ll probably go out of bounds. Joe Haden made a stellar play on the ball. Unlike the Texans, the Patriots lost and fell out of the two seed. After Watson’s sack, the Texans kicker, Ka’imi Fairbairn, booted through another field goal.

Fairbairn was 5-5 on field goals and 2-2 on extra points in the win against the Jets. Since missing two field goals against Washington, Fairbairn has made 12 of his last 12 field goals and is 11-11 on extra points. Fairbairn was 5-5 on field goals in the win over the Browns, as well as the Jets win.

Watson’s Day in New Jersey

● Deshaun Watson lost his running back in this game: Lamar Miller left with an injury.

● Will Fuller is on injured reserve.

● Keke Coutee couldn’t play.

● Demaryius Thomas still isn’t completely up to speed.

● Texans hide offensive tackles with scheme and fewer pass attempts.

● Watson throws for 294 yards & 2 TDs on 22 of 28 passing, despite only 53 plays.

● Had a QB rating of 134.2.

● Won on the road in December.

● Led all rushers with 4 carries for 26 yards.

● His running backs totaled 12 carries for 14 yards.

● His defense allowed Sam Darnold his first ever multi-TD game w/ 0 INTs.

● Down on the road with 5 minutes to go.

● Went 6-7 for 70 yards and the go-ahead TD in 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

Only Patrick Mahomes (114.8) and Philip Rivers (112.4) have a higher QB rating in the AFC than the Texans’ Deshaun Watson (103.2.) Mahomes and Rivers are also the only two quarterbacks in the AFC with a better record than Watson’s 10-4 this season.

Deshaun Watson Refresher

Watson has torn ACLs in both knees over the last five years, including, most recently tearing his ACL just thirteen months ago.

Watson plays with the two worst offensive tackles in the NFL. So much so that the Texans limit Watson’s regular season pass attempts to keep him healthy. They also get creative with blocking to give their tackles help.

Watson has played 7 games with Will Fuller. He’s played 6 games with Keke Coutee. And 6 games with Demaryius Thomas.

Watson has gone through multiple changes in the offense.

Watson has adapted his playing style in-season to limit turnovers.

Watson won on the road with no running back and no offensive line.

Final

Houston, sit back and let Deshaun Watson be great. Yes, he will hold the ball and take a sack in the regular season to limit opportunities at turnovers. Just using this change mid-season and not for a full season has already led to the Texans skyrocketing up the ranks in turnover margin in the NFL.

Watson has ridden buses, taken hits, changed his style, and done whatever else it took to win 10 of the last 11 games. You are watching greatness.

R.E.L.A.X. Deshaun’s got you.

Texans lose to Colts, Ending Nine-Game Winning Streak

The Houston Texans, on a third-and-one play, had a chance at getting the ball back with enough time to go down the field and kick a game-tying field goal to force the Indianapolis Colts into overtime. However, the Colts played a hard count to draw the Texans’ defense offsides; they got the first down and sealed the victory.

It would once again be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney who would leap offsides, which he is known to do often, and give the Colts exactly what they were looking for—their fifth win in six games. In the game, Clowney only recorded two tackles against Indianapolis.

The Texans’ run defense was stellar in the game, only allowing 50 rushing yards on 23 carries and one touchdown. It was the pass defense that struggled, allowing quarterback Andrew Luck to throw 27-for-41 on the day with 399 passing yards and two touchdowns. The only positive from the pass defense was the interception that safety Andre Hal got.

The Texans offense was average, with less production from the running game than usual. Starting quarterback Deshaun Watson was the leading rusher in the game with five carries for 35 yards and no touchdowns. Running back Lamar Miller would come second with 14 carries for 33 yards and one rushing touchdown.

Watson had a good performance through the air, going 27-for-38 for 267 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

With the loss, the Texans sit still at the number three seed in the AFC. With a win, the Texans would have moved up to the second seed in the conference, thanks to a walk-off lateral touchdown play for the Miami Dolphins to defeat the New England Patriots 34-33. The Texans have one more division game, Week 17 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at noon on Dec. 30 at NRG Stadium for the final home game of the season.

The Texans now must regroup from their first loss since Week 3 and get ready to face the New York Jets. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday at MetLife Stadium for a chance to win the AFC South for the fifth time in franchise history.

*Stats courtesy of NFL.com

Texans Defeat Jets, Get to 10th Win for the First Time in O’Brien Era

The Houston Texans, coming off their first loss since week three, defeated the New York Jets on an NFL Saturday special by a final score of 29-22.

In the first quarter of play, the Texans defense was able to get stops easily and hand the ball to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. The offense looked as effective as the defense, as they effortlessly drove down the field and almost got a touchdown on their opening drive. However, the referees blew a controversial whistle on a key third down play when it seemed Watson was breaking a defender off his back and breaking towards the far sideline. The play was stopped and ruled a sack, forcing a fourth down.

Also, in the first offensive drive for the Texans, running back Lamar Miller went down with an injury and didn’t return in the quarter. The Jets kicked a field goal and tied it up 3-3 with just over two minutes left in the quarter, and that is how the first 15 minutes of the game went for the Texans.

The second quarter of action brought another offensive drive that ended in a field goal. However, there was no drama for this drive; it was just a missed opportunity to get into the endzone.

A big play for the defense came from superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, who forced the ball out of the running back’s hands. Nose tackle D.J. Reader recovered the fumble to set up a huge 45-yard passing touchdown from Watson to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This touchdown extended the Texans’ lead to 10 with 8:14 left in the first half of play.

A field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was good from 53 yards to make it a 16-3 game with 4:39 left in the first half. The Jets would score a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the half, but missed the extra point; this made the score 16-9 heading into the locker room.

Through the first half of play, Hopkins was having a monster game with 108 yards on five receptions and a touchdown through the air. Also stepping up in the first half was the Texans defense, as veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph led the team with three tackles at the half and two assists. Watt had a sack in the first half that came in the first defensive drive of the game for Houston.

To start the second half, Lamar Miller returned to the Houston sidelines and looked all right after his first-quarter injury. The first offensive drive of the second half failed on a three-and-out with two sacks allowed. It wasn’t a great start on offense. Later on, the Texans defense would allow the Jets to make it a one-point contest with a 13-yard passing touchdown (but another missed extra point) to make it 16-15.

Another big factor for the Texans in the third quarter was poor blocking from the offensive line, allowing three sacks of Watson in the first seven minutes of the third quarter of play. Of course, this has not just been a problem today, but for the entire season and really for the past few years for the Texans franchise.

In the final 15 minutes of play, Houston would get a field goal to extend their lead to 19-15. However, their troubles continued with blocking on the offensive side of the football, as they continued to allow more and more sacks of Watson. This let the Jets gain momentum and confidence to get back into the game.

A huge defensive holding penalty was called on the Texans, leading to a touchdown for the Jets. They took their first lead in the game with less than six minutes left and a 22-19 score. But on the Texans’ following possession, Watson found Hopkins in the endzone on an amazing grab for the game-winning touchdown. A field goal at the close of the game sealed the victory by a final of 29-22.

For the Texans, starting quarterback and emerging star Deshaun Watson passed 22-for-28 for 294 yards and two touchdowns, both to Hopkins. Watson also ran for 26 yards on four carries and once again was the leading rusher in the game. Also performing well in the game was Fairbairn, who finished the night five-for-five in field goals, with his longest being from 53 yards. Fairbairn finished the game with 17 of the Houston’s 29 points.

The Texans will take their first double-digit winning season in the O’Brien era north to take on the Philadelphia Eagles; kickoff is at noon on Sunday, Dec. 23. The Texans will be hoping for the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans to lose so that Houston can win their third AFC South divisional title in four years and their fifth in franchise history.

*Stats courtesy of NFL.com

Why Vegas Is Wrong about the Texans

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot about Bill O’Brien’s impressive record of 30-1 when his Texans team have a lead at the half. Taking this stat only on the surface, I was blown away. Maybe Bill O’Brien’s conservative way of winning by as close as humanly possible wasn’t a flaw after all.

Why Vegas Doesn’t Trust the Texans

Vegas, known for their use of analytics, has been well aware of this stat, I’m sure. They make their business knowing every variable in each game. So when I looked recently at the general consensus of Vegas rankings, I was surprised by the lack of respect given to the Texans.

They knew about 30-1, right? They knew that Lamar Miller is second in the AFC in rushing yards this season? They were the first team ever to start 0-3 and then go on to win nine straight! Why isn’t Vegas higher on the Texans’ Super Bowl odds?

Eye-popping stats come out from time to time, and they are impressive enough to sway our opinion. Vegas and the gambling insiders that research all data for each NFL line, had been tracking this stat since it was 1-0. We hear it and take it at face value and run with a new narrative.

The reason Vegas hasn’t overreacted to the 30-1 record and the nine-game winning streak that came to an end this past weekend is because they know all the other numbers. The simple numbers like: If he has 30 wins and only one loss when leading at halftime, then what is his record in all other games? The answer to that is….10 wins and 36 losses. Now that’s eye-popping. That’s not the only stat that concerns Vegas with the Texans.

The first stat that I look at to evaluate teams around playoff time is each team’s record against opponents with a winning record. I do the same thing at the end of the season to gauge what a team was. Unlike its counterparts in the MLB and NBA, there aren’t 162 or even 82 regular season games. There are only 16 games each season, and they usually come around once a week. This makes the NFL the most reactionary sport of all of the major three; it takes an entire week for new storylines or players to change the going narrative.

Over the last few years I’ve earned a reputation of being hard on Bill O’Brien. I believe this to be unfair, as I give credit where it’s due but also hold him accountable for poor decisions. I also base a lot of my opinions on O’Brien around the simple criteria that I mentioned previously. How are his teams against winning teams? Does he just beat up on a poor division?

Here’s some concerning records for Bill O’Brien as the Head Coach of the Houston Texans (current thru NFL week 14 - 2018):

Vegas Texans table 1.png

At first glance, it looks as if a Bill O’Brien’s team has finally turned the corner with a winning record vs teams that are above .500. But when you look deeper you’ll see that with three weeks to go in the season, that three of those four wins are against 7-6 teams (Colts / Titans / Dolphins). The Texans signature win this season is against an 8-5 Cowboys team that they caught at the right time. Dallas started this season 3-5 before winning their last five games in a row.

There’s nothing for Vegas to latch on to with this Texans team. The only good team that Houston has played all season was the Patriots in week one. They aren’t tested enough for Vegas. They look at the Texans nine-straight wins against mediocre competition and fail to see an elite team. What’s the impressive win:

Texans’ Nine Wins

  1. By 3 in Indy thanks to the Frank Reich call going sour
  2. By 3 vs the Amari Cooper-less Cowboys
  3. By 7 at home over the Bills thanks to Nathan Peterman
  4. By 13 in Jacksonville. Enough said
  5. By 19 in win over the Osweiler-led Dolphins
  6. By 2 in the Mile High City vs Keenum & Co.
  7. By 2 in D.C. over Alex Smith & Colt McCoy
  8. By 17 on MNF after the passing of Bob McNair
  9. By 16 over the Browns with Baker cooking up 3 INTs

The Texans play Saturday against the (4-9) Jets and their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. That game is followed over the next couple of weeks by a trip to Philly to take on the (6-7) Eagles and then a home game against the (4-9) Jaguars.

Darnold, Foles, Kessler…

What Vegas Is Missing

I could see the gamblers being leery of the Texans’ potential. But Vegas has a blind spot. Most of the time we look at recent history and trends to predict outcomes. There’s an uncontrollable variable that I believe Vegas, gamblers, the national media and most of us are overlooking.

The Deshaun Watson Factor

Full disclosure: I grew up in Florence, South Carolina and have been a lifelong Clemson fan. I watched Deshaun Watson coming out of Georgia and studied every snap of Deshaun Watson’s college and pro career.

I’ll be 40 years old on Christmas day. I was three years old on January 1st, 1982, the day the Clemson Tigers won their first ever national title in college football. I lived through Terry Allen, Rod Gardner, The Fridge, Levon Kirkland, Woody Dantzler, the Bamberg Bookends and a whole lot of “Clemsoning.” I didn’t get to partake in the joy of that first national title, and honestly, after all of the heartbreak, I never thought I would see one in my lifetime.

That was a lifetime ago, though. All of that was during the B.D. era (Before Deshaun). When Deshaun Watson enters a program, school, team, etc., he elevates the entire organization. He’s a unicorn. I’ve never seen anything like him. I’ve studied college prospects for over a decade and have never seen any quarterback develop as quick, week-over-week, as I did with Watson during his short-lived rookie season. Deshaun Watson is the offense, he is the offensive line, he’s the engine. He always has been.

Although I studied all of young Watson, I still believed there to be rhetorical excess in the words spoken by his former college coach, Dabo Swinney. Swinney said passing on Watson in the NFL Draft would be like passing on Michael Jordan. Maybe we can meet in the middle, Dabo, and call him Kobe? Watson went 12th overall and Kobe Bryant went 13th overall in their respective drafts. At least the Browns didn’t take Vlade Divac in the trade.

I’ve falsely labeled a lot of information surrounding Watson as rhetoric during his entry process to the NFL. It was at his introductory press conference with the Houston Texans that I asked him about a report that I once read. I believed it to be hyperbole. As the story went, when Deshaun Watson tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Clemson, he returned to play on it against the Tigers’ rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

When posed with the question, Watson flashed his million-dollar smile and added to the story. He said he promised his coach at Clemson when he signed there that he would beat South Carolina each year he was there. Watson on the torn ACL went 14-19 (74%) for 269 yards 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and he also chipped in five rushes for 13 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and Deshaun Watson never lost to the Gamecocks during his entire Clemson career.

Deshaun Watson’s career vs the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)

2014: 14-19 (74%) 269 passing yards 2 TDs 0 INTs - 5 rushes 13 yards 2 TDs
2015: 20-27 (74%) 279 passing yards 1 TD 0 INTs - 21 rushes 114 yards 3 TDs
2016: 27-33 (82%) 347 passing yards 6 TDs 1 INT - 5 rushes 19 yards 0 TDs

Most men aren’t built to perform their best against the toughest of conditions. But Deshaun Watson isn’t most men, proven by what he did in back-to-back title games against Alabama.

Watson in Title Games vs Alabama

January 2016
30-47 (64%) for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
20 rushes for 73 yards, 0 TDs
Alabama 45 - Clemson 40

January 2017
36-56 (64%) for 420 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
21 rushes for 43 yards, 1 TD
Clemson 35 - Alabama 31

Watson has won everywhere he’s gone. He brought a state championship to his high school. He brought a title back to Clemson.

Before the season began, I made a prediction that I had never made before. I said the Texans would win the Super Bowl this season (full disclosure: picked them to beat the Giants).

Bill O’Brien puts limitations on his quarterbacks. The conservative plan works to get you to 9-7 and maybe even victory over Connor Cook in the playoffs. But O’Brien’s philosophy doesn’t correlate to big games. Watson’s DNA will take over. He has shown repeatedly throughout his collegiate and professional career that he’s a chameleon. He can change who he is as a quarterback from game-to-game.

The Deshaun Watson that is restricted by Bill O’Brien is the regular-season Deshaun Watson. What Vegas and gamblers need to quickly realize is that Watson will change his stripes in the playoffs. He will take his team on his back. The Texans also have key vocal defenders that can take over and play up to big moments. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus all have had big moments in the Texans playoffs. If the trio of pass rushers all get hot, then Houston will have an unstoppable formula.

The AFC is filled with parity. People are still scared of the Patriots because of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Chiefs always fold. Philip Rivers is a great story, but he’s always the bridesmaid. Big Ben will self-destruct the Steelers and then mumble all offseason about possibly retiring.

The biggest myth in the NFL is the talk of the proverbial window being open. The window is only open now! That’s always the case in the NFL. Injuries happen, free agency, etc. If you have a franchise quarterback, quality defense, top rushing attack and an elite receiver, then your window is open.

I don’t like any of the teams I mentioned to beat the Texans led by Deshaun Watson in an elimination game. Watson is already leading one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. He’s also passed for 375 or more yards in three consecutive games. He’s done all of this with the worst combination of bookend tackles in the NFL.

More Weapons

Vegas, fans and the media have seen the best that the rest of the AFC has to offer. We’ve only seen Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense with the governor off a few times this season. True, Will Fuller is no longer active this season and the surge in passing numbers came with him on the field. I still personally believe the Texans have a multitude of attacks with their current blend of rookies and veteran weapons. The Texans have wrinkles that they are purposely not showing.

The Texans running game this season has been successful even without second year running back D’Onta Foreman. Foreman is coming back from an Achilles injury and we can only speculate on when he’ll see his first action. I mention Foreman because we all just watched Damien Williams, Justin Jackson, Darrel Williams and Detrez Newsome run through, over and into defenders on Thursday Night Football. These four guys aren’t hidden gems that coincidentally looked faster, more powerful and more explosive than more highly-touted defenders. They are guys that haven’t taken a beating all season, going against guys with 500+ snaps on their body. Fresh legs are king this time of year.

If Foreman is even 70% of himself when the playoffs start, he’ll be an unstoppable beast for a team that already boasts the number three rushing attack in the NFL.

Foreman was attractive to the Texans because he was a freakish 250-pound running back that could run 4.5 speed. Foreman gets better as games go on, wearing down defenses in the fourth quarter a la Steven Jackson.

Foreman, if ready, can now be a sledgehammer in the fourth quarter with fresh legs against playoff defenses that are already beaten up after a 16-game regular season.

I’d expect Jordan Thomas to become a consistent red zone weapon. His growth with the addition of Foreman for the playoffs, along with Demaryius Thomas, could drastically improve the Texans red zone offense.

Standing By My Prediction

Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel aren’t likely to show all of their cards over the last three weeks against bad teams. Expect to see the Deshaun Watson that plays on torn ACLs, wins championships and walks on water when the games become win or go home.

The Houston Texans will be Super Bowl LIII champs.

Ja-PAY-veon Clowney?

“With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select: Jadeveon Clowney.”

I was onboard with the uttering of those words. It may have come as a surprise to some, seeing how the months leading up to that selection were marred by rumors. We all remember Peter King’s “F.O.R.S.” (Friends of Rick Smith) statement in which he said that the former Texans General Manager loved Khalil Mack and that Mack would be the selection.

Others turned their attention to a multitude of quarterbacks, whether it was young-gun, local-Texan phenomenon and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, or the new and flashy Carr. After the Texans selected David Carr with their first ever NFL Draft selection in franchise history, they had the opportunity to select his younger brother, Derek. This was never going to happen. The Carr's wanted to take a different path, while the Texans seemed fearful of purchasing another lemon.

The Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewaters and Jimmy Garoppolos of the world received a lot of run as well. The fact of the matter was that Rick Smith knew all along that the pick was going to be Jadeveon Clowney if he didn’t receive a king’s ransom for the number one pick overall. Smith had already put the plan in place at the NFL Draft Combine to try and build as much value in the number one pick, in hopes of landing a “Ricky Williams-type draft day trade package.”

Who could blame Rick Smith and the Texans? I had spent the four previous months enamored with the freak that was Jadeveon Clowney. Being from the Palmetto State myself, I started following Clowney’s high school career early on. He was unlike anything that I had ever seen, truly a freak of nature. His high school film, which has since become legendary, made my heart race and my mind run. Who was this giant playing offense and flying around on defense?! He quickly rose to the #1 high school prospect and signed with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Clowney was a force in college but there were rumors of a questionable motor. We all remember Clowney flying behind the back of Taylor Lewan of Michigan and destroying a poor child by launching airborne like something out of Dragonball Z, planting the kid six feet under with his helmet.

Texans fans and even we in the media got excited about the possibility of Jadeveon Clowney playing with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Who could stop this pass rush? I thought at the time that Khalil Mack was great but that Clowney could be the best ever. I shrugged off concerns about maturity and motor. In my mind, the Texans made the right selection.

The NFL Draft will humble everyone. We each study and try to get an understanding of a player’s skill set and how it transitions to the next level. What kind of guy is the young man? Does he love the game of football? Is he a student of the game? Does he want to be great?

These are all questions that you hear thrown around routinely at draft time. Everyone knows these questions but it’s difficult to find the answers. Sometimes a kid turns out to be exactly who you think he can become. Other times, injuries, passion, scheme, coaching, front office, family and/or friends can knock a prospect off the straight and narrow path to greatness.

As much as I loved Clowney coming out and I believed in his potential, I always reassess to see if I missed or hit on a prospect in the hope of continuing to develop as an evaluator. I’ve had to eat crow so often with misses on prospects that I’m thinking of becoming vegan.

The Houston Texans need to reassess who Jadeveon Clowney is now, as his fifth season with the franchise that drafted him winds down. Clowney signed a four-year contract worth $22.2 million when he signed with the Texans in 2014. When the last collective bargaining agreement was put into place, the NFL had fifth-year options added to the contracts of first-round picks—meaning that any player that was drafted in the first round could have a fifth year extended if the team decided to pick up the option.

Since the new CBA was put into play, none of the first three players to go first overall saw their fifth-year option. Each of them received a new contract either before the fourth or fifth year.

2011 - Cam Newton - Extended before 5th year

2012 - Andrew Luck - Extended before 5th year

2013 - Eric Fisher - Extended before 4th year

2014 - Jadeveon Clowney - Playing out 5th year option

Players drafted after Jadeveon Clowney in the first round that have been given lengthy contracts instead of the fifth-year option:

3rd overall - Blake Bortles

5th overall - Khalil Mack

6th overall - Jake Matthews

7th overall - Mike Evans

11th overall - Taylor Lewan

12th overall - Odell Beckham Jr.

13th overall - Aaron Donald

16th overall - Zack Martin

20th overall - Brandin Cooks

(Sammy Watkins signed in free agency and did not have his fifth-year option picked up)

Some fans have been puzzled by Clowney not receiving the extension. I for one am grateful to see the Texans possibly correcting an issue that has plagued them throughout their existence. The Texans have loved to extend “injury-prone” players or have refused to move them when they could see the decline coming. The NFL is just like the stock market in some ways. Or, for the lesser dignified like myself, it’s like the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”....sing with me now: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The Texans have chosen to “hold ‘em” in the past, or even worse, go all-in despite seeing the decline. Matt Schaub, Brian Cushing, etc., etc., etc.

The dilemma for the Texans to pay Jadeveon Clowney or not has multiple layers. It’s not as simple as “he’s trash, don’t pay him” or “he’s a freak, you have to pay him.” He’s a unique individual, personally and professionally. There’s a case to be made that Clowney can flourish in the NFL as a pass rusher, but after five years in Houston, I don’t believe it’s with the Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel regime.

Over the last year I’ve expressed my views on why I would not sign Clowney long-term in Houston and how they can stretch this out to their benefit, but first the Texans need to figure out if he’s more valuable to them on the team or as an asset to acquire other talent and/or draft picks.

Clowney is a big kid. His bubbly personality is contagious. He’s easygoing and seems to just wants to have fun and be relaxed. Bill O’Brien is more of the hush-hush type, preferring not to let anything out as it could benefit the enemy. Even today, I saw a comment from the Texans’ press release in which Clowney made a carefree response to a reporter’s question asking for the keys to defending a mobile quarterback:

Clowney said: “Everybody rush to the level of the quarterback and try to press the pocket. No fly-bys, no opening up of lanes up the middle. Just try to push the pocket and not run him out and make him throw from the well. That’s what we’re going to try to do this week.”

Again, nothing unusual, we’ve heard it all before; but this is the type of minor comment that O’Brien has come down on Clowney for in the past. You get the feeling that anytime someone walks into O’Brien’s office and starts a sentence with “Jadeveon” or “Clowney,” sitcom music starts, and OB asks, “What did he do now?”

The Texans were so worried about the maturity and development of Clowney that they cut ties with DJ Swearinger. Yes, I realize Swearinger could never cover outside the box, but they invested a second-round pick in him and he plays his role well. Swearinger is also among the top five in active consecutive starts and games played for safeties in the NFL.

It was the comments and the off-field bumps and bruises that got Swearinger escorted out. Remember Swearinger’s pit bull biting Clowney’s arm and breaking the skin a few years back? Remember Swearinger talking about the crappy turf at NRG, and that being the reason Clowney got injured, early in his career with the Texans?

They removed Swearinger, and another former Gamecock, Johnathan Joseph, became the new big brother, guidance counselor if you will, for young JD. Joseph is great for Clowney, but no one can pull out Clowney’s greatness except Clowney, and I’m afraid he doesn’t want it. It was a similar question that was asked of Mario Williams after his rookie contract expired and he signed for a huge payday in Buffalo.

Jadeveon Clowney has still yet to receive a double-digit sack season, and he’s in year five. At first the issue was that JJ Watt was healthy but Clowney wasn’t. Then Clowney was healthy and Watt wasn’t. But what’s the excuse for this season? Watt is back to getting double-teamed, and Clowney still only has seven sacks on the season with three games to go.

Even Mario Williams had 14-sack and 12-sack seasons in Houston before his 6-year rookie deal ran out. Mario suffered health issues at the end of his run in Houston, and the Texans were wise enough to not pony up the major money needed to keep him in town.

In year five of the Clowney experiment, does he look like a $20 million pass rusher? Does he play to Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald’s level? The answer is a simple no.

The Houston Texans have had the number one overall pick three times in franchise history. In each of those drafts (2002 - 2006 - 2014) there was a choice between the freakish pass rusher from the Carolina college or another talent. With their three number one overall picks, the Texans passed on the wrong Carolina kid and selected two guys that didn’t have the elite motor.

2002:

#1 Overall - David Carr (Houston Texans)

Passed on Julius Peppers out of North Carolina (4th on all-time sack list - 158.5 career sacks)

2006:

#1 Overall - Mario Williams (Houston Texans) -- From North Carolina State

2014:

#1 Overall - Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) -- From South Carolina

Who is Clowney as a defender for the Texans?

I’ve said over the last few years that Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most dominant run defenders. For this article I took a look at Pro Football Focus to see how they had Clowney graded as a run defender. He ranked 10th overall per their evaluations. What’s more, here’s the company he keeps among the top run defenders are big nose tackles, defensive tackles and traditional 3-4 defensive ends:

  1. Damon “Snacks” Harrison
  2. Akiem Hicks
  3. Aaron Donald
  4. Calais Campbell
  5. Jurrell Casey
  6. Michael Pierce
  7. A’Shawn Robinson
  8. Lawrence Guy
  9. Kenny Clark
  10. Jadeveon Clowney
  11. Stephon Tuitt
  12. Eddie Goldman
  13. Davon Godchaux
  14. Arik Armstead
  15. Mike Pennel

Pro Football Focus goes on to rate Clowney at 69.7 as a pass rusher. For comparison purposes, Dee Ford who made news at his and Clowney’s combine by comparing Clowney to a “blind dog in a meat market,” has the 2nd highest grade as a pass rusher at 91.7, behind only Aaron Donald’s 94.1.

As is the case with Clowney, Dee Ford is playing under his fifth-year option. Both players are attempting to put their best foot forward in a contract year to secure that next major pay day. Here’s how their stats compare this season:

Clowney table 1.png

Clowney’s Career

Jadeveon Clowney surprised a lot of people by coming back from microfracture surgery and having the type of career he has had to this point, while dealing with nagging injuries.

2014 - His rookie season was limited to four games

7 tackles 3 TFLs 0 QB Hits 0 Sacks

2015 - Clowney was able to play in 13 games

40 tackles 8 TFLs 8 QB Hits 4.5 sacks 6 PDs 1 FF

2016 - Clowney played in 14 games that season

52 tackles 16 TFLs 17 QB Hits 6.0 sacks 2 PDs 1 FF

2017 - Clowney played in all 16 games last season

59 tackles 21 TFLs 21 QB Hits 9.5 sacks 2 PDs 2 FFs 2 FRs 1 TD

2018 - Clowney has played in 12 games this season

34 tackles 12 TFLs 15 QB Hits 7.0 sacks 2 FRs 1 TD

How the Texans use Jadeveon Clowney

When Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ linebacker coach, he gave exceptional one-on-one coaching to Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney started to play with leverage and technique and was developing. After 2016, Clowney started regressing as a technical pass rusher and has since reverted back to his flaw of depending on pure athleticism, strength and explosion. Mercilus took Vrabel’s teachings and flourished, until he had the setback with the torn pec last season.

In 2015 and 2016 (Vrabel LB Coach 2014-2016) Whitney Mercilus combined to have 19.5 sacks and 27 TFLs. In his other 5 NFL seasons combined, he only has 22.5 sacks & 27 TFLs.

The Texans now seem to play to Clowney’s athleticism, and don’t look to utilize him as a pure pass rusher, as he’s lacking. The Texans like to move Clowney as a chess piece. He can line up at inside linebacker, bounce around and then shoot the A-Gap against less mobile centers and guards with shorter arms. This causes instant pressure up the gut and everyone clamors, “DID YOU SEE CLOWNEY!” But it’s fluff, and not a sustainable attack.

We often hear analysts compliment the ability to move Clowney, but more recently it has appeared as a strategy to hide Clowney from attacks to his edge. If you go back to the most recent Texans-Titans game, you’ll notice Mike Vrabel attacking Clowney’s side. He does this for the same reason the Texans don’t line Clowney and Watt on the same side often. They play what some NFLers call “hero ball”. As great as JJ Watt is and as dynamic as Jadeveon Clowney is, they both like to attack without regard to the holes they leave behind them. This brings a further issue to light with Clowney, as teams know that he will get out of position and leave a huge void. Even if he gets thru, they realize he’s a poor tackler that will routinely not finish.

Clowney is an exciting, flashy player that will show up weekly on highlights. He’s one of the most talented run defenders, especially for his unique size, weight and flexibility. The problem is, you don’t pay top run defenders $20 million a year in the NFL.

I heard someone say the other day that NFL teams should have had buyers beware with Kirk Cousins because they franchised him, dated him, sweet-talked him, but never put the ring on his finger. Minnesota is finding out now what Washington already knew. Cousins is Matt Schaub. He can put up stats but when the pressure comes and elite teams attack, he’ll fold, every time.

The smart move for the Texans is to try and franchise Clowney out the next two years or franchise him and trade him this offseason. Other NFL teams should learn the lesson from the kissing Cousins in Washington: they’re cute enough to trot around the family for a few years, but they have flaws that prevent you from making the ultimate commitment.

If the Texans went the method of franchising Clowney for two more years, they would then get a freakish pass rusher for the first seven years of his career, either under the rookie pay, fifth-year option or year-to-year franchise freedom. If this is Clowney at his best with the Texans in a contract year with JJ Watt doing JJ Watt things, then what will he be after he gets paid? What will he be after another injury? The ghosts of failed contracts past are crying out to Brian Gaine this Christmas season...ewww, remember Brian Cushing….ewww, remember Matt Schaub. Don’t do it, Brian, scrooge him!

Even if the injuries, lack of production, etc., make you think that Clowney is worth $20 million a year, take a gander at the penalties:

Julie’n Davenport leads the Texans with 14 penalties this year.

Clowney is second with 10 penalties.

No other Texans player has more than five. In fact, the next six Texans players with the most penalties this year still only equal 23 penalties combined. Clowney and Davenport combine for 24. Davenport is a developmental mid-round draft pick. Clowney is the former #1 pick overall that wants Khalil Mack money. Clowney has four neutral zone infractions, three defensive offsides and encroachment to go with his taunting and defensive offsides this season. It’s probably not a big deal, unless the game comes down to getting a stop and getting the offense the ball back, and Clowney draws a neutral zone infraction...d’oh, too soon?

What Clowney could be

While Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t seem to want to reach his max potential and be one of the greatest ever, his lack of production isn’t all his fault. The Texans have had this 6’5”, 290-pound monster with an unusual blend of explosion, agility and power, and they’ve never played him to his strengths. For five seasons the Texans have tried to make Jadeveon Clowney every different thing under the moon, besides what he was always meant to be.

Does anyone remember Jevon Kearse firing out the wide-nine? There’ve been changes to the wide-nine through the years designed to not leave as much of a void behind the ends and asking your linebackers and safeties to completely fill B and C gaps, leaving them more vulnerable over the top. This is Jadeveon Clowney’s home. This is where Clowney should have been his entire career.

The crazy thing is that the Texans have the perfect personnel to execute to Clowney’s strengths. Some of the weaknesses to the wide-nine are already weaknesses to Clowney’s playside. The Texans do allow Clowney to fire out of the wide-nine occasionally, but Clowney is a 12-15 sacks per year defensive end in the wide-nine if that was his every-down role.

Clowney table 2.png

Zach Cunningham and Tyrann Mathieu fill behind Clowney with Kareem Jackson as a safety valve outside of Clowney.

Dylan Cole and Justin Reid backup Mercilus inside with McKinney filling behind Watt / Reader with overflow to B-Gaps.

Texans are deep on the defensive line with Christian Covington and Angelo Blackson. Carlos Watkins was always a three-year project. Next year is big for him. Joel Heath is quality, deep depth. Brandon Dunn can spell Reader.

If the Texans aren’t going to utilize him to his strengths, why not trade him to a team that sees exactly how to execute with him. They would then also take on all of the health risks, concerns about drive and giving away O’Brien’s trusted secrets to the media.

Ja-TRADE-veon Clowney.

BELIEVE IN THE TEXANS…Wait…

So, we were all high on the Texans’ winning streak! And why not, they looked like poo doo for the first three games! The Texans played bad quarterbacks during that nine-game win streak, but at the same time, Luck always murders this team.

I have said it to my friends and anyone who will listen. I am not a fan of Bill O’Brien. I have heard a few analysts state that the Texans have been playing basic football, “football 101.” So how much does a coach need to do if he is playing basic football and just letting his players win on talent alone? Not much is the answer. Maybe you can give him credit for letting them play because he is known to not have the best play calling ability and of course, poor decision-making regarding challenges.

I want to believe in the Texans, I really do, but what have they done to earn that? Nothing! I have watched this organization put a BMW symbol on a worn-down 1985 Grand Am and tell us they are going to the Super Bowl. And, for some reason, fans keep buying it? We watch other teams spend money on improving their offensive line and not waiting for the third round to take a chance on someone who “may” develop into a legit starter on the Texans line.

I can hear the old guard now (in a raspy voice), “You don’t need to draft an offensive lineman in the first and second rounds ‘cuz you can git a good lineman in the third.” No John… No, you might! The game has evolved, and the old guard needs to be put to sleep or evolve with the game. Every position on the offensive line is important! JJ Watt and Aaron Donald are defensive tackles and are the top defensive linemen in the game. You need guards and a center who can, at best, handle those kind of guys. But, as we say at Dynasty Wise, I digress.

I want to believe in this team, but at the same time I cannot until I see them beat an elite team. They barely beat the Broncos, Cowboys, and Redskins. The problem is, when a team comes into Houston, the Texans do a great job of getting them back on track. Eli Manning tore the Texans up. Need I say more?

Clowney has been decent for a third-round draft pick…wait, what? Yes. This guy should be playing at an elite level, like JJ or Khalil Mack, yet he is not. Sure, he does some nice things here and there, but not as THE FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT! I am not sure how much money he wants in the offseason, but I guarantee he is not worth what he will get. He is a nice player, but it’s time to move on from him.

I also think it is time to move on from the whole running back group. Again, they are nice, but not good enough to win a good playoff game. This team will have around fifty million dollars in cap space, and I would love to see a REAL offensive lineman get signed, along with a very solid running back. The Texans need a second or third wide receiver because the running joke at DynastyWise is, “Start Fuller in fantasy football until Week 7 when he gets hurt.” We are never wrong. Fuller is always hurt. And Coutee is always “questionable,” and not the answer. If possible, Coutee seems worse than Fuller.

Finally, if this organization wants me to believe, I have one favor to ask: how about you guys beat the Patriots?

NFL Week 14 Picks

Jonathon Lee’s Picks:

Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers Over 50.5

I like the Packers scoring points and bouncing back after losing their head coach during one of the worst years in recent Green Bay history. The Falcons’ defense has allowed over 26 points per game in their four-game losing streak, and I expect that to continue. Green Bay is a different team at home where they are 4-1-1, so I like them winning this game outright while putting up points for a 31-27 final score.

Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots Under 48

We’ve reached the point of the year where the Dolphins play the Patriots late in the season, and the Dolphins make the whole country question if the Patriots are still Super Bowl contenders. It’s like clockwork every year. While I am too afraid to touch the spread on this game due to those reasons, I do like the under. I expect Miami to keep this close and low scoring until the Patriots decide to put the game away. Patriots win, 27-17, and the under cashes.

NY Giants -3.5

Just like it’s the right thing to fade Brock Osweiler, it’s entirely the right thing to fade Mark Sanchez. If the NY Giants defense is available in fantasy, start them. If you have any Redskins receivers, bench them. Mark Sanchez is in the league to be a third string Quarterback that doesn’t play and just serves as a good teammate to help prepare. He was not supposed to be the guy under center for a 6-6 Redskins team. Fade Mark Sanchez, lay the points. Giants win and cover the spread.

Chris Kennedy’s Picks:

New Orleans Saints -9:

I feel like this pick is a fairly easy one, as the Saints have the best point differential in the league, at plus 150. Yes, the fell to a streaking Cowboys team last week, but I think this will be a big bounce-back week against the Bucs. Tampa Bay gives up the third most points in the league, and even though Brees tends to not play as well on the road, I think that the Saints have enough firepower to get them a double-digit win.

Oakland Raiders +10.5:

Yes, the Raiders are a hot mess this year, but the Steelers are on a two-game skid and are without their bell cow in James Conner. The Raiders played the Chiefs pretty closely last week, and I don’t think the Raiders lose by double digits this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers cover, but I usually shy away from double-digit spreads.

Cincinnati Bengals +14:

The same reason I picked the Raiders above is why I’m taking the Bengals. The Chargers run defense has struggled lately, and with the absence of A.J. Green, I see the Bengals involving Joe Mixon a lot more into the game plan. The Bengals should be able to keep the game close, even with Driskell behind center. Cincinnati is 3-2 against the spread, when on the road, while the Chargers are 2-4 at home against the spread.

***All stats from ESPN and Vegas Insiders***

Top DFS Stacks for Week 14 (Draft Kings NFL Main Slate)

Week 14 is here, and that means just a few more weeks left of fantasy goodness. In my last article, I targeted certain players to target in your lineups (and also to avoid). Here, I’ll continue to offer my recommendations on stacks that will help to give you an advantage over the rest of the field. In this article, I’m going to target players that have higher implied totals so that you can maximize the scoring potential from each stack. Also, these are stacks that I would recommend for my Houston Preeminence Draft Kings Contest. Here we go!

Aaron Rodgers - $6,000/Davante Adams - $8,400: I would normally want to add the opposing WR to this stack, in this case, it would be Julio Jones, but Jones isn’t 100 percent right now, and I don’t want to blow most of my salary on three players. So, for now, we’re going to stick with the most popular DFS stack in the QB/WR1 stack. The Packers are 4-1-1 at home, and Rodgers is averaging 20 fantasy points per game at Lambeau. Adams, averaging 23 fantasy points per game himself, has a positive matchup against the Falcons’ Robert Alford.

Philip Rivers - $6,500/Keenan Allen - $7,400: The Chargers have an implied today of 31 this week, so expect the points to be coming early and often. Over the last three weeks, Rivers has been the seventh best fantasy QB, and Allen has been the number one fantasy WR. The one concern is that this game could be decided by halftime, as the Chargers are a 14 point favorite at home, but I think that’ what makes this for a sneaky good stack.

Deshaun Watson - $5,900/DeAndre Hopkins - $7,800/T.Y. Hilton - $6,300: This is a matchup I love for the Texans. The Colts’ pass defense is ranked 21st in DVOA, which means nothing but good things for Watson and company. Hopkins scored 33 fantasy points the last time these teams faced off in Week 4. On the other side of the ball, you have the “Texans Killer” in T.Y. Hilton. In six road games against the Texans, Hilton is sporting a line of 32/734/6. He’s dealing with a shoulder injury, but as long as he plays, he is a worthy start. If he can’t go, look to swap Hilton for Eric Ebron. He is top five in receptions and targets for TEs, first in TDs, and second in red zone targets.

***All stats provided by Football Outsiders, 4for4.com, and Pro Football Reference***

Texans vs Colts Preview and Keys to the Game

The rolling Texans eye another AFC South crown, while the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive. Last week, Houston dispatched the Cleveland Browns 29-13, while Indianapolis laid an egg, losing at Jacksonville 6-0. Besides the possibility of wrapping up the AFC South with a win and a Titans loss, the Texans are also in the mix for a first-round bye (though they would likely need to win out and get some help). Indianapolis has severely damaged their postseason chances with their loss to the Jaguars, and they most likely need to win out and get some help.

The Previous Matchup

It was the Week 4 matchup between these two that woke up the sleeping bear (Texans). Houston held a 28-10 lead in the third quarter until the Colts stormed back to force overtime. The teams traded field goals in the overtime, but Colts coach Frank Reich made the bold decision to go for it on 4th and 4 with 24 seconds left, instead of punting and settling for a likely tie. Reich's choice to go for it was the right call, but the play was poorly executed. Given how Andrew Luck had the Texans defense on their heels, piling up 464 yards and four touchdowns in the second half and the overtime, not attempting to keep the outcome in Luck's hands would have been criminal.

Could you imagine if the roles were reversed, and it was Watson who had 464 yards and 4 touchdowns, but Bill O'Brien elected to punt instead of trusting Watson to win the game? To put it mildly, the backlash would have been intense. Reich’s failure in that Week 4 matchup was the decision to ice Fairbairn on the game-winning field goal. Knowing the Texans were winless, had blown a double-digit lead, and were burdened under the NFL's longest losing streak, the pressure was all on Fairbairn to get the Texans their first win of the year. Fairbairn looked nervous leading into the failed attempt, but Frank Reich’s timeout negated the miss. This allowed Fairbairn to take a deep breath, compose himself, and nail the second attempt, giving the Texans the win.

No one could foresee the Texans getting as hot as they are, but getting that one win, no matter how ugly it was, gave the team the sweet taste of success and some confidence. Nine wins later, here we are with the rematch.

Keys to the Game

How do the Texans keep things going against the Colts?

Offensively

  1. Run the ball well. The Texans are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game, with D'Onta Foreman off the PUP list. Foreman joins Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, who are both coming off good games against Cleveland. The Texans need their trio of backs to establish an early rhythm, hog the football, and keep Andrew Luck on the sideline drinking Gatorade.
  2. Play cleanly. Deshaun Watson has played two straight games without a turnover, and the Texans as a whole have played mistake-free in back-to-back games. In doing so, the Texans won by 17 over Tennessee, and by 16 against the Browns. Houston must continue to play clean, keep Watson upright, and avoid silly penalties so as not to be in unfavorable 3rd-down situations.
  3. Sustain drives and finish. When your kicker has more field goals (29) than your quarterback has touchdowns (21), especially in today's offense-happy league, that is a problem. Houston is 15th in the league in 3rd down offense, and 25th in red zone offense. The Texans had no trouble moving the ball against Cleveland, yet still settled for five field goals. Houston needs to do a better job of sustaining drives, and most importantly finishing with touchdowns.

Defensively

  1. Make Luck uncomfortable. In the first meeting, JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney wreaked serious havoc, producing all four of Houston's sacks against Luck. The Texans’ defense produced 11 quarterback hits, but this time around Houston needs more than just Watt and Clowney to disrupt Luck. Outside Watt and Clowney, the rest of the Texans front seven has to apply constant pressure. If the Texans defense can penetrate up front, they can limit this explosive Colts offense.
  2. Overbook the Hilton. T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck, when both are healthy, have a history of making big plays against the Texans, some in crunch time. In Week 4, T.Y. had four receptions for 115 yards on six targets. The Texans secondary, whether providing safety help or double coverage, need to find a way to keep Andrew Luck's go-to target in check, and force Luck to beat them with someone else.
  3. Be disciplined and get off the field on 3rd down. The Texans have a habit of getting caught lining up in the neutral zone on defense, as a way of trying to intimidate the opposing quarterback. But Luck really does not get rattled. The Texans need to avoid committing silly defensive penalties, because Luck can make any defense pay for giving up free yardage. Offensively, the Texans need to execute on 3rd down and stay on the field, but defensively the Texans need to find a way to get off the field on 3rd down. In Week 4, the Colts were 10/17 on 3rd down. If the Texans are going to put a cap on the Colts offense, being better on 3rd down is critical.

The biggest key to the game for the Texans is to play a good whole 60 minutes. Houston raced off to a 28-10 lead in Week 4, only to nearly blow it. If the Texans can get off to another double-digit lead, they will need to keep their foot on the gas for the entire 60 minutes.

Final Word

The Texans in Week 4 were desperate for a win. This time they are rolling towards a division title. Houston is also in play for a first-round bye, and while they take on the Colts, the Chiefs will host the Ravens, and the Patriots will be at Miami against the Dolphins. On the flip side, the Colts know they have to run the table and get some help to snag the AFC's last playoff spot.

A division game in December, with playoff implications on the line, leaves me with only one question: is it Sunday yet?

The Bit: Best Texans Squad Ever?

At 9-3, the Texans are one win away from surpassing the highest number of regular season wins in the O’Brien era. (Yeah, the guy has managed to take them to the playoffs twice with 9 wins.) With Indianapolis, New York Jets, Philadelphia, and Jacksonville left on the schedule, and two of those games at home, it’s looking like the Texans should finish anywhere from 13-3 to 11-5.

I find myself constantly comparing this team to the 2012 Texans that went 12-4 under Gary Kubiak, a man who I still wish was the head coach of this team. The two squads could not be more different on offense, but both defenses ran highly talented 3-4 defenses. The 2012 offense could put up points with Matt Schaub under center, Arian Foster at running back (with Ben Tate raising hell behind him) and all-pro Andre Johnson, rookie Deandre Hopkins, pro-bowl tight end Owen Daniels, and an offensive line that was considered the best in franchise history, but the offense struggled during late season and the defense was worthless against elite quarterbacks.

The only elite quarterbacks Houston has faced this year are Tom Brady (26-39, 277 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Andrew Luck (40-62, 464 yards, 4 touchdowns)—two of the better quarterback performances allowed this season by the Texans defense.

Are the Texans set up for the same fate in the playoffs? It seems many elite quarterbacks could be waiting—Roethlisberger, Mahomes, Brady, Rivers, and maybe Luck—with Lamar Jackson/Joe Flacco and Marcus “literally awful” Mariota as the only outside-looking-in prospects.

That fact that the Texans won’t truly be tested—outside of Luck—since week 1 leaves me more curious than concerned. Many, including myself, say the Texans haven’t been tested yet, but the other night I heard an excellent point made on the ESPN postgame recap after the Texans beat the Titans: The Texans will hold up because they’ve already been tested. They were tested when they lost their first three games and refused to give up. They banded together, fixed the issues, and started winning games by any means necessary.

This point is hard to argue. To take three straight losses (two as the betting favorites) and come back to win nine games in a row is incredible in any professional sport. This was a team that had high expectations from their fans and owner, and when they were 0-3, many had given up on them. Luckily, they never gave up on themselves, and they only looked ahead—never back.

When I ponder if this is the best Texans squad of all time, the answer will be blank until the playoffs roll around and this Texans unit, from the coaching to the players, is tested. I know for sure that this is the best Texans defense of all time—maybe not statistically, but the defensive unit has an it factor and confidence that I’ve never seen before. I trust this defense much more than the defense that was embarrassed by Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady (twice) on national television in 2012.

So what about the offense? Can they bail this team out of a hole if the defense is tested? We haven’t really seen the offense under pressure during this nine-game win streak. I know they run the two-minute drill before halftime successfully, and Watson seems to have a good grip on where his other options are aside from Hopkins. But the Texans’ offensive success relies heavily on Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue running the ball well. What happens if the Texans find themselves down 21-0 in the first half and unable to move the ball on the ground? Only then will we know if this is the best Texans team to date, or if their shadow is bigger than their heart.

All stats from nflgsis.com

D’Onta Foreman’s Return

It has been 384 days since D’Onta Foreman tore his Achilles on a 34-yard touchdown run in Week 11 of the 2017 season. It was Foreman’s second touchdown of the day, ending a promising season for the rookie running back out of the University of Texas. Foreman’s season would end with 327 yards and 2 touchdowns.

There was much speculation heading into this season about how the Texans would handle his recovery, or even if he would play this year at all. Foreman was always adamant that he would play this year, but many felt he hadn't handled his recovery the way he should have. Plenty of people were speaking on the subject yesterday in a Facebook group named Houston Texans Empire. There were lots of assumptions being thrown around when a direct source, D’Onta Foreman’s father, spoke up on the subject.

Yesterday, Foreman’s father, Derrick Foreman, and I crossed paths (unknowingly at first) on a thread about D’Onta possibly returning to the active roster. Foreman’s father stated on Facebook in a brief conversation between he and I, that Foreman has been “ready for weeks.” However, he followed that statement with, “When you're winning games, I understand the team not rushing him back. He’s been practicing hard and not feeling any soreness.”

Adding Foreman to a pretty solid run game between Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue could help propel this Texans’ offense over the hump and thrust them deep into the playoffs. The Texans currently rank third in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1689 yards and are tied for second in rushing yards per game with 140.8. So far this season, the Texans have lacked a power run game inside the red zone, scoring a measly 6 rushing touchdowns on the year. Let’s see if Foreman can help in this department.

*Statistics from NFL.com

Game Balls: Texans over Browns

Who stood out in the 29-13 victory?

Ka'imi Fairbairn

5 for 5 field goals:

35 yards

38 yards

42 yards

48 yards

53 yards

2/2 extra points

3 touchbacks

Fairbairn has settled back in now that holder, rookie Trevor Daniel, has been holding the snap a little more effectively. Fairbairn accounted for 17 of the Texans 29 points and has proven that he can be counted on.

Justin Reid

1 forced fumble

3 solo tackles

1 assisted tackle

4 total tackles

2 passes defensed

Not enough can be said about the rookie safety out of Stanford. Time and time again, Reid makes plays to prevent touchdowns. He has an eye for where the ball is going to go, and also has the will to tackle hard. In boxing, there’s guys who point-fight and guys who try to finish fights. Reid is a guy who tries to finish every drive on his own accord. Justin Reid always goes for the knockout.

Jordan Thomas

3 targets

3 catches

32 yards

1 touchdown

While the stats may not be as attractive as a Deandre Hopkins, the Texans have found another rookie play-maker. For too long they have lacked in not only a play-making tight end, but they have badly needed someone who can block and find space in coverage. Thomas runs good routes and has a knack for picking up critical first downs and putting points on the boards.

A Line in the Sand

The Texans season has made a dramatic turn for the better over the last 9 weeks! After starting 0-3, the Texans have ripped off nine straight wins. The offense has been crafted to unite their skill sets for victory. The defense is playing at a high level, especially now that most of their key players are healthy: they’ve forced twenty takeaways to date in the season (NFL.com).

Do they have what it takes to make a run deep into the playoffs? They do, but health could be the greatest danger to their chances. Over the past three weeks, the Texans have only carried seven active offensive linemen into games, and they've needed all seven of them due to injuries. Right Guard Zach Fulton is battling a hand injury and missed the last part of yesterday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. Left Tackle Julien Davenport missed one snap after a brief visit with the trainers to re-tape his ankle. Right Tackle Kendall Lamm missed the final quarter after being placed in the NFL’s Concussion Protocol.

I spoke with Lamm after the game. When I asked him if he thinks he will play this week against Indy, he said, “I’ll be fine.”

With injuries starting to nag at the offensive line starters, do the Texans look to carry eight guys on the game day roster, or continue to roll with seven? In my opinion, they need to carry that extra guy for a few weeks, just in case. The worst case scenario is having to throw a tight end in the guard position and shuffle the line around to keep rolling; there’s no sense in risking that scenario.

The Texans have Kyle Fuller, Roderick Johnson, Chad Slade, and David Steinmetz on the practice squad should they feel the need to promote someone to the active 53-man roster. I’d have the most confidence in Fuller or Slade, because of their experience over the previous years. Fuller started two games last season while playing in nine total, and Chad Slade starting in three games while appearing in five games (Pro Football Reference). For a quick plug-in lineman, familiarity with the offense would be a big plus.

This has to be a topic of discussion in O’Brien’s meetings this week, to help keep this team rolling. He has done a fantastic job of hiding weaknesses in the line by running the ball a lot; the result is a successful ground game. O’Brien has done enough to win nine games straight, the best streak in the NFL right now. Lamar Miller has been a beneficiary of this, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in four of the last six games (NFL.com). The line, while still a question moving forward, has improved week after week. Could injuries push them back to week one? Let’s hope not, and let’s hope they can continue to improve.

Texans Continue to Roll with Win over Cleveland

The Houston Texans just keep winning, handling a scrappy Cleveland team on Sunday for their ninth straight win. With the Colts on tap, the Browns were a test of this Texans team’s maturity, to avoid a letdown at home against an inferior opponent. The Texans passed with flying colors, through great defense and just enough offense to handle their business and keep the streak going.

Offensively, the Texans had no trouble moving the ball against the Browns’ defense. Houston racked up 187 yards rushing and 197 through the air. The issue was finishing, as the offense went 1-2 in the red zone, relying on the leg of Ka'imi Fairbarn, who was five for five in field goals. Fairbarn accounted for 17 of the Texans’ 29 points. While great for Fairbarn's confidence, the Texans need to be better at finishing with touchdowns when they are moving the ball so well.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his second straight game without a turnover, but got sacked four times by holding the ball too long. Toward the end of the third quarter, the Texans got a bit of a scare when Watson went to a knee and the trainers came to check on him. Adam Wexler tweeted that Watson was fiddling with his cleats. Watson soon showed that he was just fine, running well in the fourth quarter.

Dear Deshaun: If your new cleats are not comfortable, please put Dr. Scholls insoles inside them, before sending everyone in Houston into a mass panic. Watson was not the only medical concern for the Texans, as tackle Kendall Lamm, guard Zach Fulton, linebacker Brennan Scarlett, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the game with injuries. Of the four, Joseph appears to be on track to suit up against Indianapolis, while the others are yet to be determined.

On the subject of injuries, wide receiver KeKe Coutee was inactive due to a hamstring injury. A player’s best attribute in the NFL is availability, and Coutee so far is turning into another Will Fuller: a guy with tremendous playmaking ability who can’t consistently stay on the field. If Coutee and Fuller can’t find a way to be more dependable, then the Texans can add wide receiver to the list of needs the team already has.

Re the Browns, I was very impressed with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Sure, he did his best 2013 Matt Schaub impression, with a pick-6 and three interceptions on the day, but he also had some positive plays. Using his athleticism and making incredible throws on the run, Mayfield was able to do some damage against the great Texans’ defense, registering 397 yards and a touchdown. Even more impressive for a rookie, Mayfield made quick decisions, getting rid of the ball quickly, which negated any pressure from the Texans. Today wasn't a great day for the Browns; however, their current team has plenty of upside.

Race for First in the AFC

The good news is that the Texans won and the Colts lost, meaning Houston is even closer to popping the bubbly on another AFC South crown. The bad news is that both the Patriots and Chiefs won, keeping the Texans as the number three seed for now.

The Patriots’ final four games are at Miami and Pittsburgh, then at home against the Bills and Jets. New England has the inside track on the number one or two seed, because they defeated both the Texans and Chiefs.

The Chiefs will wrap up the season with home games against the Ravens and Chargers, a road game at Seattle, then a home wrap-up against the Raiders.

The Texans will face the Colts at home before going on the road to play the Jets and Eagles, finishing the year at NRG against the Jaguars.

Wrapping Up

Realistically, for the Texans to nab one of the top seeds, they need to win out and hope the Patriots lose at least once. The Chiefs will be facing three teams needing wins for their postseason hopes. Following the Kareem Hunt incident and struggling with their porous defense, it is not out the realm of possibility that the Chiefs could lose two and maybe even three of their remaining games.

Most importantly, the Texans need to avoid any catastrophic injury, handle their business, and just keep winning.

Texans win ninth straight, defeat Browns 29-13

The Houston Texans took care of business to start the month of December, defeating the Cleveland Browns by a final score of 29-13 at NRG Stadium.

This win matches the season high for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien during his tenure with Houston, as he has finished three other seasons with a 9-7 record.

Behind a Texans defense that was turnover happy, Houston was able to take advantage offensively with running back Lamar Miller. From the first offensive snap, Miller was in the zone, rushing for 103 yards on 19 carries, good for 5.4 yards per carry.

The Texans defense was able to disrupt Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield down the field. Despite not sacking Mayfield, the front seven for the Texans were able to force the rookie quarterback to throw into one of the best secondaries in the NFL this season, resulting in three interceptions in the game. One of those interceptions came from linebacker Zach Cunningham as he returned it to the house for a 38-yard pick six to extend their lead 17-0 with 7:26 left to go in the first half of the game.

Mayfield, however, had one of the best days of his rookie season so far with a stat line that read 29-for-43 passing, good for 67.4% completion. In this, Mayfield would throw for 397 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson had a good afternoon as well, going 22-for-31 (70.96% completion) on the game with 224 yards through the air, one touchdown and no interceptions thrown. Watson would also run for 30 yards on seven carries on the afternoon. Star Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins would once again lead the WR category with seven catches on 12 targets for 91 yards and no touchdowns.

The only touchdown on the offensive side of the ball was an 11-yard pass from Watson to rookie and standout tight end Jordan Thomas to make it 10-0 with 38 seconds left in the first quarter. Thomas had three catches for 32 yards on three targets and one touchdown in the victory.

The Texans will face the Indianapolis Colts at noon next Sunday, Dec. 9th, at NRG Stadium with a chance to clinch the AFC South with a win. In the previous matchup this season, the Texans won it 37-34 in overtime for their first win of the season and the start of a now nine-game winning streak for Houston.

*Stats courtesy of NFL.com

Keep an Eye On It: Week 13

Now that the Texans have won eight straight, they’ve put themselves right in the middle of the AFC race for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Going into Sunday’s games, Houston sits at 3rd in the AFC playoff standings. Although they have the same record as the Patriots, New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker due to winning the Week 1 matchup between the two teams. Kansas City leads the conference with a 9-2 record, putting Houston just a game back of having the best record in the conference. If the Texans are going to earn a first round bye for the first time in team history, they’re gonna need some help. Let’s take a look at some games that Texans fans should keep an eye on this week.

Minnesota at New England (Sunday 4:25 ET)

As mentioned previously, the Patriots own the tiebreaker with the Texans. The only way the Texans pass them in the standings is if New England takes another loss before the season ends. Looking at their schedule, this game is one of two challenging games NE has remaining, the other being a road game against Pittsburgh two weeks from today. Minnesota is also in the playoff hunt and needs to keep winning to avoid falling behind in the NFC wild card race. They are a talented team, but New England is tough to beat at home. Texans fans should hope the Vikings bring their “A” game.

LA Chargers at Pittsburgh (Sunday 8:20 ET)

The Chargers head to Pittsburgh Sunday night to take on the Steelers in what could be a playoff preview. If the season ended today, this game would actually be one of the wild card matchups in the AFC. LA is a well balanced team, but they will be without RB Melvin Gordon due to injury. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is coming off of a loss to Denver which dropped them to 4th in the AFC playoff standings. As it relates to the Texans, fans should be pulling for the Chargers in this one. A win by them not only keeps Pittsburgh behind Houston, but also keeps the Chargers’ hopes of catching Kansas City for the AFC West division title alive. Those two teams meet in Kansas City in Week 15, and if Houston wants to be the number 1 seed, the Chiefs have to lose a couple of games along the way.

Kansas City at Oakland (Sunday 4:05 ET)

Speaking of the Chiefs, they travel to Oakland to face the Raiders in a divisional matchup. KC has been one of the more impressive teams in the whole league, led by MVP candidate, Patrick Mahomes. They are coming off of a bye, but they had a big change to their team due to the release of RB Kareem Hunt. Hunt was caught on video tape getting into an altercation with a young woman back in February and was cut from the team. He was one of their best offensive weapons, so it remains to be seen how the team will perform without him. Texans fans should be pulling for Oakland to win this, but it’s a longshot, at best. Oakland has been absolutely awful. One has to wonder if they are already in tank mode. Being that it is a division game, anything can happen, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

*All stats and records via ESPN.

From 0-3 to 8-3: Can the Texans Make it 9 in a Row?

Tomorrow, the Browns come to town to try and put an end to the Texans eight- game win streak which also happens to be the NFL’s current longest. The Browns are a formidable opponent and should not be overlooked. Gone are the days when facing the Browns was looked at as an automatic win for your team. With the addition of Baker Mayfield, the Browns seem to have found a new bravado, and dare I say, the fanbase is a bit cocky about tomorrow and their chances for a win. Never fear, Texans fans, you are in the good and capable hands of Mr. Watson, and I believe he gives us the best chance to get the dub for tomorrow.

If you watched the Texans on Monday Night Football, you saw a team that notched a win which looked completely different from the past seven wins. For all but the Miami game, according to football circles, the Texans “lucked” their way to seven wins. Against the Titans, they dominated on both sides of the ball and never relented until the final whistle. Although they started the game slowly and found themselves in a 10-0 hole, they quickly responded and put up 24 unanswered points before the half.

For long time fans, this was a refreshing change of pace as Houstonians areall too familiar with hearing the phrase, “isn’t built to come from behind,” which is a nice way of saying your QB is complete trash. Times have changed, Texans fans; the Texans now have the franchise piece under center, a QB capable of digging the Texans out of a hole and eventually winning the game. The fact that they came back was good, the fact that they did it on Primetime was amazing. Primetime has been another area of weakness for the Texans since historically, Texans QB’s completely fold under the lights.

So how does Deshaun hold up in Primetime?

Martinez pic-page-001.jpg

The brighter the lights, the more he shines.

Watson heads into battle tomorrow to face one Baker Mayfield who in the past two games has thrown for 474 yards, 7TDs, 0 Int, and is completing passes at a rate of 79%. Baker is playing good football. Not to take anything away from the young signal caller, but he accomplished this against the 26th and 28th ranked passing defenses in the Falcons and Bengals. Tomorrow, Baker will be facing the 8th ranked defense in the league and the 12th ranked passing defense in the league. The Texans also are giving up the fourth fewest points to opponents this year at 20.2. Baker will have an intimidating test tomorrow against this Texans defense who will be looking to get to Baker early and often against his formidable offensive line.

The Texans should win this game and I am confident that they will. Like I said earlier, this game won’t be a walk in the park, but with Watson looking more and more like he did last year and with a stingy defense, the Texans should give the Browns all they can handle and cause some fits for the Browns rookie QB. Go Texans!

A Texans Super Bowl Berth Could Be as Soon as This Year

Many don’t believe that the Houston Texans, winners of eight straight, are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They have faced a slew of feeble opponents, but the Texans can’t help but to play against whoever is in front of them. The real knock on the Texans’ franchise record eight–game win-streak is how they handled their opponents. It was not until Monday Night against the Tennessee Titans that the Texans handled an opponent that has been struggling this season like a Super Bowl contender should.

As it stands in the AFC playoff race, the Houston Texans actually have the second highest strength of victory, defeating opponents with an average .461-win percentage. The highest strength of victory for the AFC is the #2 seed New England Patriots who have a .540-win-percentage amongst opponents defeated. Houston, who currently has the same win-loss record as New England, is in third due to the tie-breaker. However, with the easiest schedule remaining, the Texans have a real chance at earning a bye-week, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans are the only team trending upwards. If last Monday night’s game is any indication, maybe the offense might be catching up to what the defense has been producing all year long, and the Texans will be the scariest team in the playoffs.

One question we should ask is, who are the Texans’ biggest threats going into the playoffs? We can start with one of the AFC’s big powerhouse names, the (7-3-1) Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had been dealing with Le’Veon Bell’s drama all year long, but with the early success of James Conner, Pittsburgh had been steam-rolling through opponents. During the blowout game against the Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh defeated Carolina 52-21, and James Conner suffered a concussion. He was available the next game against the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars, but it took late game heroics from Ben Roethlisberger to stretch their win streak to 6. It is clear that James Conner is an important piece to this offense after his struggles in Jacksonville in what easily could have been a loss; he struggled again in Denver and the Steelers eventually fell to the 5-6 Broncos.

New England is having issues this year; they haven’t been the dominating juggernaut that we have been accustomed to seeing in years past. The aging Tom Brady is having an underwhelming season for New England standards. The Patriots rank 7th in offense. Red flags fly with this team after losses to the Lions, the Jags, and most recently to the Titans have this team as vulnerable as ever. Now that their former defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, left to be head coach of Detroit, their defense is a middle of the road.

The hottest team in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs, has been on fire throughout the year led by second-year QB Pat Mahomes, in essentially his first full year starting. This hot team is due for a slump, and no better time than now, with TMZ releasing footage of Kareem Hunt in an altercation with a female. The Chiefs just announced they have released the Pro Bowl running back and will have Spencer Ware replace him as the starter. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs will fare offensively without Kareem who is currently fifth in rushing. Kareem was a big part of Kansas City’s potent 2nd-ranked offense, and it could expose the Chiefs’ biggest weakness, their 28th ranked defense.

With the AFC being this vulnerable, it is up to Houston to take advantage and utilize the most talented roster of the AFC and possibly the NFL. The recent passing of Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair inspired the Texans’ best victory so far this season, and may now possibly result in the first Super Bowl berth in Houston history.

JJ Watt: Productive Proven Commodity

It feels just like it was yesterday when the Texans had the number eleven pick in the 2011 draft. I was at the Texans draft party at NRG and we were ready for a playmaker. Then Roger Goodell delivered a blow to the party scene. The Houston Texans selected JJ Watt from the University of Wisconsin. Boos rang out as our team drafted a virtual unknown. Personally, I have never seen anything like it.

Watt, although perplexed by the boos, made a promise to Houston. His promise was that he would give Houston fans something to cheer about and all of himself. Eight seasons in, Watt has surpassed all expectations. After a few career-threatening injuries, Watt’s football mortality was often discussed nationally and locally. Would he ever be the same transcendent player he was before the back injuries and a freak plateau fracture? This season he has proven the critics and skeptics alike wrong. Not only has Watt maintained his his career averages, he has positioned himself yet again for an unprecedented fourth NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

According to Houston Texans PR, Watt is averaging .88 sacks per game, which is tops in NFL history since sacks became a stat. In only 99 games played for number 99, Watt is the leader or co-leader in five key all-time defensive categories: 20+ sacks seasons, DPOY awards, Player of the Month Awards, Player of the Week Awards, quarterback hits, and tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus shows that even though Watt missed almost two full seasons, he still leads the league in quarterbacks hits and sacks since 2011.

Watt is rapidly approaching another contract negotiation with the Texans. It goes without saying that the team will make it their mission for Watt to retire in a Texans uniform. It will become a broader conversation in years to come whether it makes good football sense, from a roster building prospective, but for now Texans fans will bask in the glory of having one of the top five greatest defensive players ever here in Houston. Much like Andre Johnson’s number 80, number 99 has become legendary in Houston, never to be worn again. The player many thought was past his prime is still wreaking havoc. Enjoy the ride Houston, because JJ Watt will be the Texans first first-ballot Hall of Famer.

An Epic AFC South Race

Don’t look now Houston Texans, but in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, there is a team from Indianapolis who is breathing down your neck. The Colts are on a winning streak themselves; they currently have strung together five wins in a row. The last time these two teams met, the Head Coach of Indy, Frank Reich, made the controversial call of going for it on 4th down in overtime with 27 seconds on the clock on their own 43-yard line.

When they failed to convert on the 4th down play, Deshaun Watson threw a 24-yard pass to Deandre Hopkins and spiked it to stop the clock with 4 seconds left. This action set up a 37-yard field goal to win the game for Houston and sparked a 7-game win-streak. Frank Reiche was clear to say when he decided not to punt, "We're not playing to tie We're going for that 10 times out of 10. That (play) has just got to work.”

To Frank’s credit, you play to win the game. If there are 24 seconds left and you only need three yards to convert and stop the clock to try to win against a division rival that most likely will be your biggest threat to win the division title, you take the chance 10 out of 10 times. He tried, and it didn’t work out. The Texans benefitted from it, and now with Houston and Indy being the two hottest teams in the division, there is even greater pressure to keep a streak going.

Don’t let the Colts 5-5 record fool you, their 5 losses were a difference of 7.6 points per game, just a one score difference. Their five wins, on the other hand, are a different story. They have been on fire, defeating teams by an average of 15 points. Andrew Luck is again looking like the number 1 pick in 2012, having a remarkable year throwing over 2,700 yds with 29 TDs and only 9 INTs through 11 weeks.

These two streaking teams make for a great Divisional race like we haven’t seen since 2012, Andrew Luck’s rookie year. It was also the year in which the Texans had their best stretch in franchise history, going 11-1 through the first 12 games. This AFC South Race will end in an epic battle to the top, with no team having any room to stumble.

Houston Trio Milestone Tracker

On November 14th, LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain to move to fifth place on the all-time NBA scoring list. At his current pace, he will pass Michael Jordan for fourth on the list in January of 2019, and as long as he averages at least 22 points per game over the next three to four years, he will become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. What’s arguably just as significant is that the 6’8” forward is currently 11th all-time in total assists and will likely finish his career third overall behind only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Want to go even further down the rabbit hole of ridiculous accomplishments James will achieve? He’s currently 16th in all-time steals, and as long as he keeps his current average of 1.6 per game, he’ll jump to seventh all-time in three years. This is a repetitive jaw dropper for each statistical category about LeBron James, so I will just quickly sum it up by saying when it’s all over with, the somehow still-improving 16-year veteran will likely finish his career top 75 in blocks, top 50 in rebounds, top five in steals, top three in assists, and number one in all-time points.

That got me to thinking, while his career is fun to see polish out as the greatest statistical career of all time, he chose L.A. over Houston. He’s not a Rocket, and that’s ok. We have a trio of guys in our city that we can look forward to celebrating significant milestones one day. Very few cities out there can say they have the luxury of preeminent players across all three sports all in their prime together at the same time.

Here’s what we can all anticipate over the next decade with our Houston core. Don’t take it for granted.

Jose Altuve: All-Time Hits

Jose Altuve is currently at 1,419 career hits and is 28 years old. If you take out his first year when he was called up in July 2011, he has averaged 194 hits per season. At that rate, he will reach 2,000 hits in the 2021 season. By then he will pass up Bob Watson (1,448), Lance Berkman (1,648), Cesar Cedeno (1,659), and Jose Cruz (1,937) for third all-time in franchise history behind only Jeff Bagwell (2,314) and Craig Biggio (3,060). As long as the 5’6” second baseman stays healthy, he should become a member of the 3,000-hit club in just over eight years and then quickly become the franchise’s all-time hit leader. The Astros have secured the second baseman for the next six years, showing they are committed to keeping him for his whole career, so we will all be able to witness this event in 2026 for the second time in franchise history.

Side Note: If you ever want to hear me vent about something, it’s that I had tickets to the game after Craig Biggio reached 3,000. How dare he get five hits in one game.

James Harden: All-Time Points

On November 21st, James Harden passed Rudy Tomjanovich for third on the Rockets’ all-time scoring list behind just Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon. As a member of the Houston Rockets at age 29, Harden has a total of 13,518 points scored. Since becoming a Rocket, Harden has averaged 27.9 points per game, which equals out to 2,169 total points per season. At this pace, he will pass Murphy’s 17,949 total in the 2020-2021 season. We can all agree that this feat is inevitable.

Hakeem Olajuwon is the sole leader in Rockets’ points scored at 26,511. I’d like to assume with his durability and style of play not completely dependent on athleticism that we will see his prime continue for four more years. By that time, he will be 33 years old and need to average just 22 points per game over the following three seasons to reach The Dream. It’s a long way away, but we should look forward to seeing Harden pass Olajuwon at least by the 2024-2025 season.

The Beard will be eyeing 30,000 total career points quickly after passing Olajuwon. He has a disadvantage, having started his career with three seasons coming off the bench in Oklahoma City. With those three seasons added to his Houston Rockets total, he will have a career total of 29,306 points upon reaching the top of the Rockets mountain. This will leave him with just 694 points to go, or one half of a season. If or when this happens, we might be celebrating two incredible milestones in the same season.

Despite his first three seasons coming off the bench, this is entirely possible; the only thing holding him back is his durability and longevity. Only seven players have accomplished this feat: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, and Dirk Nowitzki. Can you imagine seeing James Harden join that list?

J.J. Watt All-Time Sacks

Upon J.J. Watt’s 2015 season that resulted in his third career Defensive Player of the Year award, there was some hope that he would one day be the NFL’s all-time leader in career sacks. After his first five seasons, the three-time DPOY was 26 years old, had not missed a single game, and had 74.5 sacks. At the rate he was going, he would have reached 200 sacks in just over eight more years. If you take out his rookie season of 5.5 sacks, he was on pace to reach 200 even quicker with his 17.25 sacks per season in a four-year span. The man was on a completely different level than everyone else in the NFL.

Then, unfortunately, Watt was set back nearly two full years with multiple injuries. From back surgery to a tibial plateau fracture topped with numerous other injuries, it was a consensus thought that we had seen the end of J.J. Watt as we knew him and he would be an average player on a superstar contract with the potential of even being released from the team sooner rather than later. But the difference is that number 99 is a super-human and now has 11.5 sacks through 11 games in the 2018 season. It makes no sense how he is able to be back to a top five defensive player in the league, but I choose to just not question it.

On Monday Night Football against the Titans in week 12, Watt cracked the top 50 list in all-time sacks at 87.5. While odds are against the defensive end to continue this success, who are we to even think we know what this guy can or can’t do? He’s going to make it a fun ride to see how far he can get on the list. He’s on pace to finish this season with 16.5 sacks and go into next season with 92.5 in his career. Let’s just enjoy the history of the greatest player to ever wear a Houston Texans uniform and prepare to celebrate each 10 spots he moves up the rankings. Below are expected dates to pass each landmark by using a baseline rate of 15 sacks per season.

40th All-Time: 95.5 Sacks (Robert Porcher)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 1-4 (Age 30)

30th All-Time: 100.5 Sacks (William Fuller)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 9-12 (Age 30)

20th All-Time: 122.0 Sacks (Simeon Rice)

Expected To Pass: 2020 Weeks 13-17 (Age 31)

10th All-Time: 137.5 (Richard Dent & John Randle)

Expected To Pass: 2021 Weeks 13-17 (Age 32)

5th All-Time: 150.5 (Chris Doleman)

Expected to Pass: 2022 Weeks 13-17 (Age 33)

1st All-Time: 200 Sacks (Bruce Smith)

Expected to Pass: 2026 Weeks 1-4 (Age 37)

Bruce Smith can most likely sit comfortable with no worries of being passed and will remain the all-time sacks leader, but Watt will climb far up that list. If only the sports gods wouldn’t have taken away those two years from him…

What Light at the End of the Tunnel?

You know what’s pretty cool? Maybe in a few years we’re talking about Alex Bregman being on the same pace to become the third Astro to reach 3,000 hits. Maybe Deandre Hopkins starts flirting with some all-time receiving records. Deshaun Watson is only 23 years old, what can he accomplish? Let the dominoes fall in Houston, TX.

All stats via baseball-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, and football-reference.com

Game Balls: Texans over Titans

Deshaun Watson:

19/24 (75%) completions

210 passing yards

2 passing touchdowns

0 turnovers

130.9 passer rating

9 rushes

70 yards

1 rushing touchdown

Watson played clean and smart football, hitting newly acquired Demaryius Thomas twice in the red zone for touchdowns. If you take into account the spiked ball to stop the clock and two dropped passes, Watson only had two inconsistent throws and a 90% completion rating.

Lamar Miller:

12 carries

162 yards

1 touchdown

13.5 yard average

1 catch for 5 yards

Miller looked like the man Houston wanted when they signed him as a free agent. On limited carries, Miller racked up 162 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown run and 25 yarder that was called back on a holding call. Even without the long touchdown run, Miller still averaged nearly 6 yards per carry.

J.J. Watt:

6 solo tackles

3 assisted tackles

9 total tackles

1.5 sacks for a loss of 12 yards

1 forced fumble

Watt is playing like Watt. Two years of injuries may have kept him down, but he has healed and is playing at an extremely high level. The man is held on nearly every play (penalties which are rarely called), and he still puts constant pressure on opposing QBs. QB pressures should be a NFL statistic, because it affects the game more than most realize.

The Bit: Okay, so the Texans might be good…

I, the ultimate realist when it comes to my one and only sports team (possibly even a pessimist to avoid disappointment), have finally seen enough from the 8-3 Houston Texans to admit they just might be as good as their record shows.

The realization of this legitimacy has not come easily, especially since the season started (0-3) much like the last season ended (1-9.) The difference, and likely fuel to my Fire O’Brien now attitude, was not the fact that the Texans were losing, it was the fact that their young and medically unproven QB was getting hit way too much.

—And he still is, as Houston has given up 83 QB hits (about half Watson’s fault because of the way he plays the game.) Lately, however, it seems the QB hits have come from making plays and less from being hurried, as the offensive line has improved with Davenport back at left tackle and Lamm at right tackle, the middle anchored by the improving—but at times inconsistent—Martin, and Kelemete/Fulton playing solid football at guard. Has anyone else noticed just how well Lamar Miller has been running between the tackles lately? This was something the Texans have struggled with since Arian Foster left the team.

So, with praise comes concern, yet, I have found myself a bit less skeptical and a bit more confident in the 2018 streaking Texans.

The Texans had to win eight games in a row to earn my trust, and as I watched Deshaun Watson—seemingly back to his old physical form post-ACL injury—throw his second touchdown of the night to newly acquired Demaryius Thomas, I thought just maybe I was ready to put my trust into O’Brien and this offense.

The defense is solid, as it has been under O’Brien and Romeo Crennel. The Texans have the best safety group—and more importantly, best safety performances—with Tyrann Mathieu, rookie Justin Reid, and Andre Hal than ever before. Mathieu seems worthy of a three-year extension, Reid (how the hell did this man fall to the third round?) seems destined to be the play-making future at the position, and Hal has bounced back incredibly from a very serious illness to provide quality coverage. This unit has played so well, in fact, that Kareem Jackson, who looked like an all-pro at safety the first two games, was able to move back to corner where he is having the best stretch of his nine-year career.

Alongside Jonathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, and a surprisingly solid Shareece Wright, the Texans not only have the best safety group in history, they also sport their best corner group since losing A. J. Bouye. Put these men behind second-year standout Zach Cunningham and veteran Benardrick McKinney in the middle, with Clowney and Mercilus rushing the passer behind JJ Watt, Brandon Dunn, Christian Covington, and D.J. Reader, and Houston may have the stingiest defense in the NFL.

It’s no secret the defense won games while the offense worked out its wrinkles, but now that Watson is back to form, the Texans are putting up 373.1 yards a game (just 13 yards behind Green Bay) and have the 14th scoring offense. But all credit cannot go to just Watson. Lamar Miller, whom I have been critical of his entire Texans career, is averaging 6.3 YPC over the last five games, with 502 rushing yards over that span.

What’s been the difference outside of solid offensive line play? The addition of Alfred Blue as a secondary back. Splitting carries between Blue (near 4.0 YPC over the last 5 games) and Miller has done wonders for Miller’s vision and big-play ability, and Miller now looks like the man who once ran all over the place for the Dolphins.

So why now? Why did it take eight games to put my faith into my beloved Texans?

  1. O’Brien had to prove he had taken the next step along with the rest of the team.

The first few games, which ended in close losses, seemed to be buried by a lack of general coaching fundamentals from O’Brien. Clock issues, wasted timeouts, not-used timeouts, bad play calls in the red zone, and predictable play-calling did not help the Texans as they struggled early in the season. But O'Brien has shown (maybe it’s the glasses he’s wearing on the sideline) over the last 8 games that he has the mind and guts to put pressure on opposing defenses with the playmakers on his team.

2. Not “settling” for the next man up. When Fuller went down, the Texans went out and got all-pro Demaryius Thomas from the Denver Broncos. While he does not possess the speed Fuller has, Thomas runs great routes and is a big-bodied receiver that can make plays. His two touchdowns against the Titans were both red zone out routes. The Texans were awful in the red zone earlier in the year. They took a weakness and made it a strength.

3. Consistency. The Texans are no longer only playing 30 minutes on offense. They’re coming out and scoring points, and they’re moving the ball on each drive. Punter Trevor Daniel is only averaging 4.6 punts a game over the last 5, and he’s averaging nearly 45 yards for the season. Field position has been critical in these close games.

The biggest battle I had with accepting the Texans legitimacy as contenders was their lack of opponents. Aside from New England, Dallas, Washington, and Indianapolis, none of their opponents have an above .500 record. Add the fact that new England beat Houston, and Indianapolis practically gave them a win, and Houston has only beaten two teams with a winning record (one on a missed field goal.)

How does this realistically affect the measurement of the Texans? Just because they’re not playing Kansas City or the L.A. Rams each week doesn’t mean they’re good? When you look at the grit and competitive nature of their opponents, the majority fight to the absolute end and possess close-to-some-qualities that produce a competitive team.

The real test is how will Houston handle themselves against an unpredictably-good Cleveland team that is hungry to prove that their coach held them back—not their playmakers. And if the Texans want 9-straight wins, they’re going to have to be perfect against a red-hot Baker Mayfield this Sunday in Houston.

All statistics from http://www.nfl.com/stats/

Rampaging Texans Inch Closer to Division Title

The 2018 Houston Texans are no strangers to adversity, becoming the first team in NFL History to win eight straight games after a 0-3 start. Playing with heavy hearts following Friday's news of Owner Bob McNair's passing, the Texans, once again rallied together to win resoundingly.

Tennessee waltzed into NRG Stadium clinging on to faint division hopes, landed an early right hook, jumping out to an early 10-0 lead. The Texans dusted themselves off, to drop 24 unanswered points, on a Titans defense which stifled them Week 2. As a team, there was nothing the Texans could do wrong. The Texans could do little wrong Monday night, not only delivering a win for Bob but also distancing themselves in the division; as well as keeping the pressure on the Chiefs and Patriots atop the AFC.

What is on Tap?

The three-game home stretch will continue Sunday, against the 4-6-1 Cleveland Browns. While they have no real chance at the playoffs, in the past two weeks, the Browns are very much enjoying the role of spoiler, winning back to back games against Atlanta and Cincinnati putting a dent in their postseason hopes. Albeit the Texans aren't in any danger of missing the playoffs barring something dramatic, a loss would not only end Houston's win streak but would severely dent the Texans chance at one of the top two spots in the AFC.

The Texans need to come out, get off to a fast start, and keep Cleveland from believing they have a chance to snag one on the road. As long as Houston keeps doing what has got them to this point, most importantly take the Browns seriously. Given what is at stake, and being a home game, the only way Houston loses is if they are extremely sloppy, or if Houston suffers an injury at a key position.

Though on the Cleveland side of things, if the Browns were to halt Houston's streak, offensively they need Nick Chubb to have a monster day running the ball, easier said than done against the NFL's 7th best-run defense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield would need to negate the pass rush by getting the ball out quickly, most importantly as an offense. The Browns need to play disciplined and stay out the 3rd and long situations. Defensively lead by Myles Garrett, the Browns front seven would need to dominate the line of scrimmage, and force Deshaun Watson into turning the ball over. Realistically a lot has to go wrong for Houston, and a lot has to go right for the Browns to pull off the upset.

Following Cleveland, the streaking Colts make their way to wrap up the homestand. The Colts are primed for that 6th and a final playoff spot, behind a healthy Andrew Luck. Week 4's matchup between these two was an overtime shootout, what will be in store for Watson vs. Luck part two? One thing is for sure; the stakes will be much higher this time around than Week 4. If the Texans were to win out, along with a Colts loss to the Jaguars (not happening), and the Titans lose either this week to the Jets (did I see a pig fly), or the Jaguars the following week (seriously not likely), then the Texans could seal the AFC South against the Colts December 9th. Of course, nothing is that easy, but knowing the Colts, for now, are alive in the division, and battling the Ravens for the last playoff spot, the stakes will be high regardless.

Final Word

On and off the field the Texans, have had a lot to handle, what has made me proud of this team is their resiliency and grit. Winning for Bob Monday night was special, but what would be the icing on the cake would be to see the Texans, ride this streak all the way to Atlanta; and hoist the Franchise's first Lombardi Trophy.

Do the Texans Have an Identity Problem?

The Texans are looking good after their eighth straight win.

Following an impressive 34-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Houston Texans are enjoying one of the best seasons in the Bill O'Brien era. Some saw the victory as a welcomed shift from what the normal game script of a Texans win usually is. Seven of the ten games this season have been decided by seven points or less which is pretty much what we have come to expect. Conservative is a tag that has been attached to this Texans team, but tonight was an example of how explosive this team could be. So, what is the Identity of this Houston Texans team?

In most local circles, the Texans game plan has been a broken record for years. Conservative on offense and lean on the defense to bail them out. Run on first and second down to set up a potential long third down. It was not because it was successful in my opinion, but because it was safe. The defense was clearly head and shoulders above the offense, and Bill O'Brien knew it. Sure, he would sell the fans in every press conference about playing complementary football, but that was never the product on the field. The arrival of Deshaun Watson amongst others has changed that narrative. The offense now has the tools necessary to be explosive and bail out the defense on a bad day. The only question now is can Bill O’Brian adjust to what he has on the field.

Per PickingPros.com in 2016 the Texans ranked 29th out of 32 teams in passing yards and 19th in rushing yards per game. With those numbers, you can understand why the Texans would also rank 29th in points per game. When you look at the talent in critical positions back, then I feel it is easy to see why the offense was so inept. Fast forward to 2018 and those numbers change drastically to 19th in passing per game and 15th in rushing yards per game. Those numbers equate to 14th in points per game which is more than enough to work with for one of the top five defenses in the league.

So, If the offense is that much improved why do all their games still feel the same? Obliviously, the big wins over the Titans and Dolphins are the exceptions to the rule. Breaking down the rest of the games, however, much of the game plan looked and felt the same. Run the ball to manage the game to limit the mistakes. That was the conclusion I kept finding myself coming to repeatedly. With that being said, is that the true identity of this Texans team, or is that what Bill O'Brien is comfortable with because it has served him well with lesser talent?

I ask this Question because if you watched either of the two primetime games I mentioned or the even the New England Patriots game from last year, you know that it doesn’t have to be that way. The emerging star that is Deshaun Watson has proven that he is capable of leading a high-powered attack. He has elite weapons at his disposal capable of exploiting a weakness of defense regardless of where it is on the field.

Diving into the NFL Playoff Picture

Now that we have stuffed our faces on Thanksgiving, while the weather gets cooler, the NFL postseason chase intensifies. Eleven weeks are in the books, leaving only six games remaining in the regular season. For some, the playoffs are a realistic possibility. For others, time is running out or they are simply looking towards 2019. Looking at the current playoff picture, how does the season end? Who are the contenders most likely to hoist the Lombardi trophy? Who are the Pretenders?

Current Picture:

AFC:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs 9-2
  2. New England Patriots 8-3
  3. Houston Texans 8-3
  4. Los Angeles Chargers 8-3
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-3-1
  6. Baltimore Ravens 6-5

NFC:

1.New Orleans Saints 10-1

  1. Los Angeles Rams 10-1
  2. Chicago Bears 8-3
  3. Minnesota Vikings 6-4-1
  4. Dallas Cowboys 6-5
  5. Washington Redskins 6-5

Contenders, AFC:

New England Patriots: For starters, they are the Patriots, and as long as Brady and Belichick are running the show, no matter the record, you cannot discount New England. Every year, the Patriots start the season off sluggishly, causing everyone to speculate whether their run of greatness is ending. Then the calendar flips to November and December, and New England takes their game to another level.

Everyone is falling in love with the Chiefs because of the season they are having, and I'd like to remind everyone who believed the then 11-1 Texans were the team who was going to end New England's run. That did not happen, as the Texans were destroyed not once, but twice, by New England. The kicker for the Patriots, is, how will they handle going on the road?

The last time New England failed to reach the Super Bowl was 2015, when Denver advanced to the Super Bowl. If New England fails to lock down one of the top two seeds in the AFC, things could get interesting. The Patriots have been the AFC representative in the Super Bowl in four of the last seven seasons, so I'll believe someone can knock them off the throne when I see it.

Kansas City Chiefs: What a crazy game the world was treated to between the Rams and the Chiefs. Kansas City's offense was on full display, dropping 51 points on the road against a very good Rams team. I view the Chiefs as a contender because of their speed and athleticism which has translated to the most prolific offense in the NFL, outside of the Saints. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the league, having been to four conference championship games and one Super Bowl, all with the Eagles.

If there is one grey area with the Chiefs, it is their recent postseason struggles. Kansas City has not been to an AFC title game since 1993, when a beyond-his-prime Joe Montana was their quarterback. A year ago, Kansas City blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home against Tennessee. Can this Chiefs team conquer their postseason demons, and advance to the franchise’s first Super Bowl since 1965 in which they were in the AFL?

Houston Texans: I have the Texans as a contender because they boast the NFL's 6th best scoring defense, headlined by the resurgence of JJ Watt. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has gotten healthy as the season moves along, and his offensive line, which was atrocious through the first four games of the season, has improved steadily. Watson isn't shy of playing on a big stage, shredding Alabama twice in back-to-back national title games with Clemson. Clemson lost in 2015 but came back with a vengeance beating Alabama the following year. As long as the Texans do not suffer another catastrophic injury, like Will Fuller's torn ACL, the Texans will be a force come January. Very similar to Kansas City, the Texans have never seen the AFC title game. Come January, can Bill O'Brien push Houston over the hump and get towards a championship?

Contenders, NFC:

New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense has been a freight train and it’s unclear if anyone can slow them down. While Brees (who should be the MVP) and his offense gets most of the attention, the Saints defense has been flying under the radar. The Saints defense, in 7 of their 10 games, have held opponents to under 30 points, and overall on the season have allowed an average of only 24 points per game. Come playoff time, if the defense can continue to complement their explosive offense, the Saints are poised to be in Atlanta on February 3rd. While Brees does not appear to be slowing down at age 39, the way the season has gone, this may be his best chance of bringing another Super Bowl win to the Big Easy.

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams have a strong run game led by Todd Gurley and brilliantly coached by Sean McVay, but their defense has been leaky of late. In the last three games, the Rams have given up 45, 36, and 51 points. While the offense has been consistently great this year, if they want to get past the Saints and reach the Super Bowl in Atlanta, they need their defense to get things turned around.

Carolina Panthers: This choice may surprise people because Carolina is not as safe as the Saints are in regards to their playoff positioning. Why do I view the Panthers as a contender? Outside the Saints and Rams, Carolina would have the best coach and quarterback combination in the playoffs, at least as of right now. While their defense has not been as tough this year as they have been in recent years, knowing they have an MVP quarterback in Cam Newton, along with their ability to run the ball effectively, Carolina has a chance to be that sneaky wild card team.

Pretenders, AFC:

Pittsburgh Steelers: I am going to get a lot of weird looks for putting the Steelers in this category, but despite Pittsburgh being the current number 5 seed in the AFC, I don't believe in this team. Sure, they have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, guiding the 4th best offense in the league and boasting the 10th best scoring defense in the NFL. The reason I put the Steelers here, is none other than Head Coach, Mike Tomlin.

In the Mike Tomlin era, since losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the 2010 Super Bowl, the Steelers have reached the conference championship game only once, and they were dominated by the Patriots. The Steelers have the tools to be considered a contender, but I don't believe Tomlin is a good enough coach to push the Steelers back to the promised land. After all, Tomlin could not get his team ready to play Blake Bortles in last year’s playoffs, and we all saw how that game ended.

Los Angeles Chargers: As good as the Chargers are, they have a habit of coming up small in big games. Among the top three quarterbacks drafted in 2004, Eli Manning has two Super Bowls, Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowls, but Phillip Rivers, who was selected 4th overall by the Giants and then traded to the Chargers, has zero. Rivers’ legacy is very similar to Tony Romo's: great in the regular season, but can't deliver in the clutch. The Chargers, barring a collapse, will make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Knowing the Chargers postseason track record, coupled with being on the road against either the Texans, Patriots, or Steelers, the Chargers’ return to postseason action will likely be a quick one and done.

The Bengals/Colts/Ravens: These three squads are the three teams I feel have the best odds of winning the AFC's final playoff spot. What will their prize be? A trip to either New England, Houston, Kansas City, or even Pittsburgh. The Colts would probably put up the best fight with a healthy Luck, though I don't trust the Colts defense enough to view them as a contender. Baltimore has not been in the playoffs since 2014, and with Flacco dealing with injuries, their odds of making it are slim. As for Cincinnati, they have not won a playoff game in the 15 years Marvin Lewis has been their head coach. With the 32nd ranked scoring defense, as well as whom the Bengals could face in the first round, the Bengals will likely be one and done... again.

Pretenders, NFC:

Minnesota Vikings: I don't trust Kirk Cousins in a big game, and neither did the Redskins, which is why they never kept him long term. Per Vikings ESPN reporter Courtney Cronin, Cousins is 4-12 in his career in prime-time games. I like their defense, and Mike Zimmer is a great coach, but if your quarterback does not rise up when the spotlight is on, that makes your team more a pretender than a contender.

Chicago Bears: The Bears acquired Khalil Mack and, all of a sudden, the Bears went from a pretty good team to a team on the verge of winning the NFC North. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has enjoyed a really impressive sophomore season under first-year Head Coach Matt Nagy. An inexperienced quarterback and a rookie head coach are what makes the Bears pretenders, though with the 6th ranked scoring offense and the 4th ranked scoring defense, who knows, the Bears may have a chance to upset either the Rams or Saints.

The Entire NFC East: Let's be realistic here: the NFC East is a mess. Regardless of who wins the division, that team is probably staring at a one-and-done. The Redskins looked like they were going to be the heavy favorite in this division, but following losing Alex Smith for the season, their odds greatly diminished. Regardless of who the winner is, no team is a threat to make any real noise in January.

How will the Final Playoff Picture Look?

AFC:

  1. Patriots 13-3
  2. Chiefs 12-4
  3. Texans 12-4 (Chiefs will finish with a better conference record)
  4. Steelers 11-4-1 (I hate ties)
  5. Chargers 11-5
  6. Colts 10-6

NFC:

  1. Saints 13-3
  2. Rams 13-3 (lost to the Saints Week 9)
  3. Bears 12-4
  4. Cowboys 9-7
  5. Panthers 10-6
  6. Seahawks 9-7

Final Thoughts

My preseason Super Bowl prediction was Patriots vs Saints. The Saints are about as complete of a team you will see, while the Patriots simply own the AFC until someone else steps up. A Super Bowl with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and two Hall of Fame head coaches: what a treat that will be for NFL fans.

Texans Win 8th straight against Titans, becoming formidable under Head Coach O’Brien

The 2018-19 NFL season has been an unmitigated roller coaster for the Houston Texans franchise.

After three consecutive losses to the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and New York Giants, all signs of the team's poor efforts in those games signaled a lost season. Head Coach Bill O’Brien was also on a hot seat that was doused in gasoline.

Somehow, after defeating the Tennessee Titans Monday night 34-17, the Texans were able to turn their pitiful start into an historic eight-game win streak. While this has been a complete team effort, O’Brien deserves high praise for this dramatic turnaround.

Down 10 only five minutes into the first quarter, Houston was able to score 14 unanswered as Deshaun Watson hit Demaryius Thomas on a 12-yard pass play, followed by a 15-yard run a drive later.

The sequence that won the Texans the game was midway through the second quarter as the Texans defense was able to stop the Titans offense on a goal line stand, setting up a 97-yard touchdown run by Lamar Miller, giving Houston a 21-10 lead. The Titans were unable to keep up, scoring only one touchdown in the second half.

What makes this win so special was that as the team was wrapping their game plan preparations for their division rival, their owner, Bob McNair, passed away after a four-year battle with cancer.

But in spite of all the pressure the Texans were under, the team proved Monday night as well as the rest of the season that they can perform well in high-pressure situations. As everyone already knows, this is something that the franchise hadn’t been able to do previously.

In Weeks 4 and 5, The Texans were able to survive in overtime victories against the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys.

After a shaky team performance against Buffalo in Week 6, Houston’s defense dominated division rival Jacksonville Jaguars 20-7 in Week 7. The offense shined against the Miami Dolphins 45-23 in Week 8, where Deshaun Watson threw for five touchdowns on Thursday night in primetime.

After losing WR Will Fuller for the season, the Team was able to acquire veteran Demaryius Thomas via trade and highlight undrafted free agent Keke Coutee to reload their receiving corps in wins over the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins.

The Texans defense also witnessed a resurgent JJ Watt and has seen Kareem Jackson dominating after converting from Corner to Safety. Both are currently the highest-rated players in their positions, according to Pro Football Reference.

Overall, the Texans have matured into a formidable team this season, which is something the team has not looked like in previous seasons under O’Brien.

In each of O’Brien’s first three seasons, the Texans looked like an average team, finishing at 9-7. They then fell apart after losing Watson in 2017, finishing the season 4-12. Consequently, O’Brien and his coaching staff have faced heavy criticism for the way the Texans have finished out each season.

While an eight-win streak is not a playoff victory or a Super Bowl championship, it is also not something that should be taken lightly. The Texans are now one of the hottest teams in the league and have a huge chance to not only clinch the AFC South, but the entire conference as well.

With five games left in the season, we should start giving Bill O’Brien more credit for his coaching efforts.

Source: @pff_Texans on twitter and NFL.com

NFL: Who is Going to Fill Their Shoes?

George Jones posed the question in song form, “Who is going to fill their shoes”? The Possum, as he is affectionately known, was a product of Beaumont, Texas, and Mr. Jones was asking who in country music would replace the aging and fading stars of yesteryear. The recent deaths of Alex Spanos and Bob McNair, two long-time owners in the NFL have brought me to the realization that the old guard in the NFL is slowing fading away.

In 2018 Dwight Clark, Chuck Knox, and broadcaster Keith Jackson, among several others, left us to go to the big locker room in the sky. In 2017, we lost Dick Enberg, Tommy Nobis, Terry Glenn, Y.A Tittle, Frank Deford, Cortez Kennedy, Dan Rooney, and still more players. 2018 and 2017 collectively have taken a ton of talent and experience from the NFL family. Several people in this group have busts located in Canton Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as several award-winning journalists.

We have their stats, reports, and game films to remember them by, but gone is their firsthand experience from the days that led to the rise of the NFL as America’s Sport and their views on modern events going on in today’s NFL. With CTE, Bounty Gate, teams moving, and the controversy surrounding the National anthem, it is safe to say that the NFL is divided as much as our country currently is; the League is in a constant state of flux. Some blame the current leadership in today’s NFL and some blame the times in which we live. An unbiased answer as to the root causes of the problems facing the NFL today should be selection #4 on your multiple-choice test question: ” All of the Above.”

For the first time since the 1980s USFL, the league is facing some real competition from the Alliance of American Football. Not repeating the mistakes from the past is a major key to success going forward, a lesson that was not lost on the AAF’s founders, Dick Ebersole and NFL Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian when the pair formed the AAF. The USFL, although its existence was short lived, became a major thorn in the side of the NFL. The fledgling league was starting to draw major crowds and had stolen from the NFL’s draft rooms future Hall of Famer’s Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and future CFL Hall of Famer Doug Flutie, as well as players like Hershel Walker.

Part of the key to the quick rise of USFL was that the league operated during the NFL’s off season. Fans didn’t have to choose between watching the Houston Oilers or the Houston Gamblers game; they could watch them all. That all changed when Donald Trump acquired the New Jersey Generals. Mr. Trump put pressure on the USFL league office and his fellow owners to compete with the NFL directly every Sunday. And so it was done. The USFL began to compete directly with the NFL for viewers and butts in the seats every Sunday. Competing for fans was one thing, but here in Houston, the Gamblers and the Oilers shared the Astrodome: talk about making fans choose!

The AAF wisely decided to start play in 2019 one week after Superbowl LIII, and could be a major threat to the dominance the NFL has enjoyed for so many years. Ebersole, as you may recall, spent 36 years at NBC as the co-creator of the original Saturday Night Live: WWF’s (as it was known then) Saturday Night’s Main Event. These shows were hugely successful, and Ebersole was quickly promoted to the head of NBC Sports, a position he held until 2011. Ebersole also co-founded the original XFL with McMahon.

Polian started his Hall of Fame career as a scout in 1976 with the Kansas City Chiefs, and in his storied time in the sport, he has been one of top personnel directors/team president for teams in the NFL, CFL, and USFL. He collected multiple Grey Cup titles in Canada and sent six teams to the Superbowl; he won one with Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2006. Ebersole and Polian together are a great foundation for the new league, but they didn’t stop there. They also brought in several retired NFL players, such as Troy Polamalu, Justin Tuck, and Hines Ward. To make the talent pool for both the NFL and the AAF even more shallow, a revived XFL will begin play in 2020.

As it pertains to the NFL players, coaches, and front office individuals, the question remains: “Who will fill their shoes?” It’s not possible to see the future, but with the passing of these NFL greats and the addition of the AAF and XFL, the available options for replacements in the NFL are getting thin. Fan favorites and class acts cut in the molds of RGIII and Tim Tebow will not have to endure the NFL bench much longer, and unlike Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, with the advent of the AAF and XFL, they can remain state-side and won’t have playing in Canada as their only option.

As for replacing broadcasters like Keith Jackson and Dick Enberg, we can see a glimmer of hope with the broadcast team of Tony Romo and veteran broadcaster Jim Nantz at CBS, as well as with the team from ESPN’S Monday Night Football which includes Romo’s former Cowboys teammate, Jason Witten, who has teamed up with Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. Thus, there are two takeaways from all of this. First, the next few years in American football are going to be very exciting for super fans to watch; and second, you just gotta love a guy named Booger.

Robert “Bob” McNair Dead at 81

Bob McNair, a Houston sports legend, died this evening at age 81 surrounded by his wife Janice and immediate family. Over the course of the last few years, Mr. McNair bravely fought various forms of skin cancer. Mr. McNair made his fortunes in energy. He epitomized hard work and excellence. He is also singlehandedly responsible for bring professional football back to Houston. For that we will proudly and boldly honor him.

If you have lived in Houston for a while, you remember when the Oilers left town in 1996. It was a sad moment for many football fans as they removed professional football from a state that prides itself in the sport. Bud Adams had threatened the move for years, but he was serious that time. For a while, Houston was devoid of football until 2002, when the NFL returned to Houston because of one man. While there were other people behind it, Bob McNair was the driving force in getting a team.

The team was called the Texans, and people instantly supported the team, while others still rooted for the team in Nashville. Fans watched as the Texans did the expansion draft to help build a team from scratch. They also saw the team pick up David Carr with the first overall pick that year. While success was hard to find early in franchise history, the Texans did make the playoffs in 2011. Over the years, the one thing the team seemed to lack was a real quarterback. That was until the team drafted Deshaun Watson. Bob McNair was instrumental in bringing the franchise quarterback to Houston. His guidance for the team will be sorely missed.

The Houston Texans organization released the following statement:

"It is with deep sadness that we announce Houston Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and philanthropist, Robert C. McNair passed away peacefully in Houston today with his loving wife, Janice, and his family by his side."

Mr. McNair will be known for his ownership of the Houston Texans but his impact far exceeds the football field. He and his wife Janice, with the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation, have given away tens of millions of dollars to make a great impact in Houston and the surrounding areas. In Mr. McNair’s own words, “If you're going to have a satisfactory standard of living, you're going to have to be competitive in this world. And you can't be competitive if you don't have a good education.” Educating people was his passion.

Mr. McNair often talked about getting older. His one desire was to see a Super Bowl trophy come to Houston. When it does he will be celebrating from a perch beyond the skies. This magical season has now taken on the spirit of its owner. We at Houston Preeminence extend our heartfelt condolences to the McNair family.

Texans: A win is A win (for the Seventh time)

The Houston Texans, as it sits right now, is on the second-longest win-streak currently entering Week 12 of the NFL season.

The longest win-streak belongs to the New Orleans Saints, with nine in a row after starting the Season 0-1, losing to Fitzpatrick and the Bucs.

The Saints high-flying offense and new-found defense with the addition of Eli Apple has New Orleans on everybody’s radar as the NFL’s elite. That leaves the question; Why are the Texans overlooked as a serious contender? The answer may be found through context.

Houston extended Bill O’Brien’s contract after a 4-12 season because they saw the potential in the six games that Deshaun Watson started for Houston under O'Brien in 2017. Watson's season was short lived after tearing his ACL during practice after an epic week eight showdown throwing for 402 yds and 4 TD's against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

After having the rest of the regular season and offseason to rehab, the city was in full-hype mode anticipating Watson’s return. If I were to tell you last year, that in 2018, the Texans would be on a 7-game win streak going into Week 12, with a healthy Deshaun Watson, and a healthy defense, the city would erupt.

In 2018 witnessing game after game, win after win there is a lethargic feeling amongst the fans. The Houston Texans, after finishing at the bottom of their division last year, was handed the easiest strength of schedule according to cbssports.com. The ranking of the schedule is based on last year’s opponent’s record.

Usually, some teams improve, discrediting the offseason rankings, but as it stands, the Texans schedule remains the easiest, and with such teams as Jacksonville and Philadelphia both struggling, the schedule has become easier. I understand the Texans can’t help but play the schedule that was handed to them, but Bill O'Brien and the Texans continue to muster just enough to get a win as if it were like pulling teeth.

It has been 11 weeks, and we have yet to see the Deshaun Watson that enabled Bill O'Brien to receive a contract extension. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Texans currently Rank 16th in total offense and 19th in passing. With an offense that anemic, it would be understandable that the team would be struggling in today’s NFL. With the heroics of Romeo Crennel’s 6th rank Defense, the Texans manage to win, despite the offense not being able to take the opportunity to close out games. With all eyes on teams such as the Saints, Rams, Chiefs, Steelers and even Chicago, the Texans are an inconspicuous blur in the crowd of NFL teams that have yielded their fate of the 2018 NFL season.

Texans Hang on for Seventh Straight Win

I don't know what the Texans were doing on their bye week. It indeed was not practicing football. Somehow behind an ugly offensive performance, committing three turnovers, the Texans found a way to eke out their seventh straight win. Houston's winning streak matches the 1925 Giants for most consecutive wins, following a 0-3 start.

As we all get prepared to give thanks while stuffing our faces Thursday, the Texans should be thankful to be where they are now. While Houston did some good things offensively, there were also some negatives which Houston needs to get fixed. Starting with the turnovers, quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions, and DeAndre Hopkins lost a fumble in the third quarter. Per replay, the refs got Hopkins fumble wrong as Hopkins did not appear to have full control of the ball before Washington recovering the ball.

As for Watson, following playing three straight clean games came to an end, as he threw two interceptions as well as a fumble which the Texans luckily recovered. Watson was again kept clean despite injuries to Zach Fulton, and Senio Kelemete. Deshaun was sacked only three times on four quarterback hits. The offensive line continues to make strides, not only protecting Watson but also in the run game. Houston as a team had 139 yards on the ground, to a tune of 4.5 yards per rush. Both Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue bounced back from duds against Denver. Miller went for 86 yards on 20 carries, while Blue registered 46 yards, on eight carries.

Outside of allowing Adrian Peterson to stroll into the end zone twice, along with allowing Colt McCoy who had not seen game action in two years to go 6/12 for 54 yards, the Texans defense played great*. Overall the defense was as reliable as they have been all season, they got stops when they needed, including a huge 101-yard pick 6, by my opinion defensive rookie of the year Justin Reid.

The Texans did a good job getting after the quarterback, registering five sacks on eight quarterback hits. Houston picked off Alex Smith twice, before Smith leaving the game with a gruesome leg injury to which I wish him a speedy recovery. Colt McCoy played well in relief for a guy, who had not seen any game action in two years completing 50 percent of his passes, as well as rushing for 35 yards.

The Road Ahead

For the Texans a Monday night tilt with division rival Tennessee, looms at NRG stadium. The Titans were clubbed 38-10 by the Colts as the Titans dropped to 2-4 on the road this year. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked eight times, leaving the game with an elbow injury. Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees was taken to the hospital, due to a medical issue though head coach Mike Vrabel said Pees is doing good. In regards to the Colts much like Deshaun Watson, quarterback Andrew Luck appears to be very much himself again guiding Indianapolis to their fourth straight win.

While the Colts keep themselves in striking distance from Houston in the division, the Titans will travel to NRG looking to prove they are still in this race. Having already been beat by the Titans back in Week 2, Monday's game is just as huge for the Texans as a win pushes Houston closer to winning the division, as well as one of the top 2 seeds in the AFC.

For Houston to pull out the win, they must play a clean game. Offensively Houston needs to integrate everyone to keep Tennessee's defense off balance, most importantly do not settle field goals. The Titans entered the day averaging only 19 points a game offensively, having only scored 30 points once all season. If the Texans offensively can put the Titans behind the scoreboard early, force the Titans to beat them through the air, I like the Texans chances of winning.

Washington has a quarterback problem on their hands, following Alex Smith's injury. As meh of a division the NFC East, the Redskins have the upper hand with a 2-0 division record and 6-2 conference record. Washington has three straight games inside their division; if they win all three, they are essentially the winner. Where they go at quarterback following Smith's injury, however, remains to be determined.

Final Thoughts

Following the bye, I was expecting a little more from the Texans. Instead Houston I saw the same team I saw before the bye, a team with still has plenty to work on. The defense has been Houston's most consistent unit, what will make the Texans more dangerous come January is if the Texans offense can pack a more consistent punch. Meaning, relying less on Fairbairn's leg, and score more touchdowns.

The Bit: Texans at Redskins

The Texans rolled into FedExField (what the hell…it’s actually one word…), home of the Washington Redskins, on a six-game win streak. It’s no secret to Texans fans that Houston has gotten a few lucky breaks along the way, but nonetheless, 6-3 is 6-3.

The Redskins are the best team Houston has played yet this season. Yes, I know they played New England, but even New England doesn’t look like themselves at times this year. Washington, also 6-3, has beaten far more impressive teams than Houston—okay, the Panthers are it—so maybe Washington has a padded record like Houston.

So, there was a battle: two good defenses, and two offenses that have just as many strengths as weaknesses. It was no secret to the Texans that if they lost, and the Titans beat the Colts, they would no longer be the only team in first place in the division. Both the Colts and Titans have improved greatly with each game, along with Houston, and this division was going to be won by the team that could piece together the unit that continued to improve each week.

Gametime:

The Texans kicked off, deferring to the second half. I expected Washington to come out and work the field in chunks: consistent runs and short passes. The first play of the game was just that, a screen that went incomplete due to Kareem Jackson laying out the receiver before he could control the ball. Jackson is having a career year in coverage and tackling, and I expected him to have a strong game against Washington’s short game.

After a Redskins three-and-out, a punt delivered the ball to the Texan offense for the first time. Rookie Keke Coutee returned to action for the first time since Buffalo, and I expected him to play a heavy role in the early downs if Houston was unable to run with the underwhelming Lamar Miller.

On a third and short, rookie Jordan Akins picked up 28 yards on a well-designed play to get him open along the sidelines. I’m extremely impressed with how the rookie tight end and wide receivers have been able to contribute to the offense on third down and in the red zone. Houston has options as far as Watson’s vision allows.

A strike to Coutee picked up a first down after a run that netted -3 yards, followed by another first down run that went for -2 yards. The Houston run game was getting blown up at the line.

On a 3rd and 3 near the goal line, Watson overthrew Deandre Hopkins (good coverage by Josh Norman), and the Texans settled for a 23-yard field goal by shaky kicker, Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'aKa'imi” Fairbairn.

Texans 3 Reskins 0

The Texans lost guard Zach Fulton on the drive with a shoulder injury, replaced by Greg Mancz.

The second Houston drive started well: a 16-yard pass to Hopkins over the middle off play-action (why anyone would ever bite on a Houston play-action is beyond me.)

Something I noticed during this drive was Watson’s ability to quickly read the field and make a decision. The ball was leaving his hands quickly, often to his second or third read, and connecting with the target in stride. With each completed pass, backs Miller and Alfred Blue continued to rip off more yards. Everything Houston wanted to do was being done on this drive.

On first down and 10 from the 16, Watson connected with Hopkins who plucked the ball from the hands of a defender for the touchdown.

Texans 10 Redskins 0

The Redskins started to move the ball through the air on their third drive, which ended at the beginning of the second quarter with an Adrian Peterson touchdown.

In 10 plays, the Redskins went 75 yards in a little over four minutes.

Texans 10 Redskins 7

The following drive ended quickly with a tipped Watson interception, and Washington took over at mid-field but were unable to get the ball in scoring range thanks to a sack on third down by Tyrann Mathieu.

After a Texans punt, a combination of foolish defensive penalties and blown coverage had Washington looking to take the lead. But rookie safety Justin Reid picked off the third down pass in the end zone and ran it back 101 yards for a Houston touchdown and his first touchdown as a professional.

Texans 17 Redskins 7

On the following drive, linebacker Brennan Scarlett, who had a very solid game, intercepted Alex Smith. Houston took over with a little under 30 yards to score, but only moved back, and elected to kick, AND MISS, a field goal.

Washington did very little to get into field goal range, and the score remained 17 to 7 at halftime.

The third quarter started with the same game plan: quick passes and runs up the gut while Watson continued to use the pool of talented rookies at his disposal to pick up first downs. Blue continued his all-or-nothing consistency, ripping off runs for 0, 10, and, again, 0. Watson hit Hopkins over the middle, which Hopkins fumbled (horrible call—he never had possession of the ball to fumble it.)

Washington did little on their next drive, which ended with a sack by Kareem Jackson and JJ Watt. Alex Smith injured his leg on the sack and would be carted off, replaced on the next drive by Colt McCoy.

Washington intercepted Watson (another tipped pass) on the next drive and took over on the Texans 13-yard line, resulting in a Jordan Reed touchdown.

Texans 17 Redskins 14

On the next drive, Miller ran the ball to start, followed by an impressive 40-yard catch and run from Coutee. The Texans stalled later, but a roughing the passer call allowed Houston to keep moving the chains instead of settling for a field goal.

Miller was wide open for a touchdown but elected to let the ball hit him in back of the head instead of catching it. Washington really turned up the pressure, sacking Watson on the next play and forcing him to throw it away on third down. The Texans had to settle for a field goal.

Watson has been off in the second half. Losing both starting guards could have a lot to do with it, as he is constantly under pressure, but after the first drive of the third quarter, Watson has been inaccurate and making awful reads.

Texans 20 Redskins 14

McCoy continued to move the offense, even converting a 4th down with his own legs. The drive, which the Texans defense never really looked like to be on the same page, ended with Peterson’s second touchdown run of the day.

Texans 20 Redskins 21

The Texans seemed to wake up after giving Washington the lead, moving the ball via air and ground into Washington territory. Alas, the drive stalled just outside of field goal range, but the Texans attempted a 54-yard field goal and Fairbarin put just enough leg into it.

Texans 23 Redskins 21

Thanks to sacks from Watt and Clowney, McCoy was able to do nothing on the next drive, and the Redskins were forced to punt.

Houston moved the chains on a key third down when Watson found Miller on a crossing route to put the ball into Washington territory.

At the two-minute warning, I found myself wondering what conservative nonsense O’Brien was going to dial up that would result in a Houston punt with the lead by two, with two minutes left. Instead, Josh Norman held Deshaun Watson and gave Houston a free first down. While the call was questionable, I didn’t care. 7-3 is 7-3, but the Texans would need to flex on the Redskins and finish them.

Again, I found myself wondering how O’Brien was going to put this in the hands of his defense. Washington had three timeouts, so we ALL knew O’Brien was going to dial up 3 timeout-eating plays and elect for a long field goal. While this is not the worst idea—putting your team up by 5 with under a minute left in the game—it is also the safe idea. Why not run a play action, pick up the first down if it’s there, and end the game?

O’Brien did exactly what O’Brien does and ran the ball with his worst running back, Miller, for a gain of three.

Fairbarin shanked the field goal so badly, it nearly went lateral with his body. It may possibly have been the worst field goal attempt I’ve ever seen. This is why you don’t play it safe, BILL, you go for the win.

Washington moved the ball easily into Texans territory and spiked the ball with 19 seconds left—enough time for a play, maybe two.

The first play: incomplete. 16 seconds left in the game. The second play, which is third down due to the spike: an incomplete pass.

4th and 10 on the Houston 45, the Redskins either had to get a first down and get out of bounds or throw the ball to the end zone. Instead, the Redskins let their kicker attempt a 63-yard field goal, which came up short.

This is interesting, as O’Brien called the timeout that had the Redskins reconsider going for the win, and possibly forced them into attempting the long field goal. Props to O’Brien if that is what he intended.

FINAL: Texans 23 Redskins 21

Looking back on the game, I guarantee two things: reading this article was more exciting than watching the game, and Demaryius Thomas is still wondering when he’s going to get his first catch.

It seems week after week, the Texans find a way to win…or luck-out by one play, ten yards, two points, one turnover, just enough not to lose. I’m not sure if it’s making them stronger as a team, or if it is leaving them in for a rude awakening when they have to play the Titans and Colts (hah, the best two teams they play this year.)

Up next, the Titans on Monday night. Made of Glass Mariota was injured this week, so the Texans may have their chance for revenge on…gulp…Blaine Gabbert.

My Texans’ Weekly 2019 Mock Draft

Here are this week’s draft selections for 2019 mock draft for our favorite team.

Once again, this mock draft will not have any impact from free agency or trade rumors. As the Texans season progresses, the draft slots and draft picks will be affected by wins and losses. I based each pick on the Texans needs, prospects, draft stock, and fit for the current team’s defensive and offensive schemes. Player information courtesy of FanSpeak.

Round 1, Pick 24 - CB Julian Love - Norte Dame

Measurables – Height: 5'11", Weight: 190lbs

Julian Love has been great for Fighting Irish defense. Love has a strong niche for pass deflections. He has a school record of 33 pass break-ups and counting. While going against some of the best-talented teams in 2019, Love has mirrored the opposing team’s best wide receiver game in and game out. He reads the body of the receiver he is guarding very well and observes the eyes of the quarterback to know when the ball is in play. With that set skills, Love will make it hard for NFL quarterbacks to pass on him and receivers to make big plays. He would be a much-needed upgrade to the current roster at the corner position, he would pair well the veteran Jonathan Joseph and the outstanding safeties the Texans have in their secondary.

(Previous selection Deandre Baker)

Round 2, Pick 47 - G Beau Benzschawel - Wisconsin

Measurables – Height: 6'5", Weight: 315lbs

Beau Benzschawel is a steal in the second-round. He has first-round talent. Knowing the Texans needs at left tackle, Benzschawel is a type of player that I could not pass up in the second round. He will be a fixture on this offensive line for years to come. Strong in stature in the passing game, while powerful and quick on the attack to help running backs find daylight. He is a load to handle inside. Blocking is about moving people out the way and not letting people move you. He checks both of those boxes with ease.

(Previous selection Andre Dillard)

Round 2, Pick 56 - OT Andre Dillard - Washington State

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 305lbs, Wingspan: 83”

Andre Dillard is an outstanding second-round pick with some first-round traits. Dillard is in the conversation for best-left tackle in the draft class. With his quick feet and superb hand placement, he could be the starting LT for the Texans for the next 10 – 15 years. With Watson’s abilities and playing style, he will need an LT that is quick and light on their feet. Dillard has excellent upper body strength. That strength will be needed when handling NFL-level pass rushers that can bull rush.

(Previous selection Bryce Love)

Round 3, Pick 87 - Edge Brian Burns - Florida State

Measurables – Height: 6'5”, Weight: 218lbs

I love this pick and this slot. Burns is an excellent fit at weak-side outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. I mentioned this in my last mock draft. Christian Covington has not been playing well and has been a healthy scratch on several games after his return from injury. Covington might be on the cut list soon. If Covington is moved out, this selection could allow the Texans to move Clowney to DE with his hand in the dirt. Burns is very talented in the pass rush.

He displays an explosive first-step quickness, has the speed to turn the corner and can flat run by tackles. Burns has a long frame, shows some excellent ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and possesses a burst to close that makes it difficult for tackles to recover against him. Burns lacks some pass-rushing moves, and will need to work on some spins moves, cuts to the inside, and rip moves. This would help him when he takes on the better competition that won't be beaten by just a speed rush.

(Previous selection - G Ben Bredeson )

Round 4, Pick 126 - traded away for Demaryius Thomas

Great move for the Texans with the injury history of Will Fuller and Keke Coutee who has missed quite a few games in his rookie year already. Thomas is a nice insurance policy to have going into next season.

(Previous selection - CB Amani Oruwariye )

Round 5, Pick 163 - CB Jamal Peters – Mississippi State

Measurables – Height: 6'2", Weight: 220lbs

Jamal Peters is a lengthy, athletic, playmaking corner that has played every snap for Miss State this season. Since he set foot on campus, has played both corner and safety for the Bulldogs. Peters is big and physical and plays well in man coverage. For the past couple years the Texans corners have played off their man for two reasons: 1. They fear faster receivers will beat them. 2. They are not as physical and cannot compete with stronger receivers. That will not happen will Peters lines up to face the opposing team's wide receivers. While playing in the SEC, he has faced some strong competition. That will benefit him when leaving the college game to be ready for NFL talent. Peters can work hard and get a good grasp on the playbook. He could develop into a starter.

(Previous selection - Christian Rector)

Round 6, Pick 197 – DL Dontavius Russell – Auburn

Measurables – Height: 6'5", Weight: 310lbs

Dontavius Russell is a battled-tested defensive lineman. Russell generally holds his own against solo blocks with a decent swim move. He plays hard and physical and could make a decent nose tackle. When pad level is right, he can press opponents off his frame. Pad level is typically substantial to go along with a good first step. Prototype space eater that tries to get the quarterback when an opening is available. Built-in leverage makes him tough to relocate. High character prospect who is a respected leader in the locker room.

(Previous selection - Kendall Baker)

Round 7, Pick 219 – OL Kendall Baker – Georgia

Measurables – Height: 6'5", Weight: 305lbs

Baker currently plays left guard for Georgia, but with his size and lateral speed, he can easily move to a tackle spot. At tackle, his lean frame and quickness could be used a swing tackle or as depth for the Texans. He plays very aggressively and has a strong punch to hold up, run stopping defensive tackles from getting to the ball carrier. Following Bill O’Brien’s philosophy for the O-line, he has the versatility to play guard as well. He will have to add some weight to his frame to play inside. Running backs can find holes when they run his direction, but will he need work to get his strength where he needs to be to handle NFL-level talent.

(Previous selection - Derwin Gray)

As you can tell, some picks have changed, and some remained the same just at different slots. This will be an ever-changing series. As the Texans go, so does this mock draft in 2019.

Source: fanspeak.com

NFL Power Rankings: Week 11

We’re coming down the home stretch of the of the NFL season.

Teams with legit championship aspirations are starting to separate themselves from the weaker side of the league. The Week 11 slate of games has some interesting matchups, including what could be Super Bowl preview down in Mexico City. For now, though let’s look at how all 32 teams stack up going into next week. All records below are via ESPN.

Power Rankings

  1. New Orleans Saints (8-1)
  • After handing the Rams their only loss of the season, the Saints went on the road and trashed the Bengals putting up 51 points in the process. Drew Brees is in a zone and has that offense rolling. The only thing that can slow this team down it seems is injuries. (Next week: VS Philadelphia)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)

  • The Chiefs played a closer game than most people thought against Arizona, but they still got the job done. QB Patrick Mahomes has already set the Chiefs record for most TD’s thrown in a season with 31, via ESPN. There are still six games left in the season! (Next Week: At Rams in Mexico City which was moved to LA)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)

  • Winners of 5 straight, the Steelers look like they’ve finally put the Le’veon Bell drama behind them. They absolutely dominated Carolina last Thursday night, scoring 52 points while limiting the Panthers to just 242 total yards. Ben Roethlisberger had more TD passes (5) than incompletions (3). (Next week: At Jacksonville)

4. Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

  • The Rams knocked off Seattle on Sunday, which put them on the cusp of winning the NFC West. They can clinch the division with a win next Monday night against the Chiefs and a Seahawks loss against Green Bay on Thursday. On a disappointing note, the Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp to a season-ending injury during the game. It remains to be seen what impact that’ll have, but it could be a big blow. (Next week: vs. Kansas City in Mexico City which was moved to LA)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

  • The Chargers extended their winning streak to 6 games and remain on the Chief's heels in the AFC West. While the win against the Raiders wasn’t that impressive a W is still a W in the record books. In my opinion, they are a dark horse to win the AFC. (Next Week: vs. Broncos)

6. Chicago Bears (6-3)

  • The Bears picked up their first division win in more than two years when they beat Detroit on Sunday. QB Mitch Trubisky threw for a career-high 355 yards and LB Khalil Mack returned from injury and had 2 sacks. Chicago remains the lead dog in the NFC North. (Next week: vs Minnesota)

7. New England Patriots (7-3)

  • The Patriots got blasted by the Titans last Sunday. I know Gronk was missing, but that doesn’t explain the lack of effort New England showed in all 3 phases of football. I know it gets asked every year, but is this really the start of their demise? Only time will tell. (Next week: Bye)

8. Houston Texans (6-3)

  • The Texans come off their bye week still atop the AFC South, but with work to do. Tennessee beat the Patriots which trimmed their division lead to 1 game. The Colts also won and have looked good the last month or so. While they should get some key guys back for the stretch run, Houston can’t afford to misstep, or their turnaround will be all for nothing. (Next Week: at Washington)

9. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)

  • Minnesota heads to Chicago for a pivotal NFC North showdown. The Vikings still have a chance to win the division only being one game back. They just got back RB Dalvin Cook from injury, so maybe the offense can hit another gear. (Next week: at Chicago)

10. Washington Redskins (6-3)

  • The Redskins picked up a solid victory on Sunday vs. Tampa Bay. While their offensive numbers weren’t great, they took advantage of the short field they got by forcing four turnovers. Tampa had 501 yards of offense but managed just 3 points. Washington will have their work cut out for them going against a much better defense in the Texans. (Next week: vs. Houston)

Best of the rest

11. Carolina Panthers

12. Tennessee Titans

13. Green Bay Packers

14. Dallas Cowboys

15. Indianapolis Colts

16. Baltimore Ravens

17. Seattle Seahawks

18. Philadelphia Eagles

19. Cincinnati Bengals

20. Cleveland Browns

21. Atlanta Falcons

22. Miami Dolphins

23. Detroit Lions

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

26. Buffalo Bills

27. Denver Broncos

28. Arizona Cardinals

29. New York Jets

30. New York Giants

31. San Francisco 49ers

32. Oakland Raiders

***All stats are from ESPN.com***

Madden NFL: Geriatric Checkers Edition

For the upcoming Texans at Redskins game on Nov. 18, our editors assigned us a challenge: use Madden NFL to simulate the game and attempt to correctly predict the outcome.

It’s a great idea; the game has an excellent record of predicting winners, with correct calls in ten of the last 15 Super Bowls. We leapt at the opportunity, but our XBox is currently having difficulty running Madden, thanks to a minor equipment malfunction.

A new kind of sports science

But we hate to disappoint our editors! We knew it was up to us to devise a different, but equally accurate, simulation. To make it happen, we consulted two good friends of ours, Helen Hopkins and Louise Thomas. Helen and Louise are residents of an assisted living community in Daytona Beach, Florida, aged 68 and 72. They also don’t have an XBox, and they don’t know much about football, but they play a mean game of checkers, and they agreed to be our gladiators in a simulation of the coming confrontation between the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins.

We took Helen and Louise on a field trip to One Daytona, a shopping center in Daytona Beach. One Daytona is a lovely shopping mall, located across the street from Daytona International Speedway, and they have a checkers set so large it’s visible from outer space. Helen agreed to represent the Redskins, and therefore played white (because this is a home game for Washington, and because we enjoy irony). Louise played black, symbolizing opposition quarterbacks’ bruises after spending a day with the Texans’ defense.

Drama at the weigh-in

Tension was heavy in the air. Both women recognized the burden of their responsibility, and it showed on their faces.

The trash talk began before the opening move. “I hope you got your game plan from someone smarter than your idiot grandkids, bitch,” Louise snarled. “I hope you wore your best adult diapers, because you’re about to need them, whore,” Helen answered through clenched teeth.

The battle

Louise played 11-15, a popular opening move; Helen then responded with 22-18, forming the traditional “Single Corner” opening. The two traded jumps, then plunged into a campaign of brutal ferocity that will be spoken of in hushed tones in their senior community for years to come.

Louise gained the initiative early, forcing Helen into a complex defense after one of her men was caught in an exposed position. Onlookers pointed to this as an allegory on the Redskins’ offensive line, and furious debate ensued.

Louise was the first to king one of her men, and soon had two kings to Helen’s one. In hindsight, Helen admits, it was probably a bad idea to nickname her king “Theismann.” Like the QB of the same name, Helen struggled bravely to escape, but it only took a few moves before Theismann was cornered and fell.

Analysis

After the dust settled, Helen and Louise shook hands and congratulated one another for a hard-fought match. They agreed that their game of checkers proves that the Redskins really have no business opposing a team like the Texans. “They’re outmatched; we can see that now,” Louise said, as onlookers nodded in agreement. “They’re gonna look like a squad of Pop Warner children on the field, and I feel bad about how badly the Texans are about to embarrass them. They should schedule opponents who are more at their level of football, like the Raiders, or maybe that team from Switzerland that I saw on the TV.”

Texans vs Redskins Preview

The Houston Texans, winners of six straight, look to keep things rolling when they travel to Washington to take on the Redskins. Meanwhile, the Redskins look to continue their push in the NFC East following their 16-3 victory over the Buccaneers. Despite being hit hard with injuries, Washington found a way to win, but to beat this Texans team, they will need a lot more punch from their offense.

The Texans’ side of things starts and ends with the play of the offensive line. In the last three games, Houston's front seven has allowed just 10 quarterback hits and five sacks. The improved play up front has empowered quarterback Deshaun Watson, who now looks as healthy as he did when he burst onto the NFL scene a year ago. The run game took a step back against the Broncos, mustering only three yards per rush and 98 yards total against a Denver team ranked 23rd in the league against the run. Facing Washington's fifth-ranked run defense poses a formidable challenge.

While Houston looks for a bounce-back game on the ground, Houston's offense is getting relatively healthier. Barring any setbacks, wide receiver Keke Coutee, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, could return. (Coutee is currently listed as questionable.) Running back D'Onta Foreman could start practicing this week, as he continues to make his way back from an Achilles injury. Foreman's return date is still up in the air. Statistically, Houston's offense is in the middle of the pack in passing and rushing yards as well as scoring. Getting Foreman and Coutee back will be just what the doctor ordered to complement a healthy Watson and an improving offensive line.

Washington's offense, on the other hand, laid a turd against Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked scoring defense. Granted, the Redskins were depleted on the offensive line, but still: only two field goals and one touchdown? Now the challenge gets even tougher as Houston's ninth-ranked scoring defense, led by the resurgent JJ Watt, pays a visit. The Redskins played mistake-free against Tampa Bay and will have to play mistake-free again in order to beat Houston.

Final Take

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has history against the Texans, going 4-2 with 10 TDs and three INTs. This time around, Smith does not have Andy Reid, nor is Washington's offensive line healthy. On Sunday, Washington was dominated in every area except the red zone and turnovers. While their effort was good enough against Tampa, it will take more than two field goals and a touchdown to end Houston's streak.

While Houston was enjoying their bye, the Colts and Titans won, keeping pressure on the Texans to maintain their division lead. But if Houston's offensive line can continue to play well, establish the run, and continue to play great defensively, then I like Houston's chances of notching their seventh straight win, setting up a huge contest with the Titans in Week 12.

All stats and rankings provided by ESPN

One Veteran's Story

It was 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night in 1992. I was five years old, had just started kindergarten, and was attending the first Texas high school football game that I can remember. During those years, it happened every year in Liberty County, Texas: the Dayton Broncos versus the Liberty Panthers. Only six miles separated these two deep-in-football-tradition towns. Back then there wasn’t a rivalry in this small county that could evoke so much emotion out of its players and fans alike. It was at War Memorial Stadium, where the X’s and O’s of football started to be ingrained in me by my grandfather, Harvey Charles Williams.

Harvey Charles was unlike anyone I’ve ever known. Those that knew him constantly talked about his smile, radiant personality, and love of all things black and gold. After deeper conversations with him over the last 30 years, I saw the scars he cared not to discuss. You see, my grandpa was drafted into military service for the Vietnam War. Like many other drafted young men, they put their hopes and dreams on hold for one of our most controversial wars. Papa never complained, though. He was proud of his military service. There were things about that time in battle that he wouldn’t speak about. I’ve learned that that is quite normal for veterans of war. He lost comrades and friends. Even though he came home, a part of him died in Vietnam.

He was a big dreamer. Once he told me that he dreamed of playing baseball professionally. He was an awesome pitcher with a fastball that was virtually unstoppable. Being in the still-segregated South, the opportunities were few. West Liberty High School is where he thrived in sports excellence. The old black high school still stands today, albeit unused. Riding by that building in Liberty, Texas, still reminds me how fortunate I was to be able to go to college and follow my dreams.

Harvey Charles was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I know from many conversations that his bleeding of black and gold didn’t stop with the Liberty Panthers; it dictated his favorite pro team. Much like the local high school team, the Steelers gave my grandpa his weekly dose of pride in the fall.

I always carry at least one Steelers player on my fantasy team. This strategy was solely for my weekly football conversation with Papa. He didn’t care about about my love for all things fantasy; only how Antonio Brown was the reason I won the championship. I can hear him now: “Suga, you only win because you have them Steelers on your team.” I’d laugh while saying, “I know, Papa, but it’s all those Houston Texans too.” He supported my love for the Houston Texans; as long as it wasn’t the Dallas Cowboys, I was still deeply loved.

This football season is my first in my life without him. He passed away on January 31. Often brokenheartedly, I watch the Steelers highlights because, like him, I bleed black and gold to a certain extent. As I sit here on this Veterans Day, I am reminded that my favorite veteran is celebrating the festivities from a seat high above. There aren’t enough words to thank him for his service or for cultivating my love for sports. Today is somber in a lot of ways. It is a reminder that life is bigger than sports, but sports can also be the needed medicine for life.

Dissecting the Texans Remaining Schedule

The Houston Texans are on their well-deserved bye week, following their 19-17 win over the Denver Broncos. The win over the Broncos was Houston's 6th straight, and they look to keep their charge towards the playoffs going when they resume play November 18th at Washington. The Texans win streak has caused quite the buzz from whether or not they can win out, to whether this squad is legit enough to contend for a championship. Let's take a look inside the numbers, as well as how the rest of the year will go down.

11/18 AT Washington

The main concern for the Texans will be how they get everything cranked back up after the bye. Houston has been on a roll, so could having a week off slow their momentum? Over franchise history, Houston is 7-9 following their bye week,

My Thoughts: The Redskins are dealing with a barrage of injuries to their offensive line this week, so there's a chance they will be trotting out almost an entirely new group against the Buccaneers. Houston's stout defense could possibly face a diminished Redskins offense, barring any new injury updates. If Washington is still depleted along their offensive line, we know JJ and the boys will be licking their chops.

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith does have history against the Texans, though he does not have Andy Reid coaching him, nor does Smith have the supporting cast he had with the Chiefs. In his regular season career against the Texans, Smith is 4-2 with 10TD's and 3INT's.

The Redskins are a solid 5-3 who could pose a challenge to the Texans, especially if Alex Smith can make plays with his legs and establish a rhythm, as well as Adrian Peterson having a monster day running the ball. The bye may slow down the Texans momentum a bit, but Watson's healthy and the defense is playing great. Houston may run away with the game, but knowing how all but one of their wins have been by one score, I think this one will be close.

11/26 Home against Tennessee

Following the matchup with the Redskins, the Texans have a three-game home stretch. Two of those games are against the Titans and Colts with the Browns sandwiched in the middle. What could possibly be better than a primetime game against the arch-rival Titans? The Titans handed the Texans one of their three losses, Week 2 behind Blaine Gabbert: 20-17.

Prediction: When referencing division matchups, numbers go out the window. It's all about pride, and if two teams are in contention, jockeying for playoff seeding. Having already lost to the Titans, if the Texans are going to wrap up the division, they must get the split. Houston is currently 6-3 overall, 2-1 inside the AFC South, and 5-2 against the AFC as a whole. Losing to the Titans again could give everyone in the division the belief that the division title is still attainable. The Titans are not an offensive juggernaut, but they do boast the NFL's number one scoring defense (I am intrigued to see how they fare in Foxboro.) Mike Vrabel has done a good job coaching the Titans, and it is always a battle when the Titans and Texans square off. Now, however, the Texans have more to gain this time around than Week 2. Houston grinds out their 8th straight, and this win essentially gives the Texans a vice grip on the division.

12/2 Home against Cleveland

Cleveland is a decent team led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, however, they are the most poorly-run organization in professional sports. Recently, the Browns not only fired head coach Hue Jackson but also offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. Cleveland is a team who is a couple of bad breaks in games away from being .500 (or even first place.)

Prediction: This game has trap tattooed all over it, and if the Texans come out lollygagging and let Cleveland believe they can snatch this game, Houston is doomed. However, since they are chasing the AFC South crown, along with chasing down the Chiefs and Patriots for the top two spots in the conference, this Texans team is mature enough to handle a lowly Cleveland team at home.

12/9 Home against the Colts

The Texans wrap up their three-game home stand against the team which ignited their win streak. The Colts stormed all the way back from 18 points down to go to overtime, ultimately coming up short. The over-analyzed play call from Colts head coach, Frank Reich, could have resulted in a tie, had he punted rather than electing to go for it on 4th down. I still believe Reich going for it was the right call: Luck was on a roll, and the issue was more of a matter of execution. The Colts did not execute the play, and the Texans won the game. The Colts right now are 3-5, and their postseason chances hang on the next two games as they face the Jaguars and Titans.

Prediction: Whether the Colts are still in the race or not when they face Houston, they have Luck back; as long as he is healthy, the Colts are a team to watch out for. Like the first meeting, this game could become another shootout. The Texans are much better now, and defensively are one of the best in the league; Watson will outlast Luck at home and Houston gets the sweep.

12/15 AT the Jets

Here is something no one is accustomed to: a Saturday game in the NFL. Like the matchup with Cleveland, this game is yet another trap. Facing a bad team with a rookie quarterback, knowing a matchup on the road against the defending champion Eagles follows, the Texans maturity will be tested. The question will be, can the Texans avoid overlooking the Jets?

Prediction: Playing on Saturday will throw both teams off a bit. For Houston, if the streak is still intact, the top two seeds should still be in play. With that in mind, Houston will come out and handle their business and should be 11-3 heading into the final two games.

12/23 AT the Eagles

Two days before Christmas, we get to unwrap a matchup with the defending champions. Though the Eagles are not as hot as they were a year ago, they still are a force to be reckoned with. This game is more of a Bill O'Brien playoff tune-up game, as he goes against Doug Pederson, who is one of the best coaches in the game. O'Brien will either face Andy Reid or Bill Belichick in the playoffs, assuming the Texans get there. How he fares against Pederson in a hostile environment, two games before the playoffs, will be a telling sign of what could happen in January.

Prediction: Two days before Christmas, on the road, against the defending champions, the Texans are going to not only have to play their best game, but also coach their best game. The division by now will probably be wrapped up for Houston, and if the Texans are still within reach for the AFC's top two seeds, this will be a big game for them. Honestly, I think the streak ends; as good as the Texans are, the Eagles will probably be needing this game more for their playoff hopes. Depending on how the Chiefs and Patriots are playing, this loss could guarantee Houston plays Wild Card weekend.

12/30 Home against the Jaguars

At this point, this game is probably meaningless for Houston. If it isn't, something went very wrong for the Texans. For the Jaguars, depending on what transpires in the next few weeks, this could be a game they need for a wild-card spot, or they could simply be playing for pride. If, for some reason the top two seeds in the AFC are still up for grabs, then the Texans need to do everything they can to win. Would the Texans rather go on the road and freeze their buns off in Foxboro or Arrowhead? Or would the Texans prefer to be warm and toasty, and let their fans blow the roof off of NRG? The only way starters play significantly for Houston is for the chance to be the number one or two seed.

Prediction: The outcome of this game simply comes down to what playoff scenarios are on the line for both teams. Before the season started, I predicted the Texans would go 12-4 and I am sticking to it. Houston will go to the playoffs having their best season under Bill O'Brien. Whether they are a number 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed is yet to be determined.

Wrapping Up:

Dez Bryant blowing his Achilles in his first practice as a Saint is yet another reminder in the NFL to never take anything for granted. On paper, the only game outside the division Houston could, and likely will, lose is against the Eagles. Barring anything catastrophic, of course, this team has a similar feel to 2011 where things are starting to click. This time around, I hope the Texans can remain healthy enough to see where this ride ends.

Texans: Just Win, Baby!

What the Texans have done has been legendary.

Whether you feel love, hate, or indifference to this Texans team, you can’t deny what they have been able to accomplish in the past six weeks. Currently, your Houston Texans are riding a 6-game win streak after starting the season 0-3. No team has rattled off six wins after starting the season with three straight losses since the New York Giants accomplished this feat in 1970, via Kriste Rieken. After defeating the Broncos on a last-second missed FG by Broncos kicker, Brandon McManus, the Houston Texans moved to 6-3 and now have a comfortable lead in the AFC South.

I won’t sit and pump sunshine and rainbows. These wins have been hard-fought, extremely difficult wins for this team to compile. The offense has sputtered, the defense has looked broken, and they have played down to their competition. Throw in some questionable play calling, and this team seemed destined to be at the bottom of the league.

Yet, here we are. Be it grit, determination, or just plain luck; this team has been able to win. We can sit and compare them to the Rams or Patriots. We can break down every stat under the sun. Football is about making plays, and the Texans have made enough of them to rack up six wins in a row. Now, the Texans must continue to win and separate themselves from the rest of the division.

The Texans are currently in the driver’s seat and control their own destiny. They are entering a much-needed bye week, and are coming up on the part of the schedule that is in their favor. In the remaining seven games the Texans face the Redskins, Titans, Browns, Colts, Jets, Eagles, and finally, wrap it up at home against the Jaguars. Only the Redskins and Eagles are .500 teams out of the bunch and pose the only true tests to the team.

If the Texans ever want to make noise in the playoffs, they need to go 6-1 in a convincing fashion and enter the postseason red-hot. If the Texans can win the next six out of seven games, not only will they go into the postseason as a 12-win team, but they may be flirting with a first-round bye, a first in this team’s history. So, to put it simply: the only thing the Texans need to do is… Just Win, Baby!

Stats Courtesy of www.HoustonTexans.com

Texans: Contenders or Pretenders?

Are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” Is Houston’s six-game win streak all smoke and mirrors, or are they really putting the NFL on notice to generate respect? Starting the season off 0-3 against Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota, and Eli Manning and not putting up a single W, seemed to spell disaster for the Texans’ 2018-2019 season. Then something in Week 4 clicked, as the Texans have rattled off six straight wins against some decent (but not brag-worthy) opponents.

The Texans stumbled out of the gate against the New England Patriots, having no answer for Rob Gronkowski and of course, the arm of Tom Brady. Watson threw for a meager 176 yards on a 17/34 passing day. Next up was the Texans first divisional opponent, the Tennessee Titans, led by former Texans Defensive Coordinator, Mike Vrable. The Titans absolutely embarrassed Houston with a trick play on what appeared to be a punt, but turned into a 66-yard touchdown pass from Byard to Cruikshank early in the game.

Houston’s worst loss of the season came against the Eli Manning-led Giants. This week, Eli suddenly turned into his brother Peyton, and torched the Texans for 297 yards and two touchdowns to pair up with rookie RB sensation Saquon Barkley’s 82 yards and lone rushing touchdown. 0-3 was not exactly the start Bill O’Brien was looking for after coming off a very disappointing 2017 campaign.

I for one was ready to write this season off, and was already looking forward to the draft in September. Then October rolled around, a new Texans team appeared, and boy was I wrong! The Texans started by knocking off their divisional opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, and then grabbed the bragging rights over Texas from the Dallas Cowboys. Next, the Texans obtained a sure-fire win against Buffalo, which was followed by a surprising win against the imploding Jaguars. Their streak continued with a very convincing win over Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins, and most recently pulled off a squeaker in Mile High over the Denver Broncos.

So what changed? Did the offense suddenly become unstoppable? No. Did the defense turn into the Legion of Boom? No. Did Bill O’Brien become some football mastermind? No. To me it’s been a combination of opponent coaching mistakes, inferior talent on the other side of the ball, some very good play-making from several players, and just some down right, knock down, hard fought football from the Texans to rack up six straight wins.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the Texans didn't earn these wins, but also I'm not saying they did, either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, they've done just enough to win these games, something already difficult to do in the NFL, for a shocking six straight weeks.

Now we sit in the bye week, which couldn't have come at a better time in the season, as the Texans are pretty banged up and getting thin at some very key positions. So how does the rest of the year look? Well, if the team can get some key players back (Jonathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, D’Onta Foreman, Zach Cunningham, and potentially Jermaine Kelly), I’d say they have a real shot to finish the season out with at least ten wins. They have three divisional games left: the Jets, Browns, Redskins, and defending Super Bowl Champs, The Eagles. Don’t let these teams fool you: the Browns have lost several close games; the Eagles are battling; and the Titans just made Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys look absolutely foolish on their home field after one of the worst offensive starts I’ve ever seen.

The Texans will have their hands full with the Redskins and Adrian Peterson, despite some recent injuries to a few members of Washington’s offensive line, and a defense with former Texans’ safety, DJ Swearinger. Definitely a winnable game, the Texans could very well bang out ten straight wins and lock up the AFC South in early December. Now that’s fine and dandy, but will they truly be satisfied with another AFC South banner? Of course not.

This season around the NFL has had its twists and turns, shocking winners, upsets, blowouts, and excitement. When the playoffs arrive, if the Texans continue to improve with the addition of veteran wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney continuing to attack opposing QB’s, I could see the Texans making a decent run into this year’s playoffs. Guys like Kareem Jackson, Deandre Hopkins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Lamar Miller will have to continue to get better and keep opponents on their heels.

Of course, those potential playoff opponents will likely include Kansas City, New England, and possibly Pittsburg or Cincinnati. Can Houston compete with these teams? Yes, if the team can stay healthy, and things continue to click for them. I would, however, be cautiously optimistic that this trend of wins continues, but don’t get your heart broken if things go astray.

Until I see Bill O’Brien make a dramatic change in his predictable play calling, I cannot see the Texans making it past the first round of the playoffs. Watching the tape of the Denver game, the Texans ran the ball on first down seven (7) times in the first two quarters of football. That’s seven out of a possible eleven first down plays Houston ran. Bill needs to mix in more plays on first downs; maybe with the addition of Demaryius Thomas, the Texans will be able to do so. I would love to see the tight ends be more involved in the passing game, especially considering the flashes we've seen from rookie TE Jordan Thomas. I understand they have been cautious with the offensive line being so inconsistent, but week by week, that group has been improving and keeping Watson upright more and more often.

So in conclusion, are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” With everything seeming to come together at the right time for them at this point in the season, the Texans are contenders. They are three wins away from matching Bill O’Brien’s best season. There are several winnable games on the docket; this is a very hungry team, with a previously un-seen type of camaraderie. Players are getting healthy, rookies are getting better week by week, and veterans are returning to form. These are all signs pointing to Houston making a push for the playoffs, and a strong one at that!

* All stats from NFL.com

Watson's Rookie Season

At the conclusion of Sunday's matchup in Denver, Deshaun Watson has completed his rookie season. Rookie Season, you ask? Yup, Deshaun has finally completed 16 games in the NFL. Yea, its spread out over two seasons, but it’s finally our first true benchmark to measure Watson against the best QB’s to step on the gridiron.

It hasn't exactly been all MVP performances and highlight reel film, but to say Watson isn't putting the league on notice is foolish. Deshaun Watson has amassed 4,088 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a 101.7 quarterback rating per NFl.com. So how does this stack up against some of the all-time greats? Well, Peyton Manning recorded 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions. Tom Brady threw for 2,849 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in his first 16 games. Now I'm not saying Watson is the next “GOAT,” but he’s certainly put up a good case for becoming a top quarterback in the NFL for the foreseeable future!

Now, of course, everyone knows about his injury in Week Nine during practice, in which Watson suffered his second ACL tear, downing him for the remainder of the season. One thing that quickly gave most hope was their memory of what Watson did in college after suffering a torn ACL at Clemson. Watson tore his ACL in 2014, missed one game, then played against South Carolina. In that game, Watson threw for 269 yards, two touchdowns, and amazingly still rushed for 13 yards and two touchdowns as well. I believe that gave everyone in Houston hope that it wouldn't take long for Watson to return to form and help lead their beloved Texans down the field again.

Of course, there have been some bad things from Watson, but he’s a rookie, so I’m not entirely surprised. Watson has this incredible ability to escape pressure that he somehow sees with the eyes in the back of his head. However, sometimes it appears he tries to do too much and runs into more trouble than he should put himself into. What do I mean by this? Watching recent games, Watson has a habit of running into sacks. Now I know everyone is going to want to place the blame on the offensive line; I implore you to trust me that it's not all their fault, regardless of how you feel about that group's lackluster performance over the last two seasons.

Watson has been sacked an astounding 49 times in his first 16 games. That is a ton of hits to take for a QB in today's NFL! Just this past week, off the top of my head, I can think of two plays where he was “sacked” in which it appears he held onto the ball too long instead of dumping it off and moving on. This area is where Quarterback Coach Sean Ryan and Head Coach Bill O’Brien can work with Watson the most and help him turn that corner to become a prolific passer in the NFL, and stay healthy!

Now I don’t want it to seem like I’m some QB guru, and that I know exactly how to turn Watson into the best QB in the league because I don’t, or I would be getting paid a ton of money, and my phone would be blowing up! These are just general observations from re-watching game tape, and keying in on some things.

With only 16 games under his belt, a 9-7 record, arguably the best hands receiver at his disposal, the recent addition of Demaryius Thomas, and Will Fuller coming back next year, I fear the best is yet to come from the young QB, and that should put fear in the souls of defensive coordinators around the NFL.

Week 10 NFL Picks

Jonathon Lee’s Week 10 Picks

Overall Record: 9-11 (Last Week: 2-3)

Atlanta Falcons -5.5

The Falcons have now won three in a row and absolutely in the playoff race at 4-4. They seem to be clicking now and were even able to get Julio Jones in the end zone last week. On the opposite side, the Cleveland Browns have now lost four in a row by an average margin of 14.5 points. Baker Mayfield and company will get it right one day, but this is way too important of a game for the Falcons and their season. Atlanta wins and covers.

Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots OVER 46.5

I hate to say this, but Marcus Mariota looked like a good Quarterback last week against what is regarded as a good Dallas Cowboys defense. Combine a healthy Mariota with the Patriots quick offense that has averaged 35.5 points per game in their six-game winning streak, and I really like this over the pick.

Seattle Seahawks +10

This is a divisional game between two teams that clearly do not like each other. Seattle was coming off a loss to the Chargers last week, and at 4-4, they are stuck fighting for their season against arguably the best team in football. While I obviously don’t think they beat the Rams, they will play with desperation and put up a fight. This is their second meeting of the season, in which the first match was a 33-31 Rams victory. I’m looking for another close game that the Seahawks cover.

Chris Kennedy’s Week 10 Picks (Last Week: 3-0):

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -3:

The Redskins have quite a few injuries throughout the offense, which doesn’t bode well for one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. The Buccaneers have scored 27 points at home this season with Fitzpatrick behind center. The Redskins defense has been fairly good this season, ranking in the top ten, but I like Fitzmagic to come in and hand Washington their fourth loss of the year.

Arizona Cardinals +17:

I don’t see this being the blowout that most are expecting. Yes, the Cardinals have been abysmal on offense this year, scoring just 14 points per game. They don’t give up a lot of big plays (20+ yards), however. On the other side, the Chiefs defense is susceptible to big plays, especially against RBs. I think we see much solid production from David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday, with a bit of Christian Kirk sprinkled in. While I fully expect the Chiefs to win this game, I’m still taking the Cardinals to cover the spread.

New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals UNDER 54:

The Bengals will be without A.J. Green this week, which means we should see more of Joe Mixon in the passing game. John Ross will also be relied upon more, especially if C.J. Uzomah can’t go this week. The Saints have been stellar against the run this year, giving up just 56 yards per game. The Bengals defense has had their issues this season, and that will continue in this game. I just don’t see it being the total shootout that it could have been if A.J. Green were playing.

- All stats from ESPN

Finally Julio!

Touchdown, Julio Jones! A drought that began 343 days ago, spanning 12 games, while racking up 115 Fantasy Points, is how long it took Jones to find the end zone for six. Toward the end of the fourth quarter Sunday, Jones took a bubble screen and cut up field for a 35-yard touchdown. As stated by ESPN Fantasy, since the start of the 2017 season, Jones leads wide receivers with over 2,000 yards. This season he has had five 100-yard games, but struggled in the red zone. This discrepancy mystifies fantasy owners everywhere concerning Jones’s lack of touchdown receptions during that time span. 

According to CBS Sports, Jones is the highest priced wide receiver in football averaging a cost of $8,000 on Draft Kings and FanDuel respectively. This outrageous purchase price finally paid dividends on Sunday as Jones caught his first touchdown since Rockstar by Post Malone was the #1 song on the Billboard charts. 

The question most owners are asking themselves is: “Is this the start of a trend or is it an anomaly?” Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons quarterback, conveniently forgets that he has a top five wide receiver In the red zone thus giving fantasy owners around the world anxiety about trusting his memory. For his career, Jones averages 96.2 receiving yards per game which is tops in the league since 2014, as stated by Pro Football Focus.

Heading into Cleveland this weekend, against a team that is struggling to find its identity, Jones and the Falcons offense should be feasting on the Dog Pound. However, Cleveland’s defense has shown flashes of competence. In 8 out of 9 games they have picked off the quarterback. Meanwhile, Ryan is doing an outstanding job protecting the ball this season. NFL.com highlights Ryan’s nineteen touchdowns to three interceptions. Those statistics reflect remarkable ball security. Pro Football Focus shows the Browns allow offenses to score an average of twenty eight points. Therefore, this game  should be another one where the Falcons pile on the points and Jones is able to cash checks in the end zone. 

For much of the last year, Jones has been a great option at WR1 or WR2. He amasses the yards that consistently rank him in the top ten of the position weekly. If Jones can manage to string together multiple games down the stretch with touchdowns, we could possibly be seeing another All-Pro season from the receiver. In fantasy terms that means wins, and we all know what wins mean... bragging rights and financial dividends. Cha-Ching! 

The Bit: What to Think of These Texans?

The Bit: Bye Week Edition

@jchasteenwriter

So here we, as fans, sit with a team that is 6-3. This is a Texans team that is honestly a play or two away from being 9-0. This is a team seated two games atop the AFC South, a team who’s never been out of a loss, a team who’s won SIX straight games, and a team who now displays a record that, on paper, they should have.

To go on further, this is the same team that is also a play or two away from being 2-7. This Texans team underperformed on offense (and maybe even defense) their first five games, was out-coached for five of the six first games, and was down to one offensive threat until they traded for Demaryius Thomas to replace often-injured Will Fuller.

I am one torn Texans fan because I can’t tell if the Texans are a fraud, or if they are what they should be. Looking back to OTAs, I would have pegged the Texans as having a 6-3 record at their bye week with losses to New England, Dallas, and Jacksonville.

As week 10 of the NFL approaches, the Texans are ranked 14th in total yards and scoring offense per game and defensively are ranked 9th in total yards and 7th in points allowed.

I’d say the defense is right on schedule, but the offense has some slack to pick up, as most of us expected a top-five offense based on the sample Watson previewed last year. In their defense, if you take away the first three abysmal loses and the awful offensive showing against Buffalo, they are playing better in all phases of their game, and that offense (yes, credit to Lamar Miller for showing up for two whole games) is what is expected, no matter the opponent.

The optimist viewpoint of the first half of the 2018 Houston Texans is this: they control their own destiny. Offensive kinks seem to have been ironed out, starters have been lost, and some gems have been found. The offensive line is playing like a gelled unit now. Watt is BACK. Watson has worked on his turnovers and limited the number of unnecessary hits taken.

This is a team that has eight games to keep improving, because let’s face it—the only good team they’ve played is New England, and that may be the BEST team they play until the playoffs. Washington, Indianapolis (yes, they’re improving each week as well), and Philadelphia will all be tests to show us how our team stacks up against talented squads. So pay close attention to those games.

The realist in me wonders: how would Houston stack up against New England (again), Kansas City, or any of the NFC juggernauts? If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, then let me know which happy pills you’re taking, so I can partake and chug the entire bottle.

Win Streak Hits Six as Texans Survive

It was not the prettiest of afternoons for the Texans.

Outside of the thrashing Houston gave Miami in Week 8, and the beatdown in Jacksonville, all of Houston's wins have been by one score. Nonetheless, thanks to a missed 51-yard field goal from Brandon McManus, Houston notches their sixth straight win improving to 6-3 heading into their bye. With the win, the Texans not only seized full control of the AFC South but are also very much in distance of nabbing one of the top 2 seeds in the AFC.

Offensively the Texans got again another good game in pass protection, from their offensive line. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was hit only four times, all four quarterback hits were sacks*. The pass

protection has steadily improved, though against what was the 27th ranked run defense, Houston struggled to run the ball effectively. Lamar Miller after exploding the past two games with 100 yards in each contest, only mustered 21 yards on 12 carries*. Alfred Blue was a little more effective with 15 carries and 39 yards, even Watson who did not have any designed run plays delivered 38 yards on six carries.*

Houston's defense was effective against the run as they have been much of the season, limiting the Broncos to just 75 yards on the ground. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum did everything he could to stick it to his former team, he made quick reads and getting rid of the ball quickly which helped negates Houston's defensive front from fully wrecking the game.

Wrapping up

Close games can go either way if Sutton catches Keenum's perfectly thrown ball in the end zone in the first quarter we could be sitting here discussing an entirely different result. Then there is the usual reliable McManus having the worst game of the season going 1/3, including missing a 51-yard attempt to win the game Honestly when McManus walked on to the field, I thought the streak was coming to an end. After all, he has been one of the best kickers in the game, but you know the Texans are rolling when one of the best kickers misses a kick well within his range. Though it is worth noting McManus following the loss to the Texans, is now 2/5 kicking the ball in his last two games.*

The Texans enter their bye playing good football, but with plenty of room to grow. Offensively the Texans need the offensive line to continue to improve to keep Watson clean but also be more consistent in the run game. The bye will certainly aid Watson and Thomas further develop their chemistry so that they can be on the same page. Following the bye, Houston could see two key players return from injury when they take on Washington. Wide receiver KeKe Coutee who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and second-year running back D'Onta Foreman can start practicing following the bye. Whether Foreman suits up against Washington remains to be determined, but having both Coutee and Foreman return would be an added boost to Houston's offensive attack.

The playoffs are very much a reality for the Texans. The question now is, can Houston take it another level and win the city's first ever Super Bowl?

*=all stats and rankings sourced by ESPN

Dumbest Rules in Sports: The NFL Overtime System

When you introduce a new feature called “The Dumbest Rules in Sports,” it makes sense to kick it off with a look at the NFL, whose rules committee comes from a magical realm of non-Euclidean maps. After only five decades of overtime games, the NFL noticed that it had a problem: an unbalanced overtime system that lets a coin toss directly influence the outcome of a game. Rejecting proven solutions, the rules committee thought and thought, until one of them shouted: “I’ve got it! Let’s replace it with an arbitrary, bureaucratic tangle that still lets a coin toss directly influence the outcome of a game!”

How did it come to this? Let’s take a look.

A Little History

Once upon a time, the National Football League was a pretty uncomplicated organization. Wide receivers had day jobs, helmets were made of leather, and zone coverage was what your jockstrap did. And when the clock expired, the game was over.

This worked for everything but the postseason, because the concept of championships originates in the Highlander universe, where There Can Be Only One. The advent of championships required an emergency plan in case of a tie at the end of “regulation time” (a term used only by advanced theorists). In fact the “postseason” itself didn’t even exist until 1933, when a radical innovation called the “NFL championship game” was introduced. Before that, if two different teams shared the best record at the end of the “regular season” (another advanced theoretical notion), champion status was sorted out within the office of the league’s executive committee. Seriously.

Once the postseason became a thing, rule makers became anxious about the possibility of a tie, so they again consulted the Highlanders, who predictably recommended something they called “sudden death overtime.” The NFL accepted this suggestion, though their rejection of beheadings remains controversial to some. The sudden death rule was: you flip a coin to decide possession of the football, and then the first team to score any points is the winner.

This was too radical a notion to just leap into; it had to be tested, and the first NFL overtime game was won, Manhattan Project style, by the Rams in the 1955 preseason. Then, after the radiation cleared, the first postseason overtime, known as “the greatest game ever played,” was won in 1958 by the Baltimore Colts.

Things Get Weird

But from the very start, after that inaugural 1955 preseason overtime game, there was dissatisfaction -- from the winners, no less! -- with the importance of the coin toss. The winner of the toss was winning 60% of the games, which was too lopsided to be fair.

So the rules committee sat down and brainstormed ways to make the NFL overtime less lopsided and arbitrary, and hit upon the remarkable idea -- the kind only a committee of professionals can come up with -- of making the asymmetry much more arbitrary and obvious. Now, through a complicated system, it’s possible for both teams to possess the ball in overtime, provided they all remember to bring enough eye of newt.

We’re making that up about the newts, probably. Please don’t blind any newts. But if you read the official overtime rules -- go ahead, it’s only 1113 words, we’ll wait -- you’ll know that coin flip plus touchdown still equals winning without the other side ever possessing the football.

The way forward

This is all true despite college football proving that a symmetrical overtime system not only works fairly, but is ridiculously exciting to watch. Yet purists -- possibly the same people who used to wear those leather helmets -- object to the college system by saying “defense is part of the game!”

We considered this objection seriously and carefully, and sent our researchers out to investigate, and they came back to us with a stunning discovery: Not only is the defensive side permitted on the field during college overtimes, they are even permitted to try their hardest to thwart the offensive side! Defenses even affect the outcome of college overtime games!

Once we heard this amazing news, we were convinced that the current NFL overtime rules are among the dumbest rules in sports history, and we favor a college-style system.

Now please excuse us while we go and adjust our zone coverage.

Texans vs Broncos Preview

The Houston Texans will put their five-game win streak on the line at Mile High against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Like Thursday night's matchup against Brock Osweiler, the Texans again will face a former quarterback in Case Keenum. However, unlike Brock, people in Houston still cheer for Case to succeed ever since his days at the University of Houston, except this upcoming Sunday that is.

This game will be won by the team who can win in the trenches as both teams have defensive fronts capable of wrecking the game. While the Broncos are 2nd in the league in sacks with 24, and 11th overall in pass defense allowing 237.5 yards a game, and their pass defense is pretty stout, their soft spot would be against the run, as Denver is 27th in the NFL against the run. Therefore, it is imperative Houston comes out physical and establishes the run not only to stay out of 3rd and long situations, but also to prevent Von Miller and that Denver pass rush from pinning their ears back and going after Watson.

Case Keenum faces no picnic either, as Houston's defense has been one of the best all season. Led by the resurgence of JJ Watt, Houston is 10th in the league in sacks, are are just outside the top 10 in passing yards a game allowed. However, Houston is also 7th in rushing yards allowed per game. Houston's got the edge in scoring defense allowing 20.9 points a game, while Denver is 14th allowing 24.3 points per game.

Keenum, like most other quarterbacks, can hurt you with a clean pocket. Therefore it is important Watt and Company establish their presence early and make Keenum’s day as uncomfortable as possible.

Returning to the Texans’ offense, quarterback Deshaun Watson is a full-go to fly for Sunday's game. How Watson fares in the altitude remains to be seen, but the fact he can fly is a good sign that his lung and ribs are healing well. Of course, having a mini-bye week might have helped the healing process.

Making a move to help their franchise quarterback, the Texans added wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to fill the void after Will Fuller was lost for the season. Adding Thomas will help ease the pressure off of Hopkins, as well as improving the short to intermediate passing attack. Thomas is probably more ecstatic about the deal than anyone else because he now gets the opportunity to play with a stud quarterback. Since Peyton Manning retired from the NFL, Thomas has endured a struggle similar to Hopkins pre-Watson: playing with three different quarterbacks in three seasons.

Injuries

The Texans will see the return of TE Ryan Griffin, who has missed the previous two games with an illness. RB D'Onta Foreman will not start practicing until after the bye week, as he continues to rehab from the Achilles injury he suffered last season. WR Keke Coutee is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Though with the acquisition of Thomas, along with a bye following Sunday's game, Houston may sit him out.

S Andre Hal, G Zach Fulton, and LB Brian Peters are all listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

Final Thoughts

Adding Thomas was a great message sent to the players from the front office. It shows that the Texans are not only willing to fill a need, but also show they are driven to win. Despite the offensive line playing great this past couple of games, it would have been nice to see the Texans get greedy and add a tackle or guard; someone to boost them up front, because outside of playing good defense, the Texans’ fate rests on the health of Watson.

The altitude will be a factor, as it always is, with the visiting team at Denver. But if the Texans are able to keep Watson clean for a third week in a row, along with playing with energy the entire 60 minute, the Texans will have a great chance of entering their well-deserved bye on a six-game winning streak.

*Stats and rankings from ESPN

Draft Kings Week 9 Main Slate Report

Houston Preeminence is officially LIVE, and we aren’t going away. That includes myself, as I continue to provide you with the DFS content that you crave. We’re looking at Week 9, and there are some really nice matchups to focus on. As always, I’ll share with you my “LOCK,” “VALUE,” and “FADE” picks for the Draft Kings NFL Main Slate. Let’s get after it.

QB:

Jared Goff - $6,000 (LOCK): Here is a slam dunk of a pick. Goff is going up against the Saints this week and in New Orleans. At home this season, the Saints are giving up an average of 400 passing yards per game to opposing QBs,z and they rank sixth worse in the league in total DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).v Goff has been very impressive this season, completing 67 percent of his passes, and sporting a TD rage of 6.7.z The Saints, have been allowing a completion percentage of 70 and a TD rate of 5.91.z Cooper Kupp is also on track to play, which gives Goff another piece of ammunition against this porous Saints defense.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - $5,500 (VALUE): I’m going with Fitzpatrick here until he gets benched again. Who knows with this team. In the first three games of the season, Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards in each game, and at least 3 TDs.z He’ll be facing a Carolina defense that has been average against the pass, ranking 20th in Pass Def DVOA.v This game has an over-under of 55, with the Panthers as a six-point favorite, so I fully expect Fitzpatrick to be slinging the ball all over the field on Sunday.

Patrick Mahomes - $7,100 (FADE): Do you know who ranks first in Pass Defense DVOA?v Or who gives up the least amount of fantasy points per game to opposing QBs?w The Browns. Yes, you read that right. The Cleveland Browns have been the best team in the NFL against the pass this season. The Brown are allowing opposing QBs to complete 60 percent of their passes (second lowest of main slate defenses), and a TD rate of only 3.32 percent (lowest on the main slate).z I know Mahomes has been phenomenal this year, but this week I’ll be looking elsewhere at QB.

RB:

Kareem Hunt - $7,700 (LOCK): While I’m fading his QB, I’m all in on Hunt. Tampa Bay surrenders an average of 118 rushing yards per game to opposing RBs,z along with 27 fantasy points per game.w The Chiefs are an eight and a half point favorite this week, which means I’m expecting Hunt to carry the load towards the end of the game.

Kenyan Drake - $5,300 (VALUE): Drake is looking to continue his fantasy success this week against the Jets. Over the last two weeks, Drake has averaged just over 21 PPR (points per reception) points.y The New York Jets are allowing 92 rushing yards per game to opposing RBs this year, to go along with 26 fantasy points.z The Dolphins offensive line ranks eighth in the NFL this year in 2nd Level Yards, meaning that they’re giving their RBs a better opportunity of gaining five to ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage.v

James Conner - $7,200 (FADE): I know that Conner has been superb this year, but he’s facing the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens allow just 70 rushing yards per game, and an insane 18 receiving yards per game to opposing RBs.z Last week, Baltimore held Christian McCaffrey to just three yards per carry, and 11 yards receiving on just four receptions.z

WR:

Robert Woods - $7,000 (LOCK): The Rams have so many offensive weapons to choose from, especially with Cooper Kupp returning to action. I’m going with Woods as my pick because the Saints are the worst in the NFL against opposing WR2, giving up 113 receiving yards per game.v Woods leads this receiving core with eight targets per game, and with the Rams projected to score almost 30 points on Sunday I think Woods has the big day for L.A.z

Amari Cooper - $4,600 (VALUE): That’s right, folks! This is the week that Amari goes bonkers. Ok, maybe not bonkers, but I think he has over 100 yards receiving and two TDs. He’s facing a Titans defense that has allowed 41 fantasy points per game to opposing WRs,w and 81 receiving yards per game to WR1.v Amari is able to line up all over the field, so look for Dallas to try him out in different areas to see if he can exploit a mismatch.

Tyreek Hill - $8,000 (FADE): Hill should see a decent amount of Denzel Ward this week, which doesn’t bode well for Hill. This year, PFF has ranked Ward as the eighth best cover corner in the league.x While Hill can hurt you in so many areas of the game. I’m going to look elsewhere at that price.

TE:

Greg Olsen - $4,700 (LOCK): Olsen found success against a stout Ravens defense last week, and I think he continues that success this week. Yes, he’s against the abysmal Buccaneers, but he’s also going to be matched up against Justin Evans. Evans is giving up a league-high 3.64 Y/RC (yards per reception completed), among NFL safeties.x

Cameron Brate - $2,700 (VALUE): While Brate doesn’t have the targets or yards that O.J. Howards does, he does have the same number of TDs and more targets in the red zone.z Carolina surrenders 18 fantasy points per game to opposing TEs, and Brate should get some opportunities in this high scoring match up.w

Travis Kelce - $6,600 (FADE): Maybe I should have just said to fade all Chiefs (except Hunt) this week. Kelce should be matched up against Jabrill Peppers, who is only allowing 50 percent of completed passing thrown his way.x The Browns just don’t allow many fantasy points to opponents in the passing game, including just nine fantasy points a game to opposing TEs.w

*Stat Source Key (v = Football Outsiders, w = 4for4, x = Pro Football Focus, y = ESPN, z = Pro Football Reference)

Week 9 NFL Picks

Jonathon Lee’s Picks:

Overall Record: 7-8 (Last week: 2-3)

Pittsburgh Steelers +2

The Steelers face the Ravens this Sunday in one of the greatest rivalries we have in the NFL. This divisional matchup always seems to be a close one and like I said last week, I believe this is the time we see the Steelers start to pull away. While I think this will be a close game, I will take the 2 points but have Pittsburgh winning this game outright.

New York Jets +2.5

This is another game that I like the team to win outright but will take the points. For the third week in a row, I am fading Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins. This is a game where Sam Darnold can show he is a liable Quarterback for the future. Give me the Jets in an easy win and put the cherry on top with a Brock Osweiler pick-6.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns UNDER 52

The Kansas City Chiefs are a team that has been a good bet on the over this year, but 52 points is getting high for an NFL game this far into the season. It’d be one thing if it were two high scoring offenses like the Rams/Saints matchup this weekend, but the Browns are averaging just 16 points per game over the last four weeks. The Chiefs are going to convincingly beat the Browns early and run the clock out in the second half for a final score of around 28-10.

Denver Broncos -1

I’m sorry, I know this is a Houston based website, but this is the game the Texans lose. I hate to do this, but you aren’t supposed to bet with emotions. Just think about it, the Texans are not going to win the rest of their games to finish 13-3, and that’s fine. The Broncos are a different team at home and opponents don’t usually perform well in Colorado; just look at Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs losing all game before barely squeezing out a comeback win on Monday Night Football a month ago. It was only two weeks ago that Deshaun Watson had to ride a bus to Florida instead of flying because of the altitude, so that could definitely be a factor in the Mile High City. The Denver pass rush is an advantage to Houston’s offensive line. Let’s just get out of there healthy into the bye week with a favorable schedule the rest of the way. My heart and wallet disagree on this one. Broncos cover the spread.

Minnesota Vikings -5 *J-Lee & CK Consensus Pick*

If the Vikings want to go back to the playoffs, they need to win this game against the Detroit Lions. Both teams are coming off a loss, but the Vikings hung in there with the Saints while the Lions put up an ugly performance against the Seahawks. I think the Vikings get right, at home, before heading into the bye week and prepare to face the Bears, Packers, and Patriots over the following three weeks. Vikings win by at least a touchdown.

Chris Kennedy’s Picks:

Minnesota Vikings -5:

The Detroit Lions rank in the bottom five for overall DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), but also in Passing and Rushing DVOA.z This means they just can’t stop anyone whether it’s on the ground or through the air. The Vikings have only once failed to score less than 20 points in a game this season. The Lions defense is a mess, and even their top cover corner, Darius Slay, hasn’t been up to par this year. I like the Vikings at home this week.

Atlanta Falcons +1.5:

The Falcons are coming off the bye week with a two-game winning streak, and are scoring an average of 27 points per game this year.y While the Redskins defense has been stout this year, giving up the third least amount of points per game, I’ve been really impressed with the way Matt Ryan has been playing since Freeman landed on IR. I think that Atlanta comes into Washington this week and steals a victory.

L.A. Rams @ New Orleans Saints OVER 58.5:

Both of these teams have combined for an average of 66 points per game.y You add that on top of the fact that they are playing in NO, which is pretty much the “Coors Field” of the NFL, and you have the makings of a crazy high scoring game. Cooper Kupp is on track to play, and that will certainly help to open things up for Goff.

Stat Source Reference: y = ESPN, z = Football Outsiders

My Texans Weekly Mock Draft

Texans’ fans: this series will be a weekly 2019 mock draft for our favorite team. The mock draft will not have any impact from free agency or trade rumors. As the Texans season moves forward and they accumulate wins or losses, the draft slots and draft picks will be affected. I based each pick on the Texans needs, prospects, draft stock, and fit for the current team’s defensive and offensive schemes. 

The Texans’ needs are simple: Offensive Lineman and Corner. There is no starting Left Tackle on the Texans roster currently. The interior lineman position has been shaky at best. The Texans’ O-line has to be one of the most inconsistent lines of all time. In the 2019 mock draft, I prefer to use their first round draft pick on an Offensive Tackle.

The cost to the Texans for winning games is lowering their draft slots. To simulate the draft, I used a computed online live draft at fanspeak.com. So, when the Texans’ pick came up, all of the top rated OT were gone. Teams like the Jets, Cardinals, Colts, and Browns all might be looking for OT in the 2019 Draft. Talent like Jonah Williams, Greg Little, and Trey Williams will be gone very early in the first round of the draft. Unless the quarterbacks in the 2019 class really start shining, and quarterback-needy teams fall in love with them, other talented positional players will be off the board quickly.

Here We Go!!!

First Round Selection at 20th Pick - CB Deandre Baker - Georgia

Measurables – Height: 5’11”, Weight: 185lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.55, Reach: 34”

Deandre Baker was rated higher than other OT at 20th. Baker is one of the top-rated cornerbacks coming out of college this year. Andraez (“Greedy”) Williams gets the hype and attention, but Baker is just as talented and flashy. Not necessarily a ball-hawking corner, Baker plays his man and the ball quite well. Pass deflection ability is key in a league where the passing game is highlighted. Baker’s selection would allow the Texans to move Jonathan Joseph to second corner and Aaron Colvin can then play in his natural position as slot corner.

Second Round Selection at 47th Pick - OT Andre Dillard - Washington State

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 305lbs., Wingspan: 83”

Andre Dillard is nice second-round talent. Dillard is in the conversation of Best Left Tackle in the draft class. With his quick feet and superb hand placement, he could be the Left Tackle for the Texans for the next 10 – 15 years. With Watson’s abilities and playing style, he will need a LT that has more quickness and is lighter on their feet than a traditional LT. Dillard has very good upper body strength. That strength will be needed when handling NFL-level top pass rushers that can bull rush.    

Second Round Selection at 53rd Pick - RB Bryce Love - Stanford

Measurables – Height: 5’10”, Weight: 202lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.35

Bryce Love should replace Lamar Miller and should pair with D’Onta Foreman. Barring any setback, I can see him going higher in the draft. If he is there in the third round for the Texans, he could be a must-draft for them. Love is a running back with a track and field background. Love has the speed to break away from defenders.  He also has the toughness to be a three-down back with pass-catching abilities, which has been missing from this Texans’ offense.  Stanford is known for running a profile-style offense. That style will suit him well transitioning from college to NFL.

Third Round Selection at 84th Pick  - G Ben Bredeson - Michigan

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 310lbs, Wingspan: 81”

Ben Bredeson is a former OT that has moved inside to guard. He is projected to be a left guard that has great strength with power at the point of attack. Bredeson has very good lateral movement from his days at tackle. He truly battles against every defender that lines up in front of him. He positions himself well in pass-blocking situations. 

Properly balanced while run blocking, Bredeson seems under control and stable doing both.  He will need to improve on next-level blocking. He should be a force to go with Dillard on the left. Pairing him with Nick Martin and Zach Fulton could make the interior an impenetrable wall for years to come. Drafting Bredeson helps Head Coach Bill O’ Brian solidify the line and have some permanent players in their positions.

Fourth Round Selection at 123rd Pick  – CB Amani Oruwariye - Pennsylvania State

Measurables – Height: 6’1”, Weight: 201lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.57

Amani Oruwariye would be another player to add to the depth of the corner position. Without a lot of proven stars or talent at the corner spot, Oruwariye could have his chance for some real playing time. Oruwariye has great length and a very high awareness of the ball.  A proven tackler that fights off blocks well, Oruwariye has the strength and size to be a hard-hitting corner. A bit raw without a lot of starts under his belt for being redshirt senior, Oruwariye has great potential.

Fifth Round Selection at 161st Pick  –Edge Rusher Christian Rector – Southern California

Measurables – Height: 6’3”, Weight: 275lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.77

The Texans’ base front is 3-4, like we always hear, but a team can never have enough edge rushers.With Christian Covington not playing well, and being a healthy scratch on certain games after his return from injury, Christian Rector could be used as the main back-up at defensive end, with Duke Ejiofor emerging as star. Ejiofor and Rector could be the best natural-skilled pass rushers on the team. Picking a true 3-4 DL, will be quite different from what the Texans have been doing lately: converting talent to fit their schemes. Rector has the power and speed to be strong against run. His quickness, finesse, and power can be valuable in the passing game. As a former basketball player in high school, he definitely has the footwork to improve his pass rushing skills.

Sixth Round Selection at 194th Pick  – OL Kendall Baker – Georgia

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 305lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 5.27

Baker currently plays Left Guard for Georgia, but with his size and lateral speed, he can easily move to a Tackle spot. At tackle, his lean frame and quickness could be used as a swing tackle or as depth for the Texans. He plays very aggressively and has a strong punch to run, stopping defensive tackles from getting to the ball carrier. Following Head Coach O’Brian’s philosophy for the O-line, he has the versatility to play Guard, as well. He will have to add some weight on his frame to play inside. Running backs can find holes when they run his direction, but he will need work to get his strength where he needs to be to handle NFL-level talent.     

Sixth Round Selection at Pick 237th – OL Dewrin Gray – Maryland

Measurables – Height: 6’4”. Weight: 336lbs. 40 Yard Dash Time: 5.25:

Derwin Gray is big, stout offensive lineman. Gray has shown the ability to play Guard and Tackle. He run blocks well, has excellent movement for man of his size, and was once a starter at LT for Maryland. Early in his college career, Gray showed he could play the LT position. Gray’s true position for NFL coaches is at guard with his wide frame and powerful first step in the run game. He blows off defenders to make running lanes for his running backs. An offensive lineman with his natural skills and size could have a long-term home on a roster with work and great effort.

The Texans have some holes in their roster that need to be addressed. This draft class should be able fill some of their needs and contribute.  During the free agency period, there will be some players added and lost to fit the needs of the team. Some of these prospects could see the field starting Day One. With the new additions, the Texans should improve their team and push further in the playoffs in 2019.

Source: fanspeak.com

What did the Texans Get in Demaryius Thomas?

On Tuesday, October 30th, hours before the NFL trade deadline was set to expire, the Texans acquired five-time Pro Bowl selection, Demaryius Thomas, from the Denver Broncos. It needs to be said, all of this is pending a physical before it’s official. Assuming Thomas passes the physical, he’ll join the Texans, who, coincidentally are scheduled to travel to Denver to take on Thomas’ former team, err, current team. I have no clue until after the results of the physical.

Does Thomas even fly to Houston for the physical? Seems redundant. What if he fails the physical? Is this the reverse Robert Horry-Matt Bullard trade? Rockets fans will remember when Horry and Bullard were traded for Sean Elliott. Elliott failed the physical, so, Horry and Bullard returned to Houston as the trade was voided. Horry became more aggressive and the rest is history.

Okay, obviously, I got a little sidetracked with nostalgia. Assuming Thomas passes the physical and joins the Texans, the question moves to “How will it work out?” We could turn to Twitter where there is tons of instant reaction from people that quickly Google stats and records, but what if you wanted to dig deeper and ask “What’s the whole story?” I’m not sure if I can get into the entire story, but I’ll look at some areas of concerns and other areas of optimism regarding Thomas the Texan. 

The first question is always: compensation. The Texans will receive Demaryius Thomas and will flip spots in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the Denver Broncos, along with sending Denver the Texans’ 2019 fourth round pick. Flipping seventh round picks is a footnote on this deal and is basically the equivalent of the pickle that they include with the packaging of your sandwich order at most delis. The meat of the deal is obviously, the fourth-round selection.

Fourth-round selections are usually viewed as developmental players with backup potential, special teams, and/or potential ability to become a starter. Demaryius Thomas is a needed puzzle piece, an upgrade over the current roster choices, and a no-brainer for a team that is in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC and looks to move into a stranglehold position on the AFC South, with the Broncos, basically, pulling out the white flag and sending Thomas to their opponent for this week.

So, not only do the Texans get an extended break after their Thursday Night win over the Dolphins, they now find an above-average starter who will be an instant weapon for the young quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who gets the most out of every player. That will sound like music to the ears of Demaryius Thomas, who has lived the inverse career of his new teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, to this point.

While Hopkins played with guys that would be great in the CFL, he didn’t get a franchise quarterback until 2017, and yet, he still produced. The question has been asked, what would Hopkins’ numbers look like if he had a quarterback like Deshaun Watson throughout his career?  Well, look no further than Demaryius Thomas’ early career success. After playing for the best regular season quarterback of all-time, Peyton Manning, Thomas received passes from the scraps of NFL quarterbacks, which rivaled the level of passers that Hopkins saw B.D. (Before Deshaun.) 

In the Case of Keenum (apologies) and Brock Osweiler, they received the same inconsistency and still performed, even if it was not at their peak.

We can delve into the financials of the deal a little later, but with all of the talk of Thomas losing a step and falling off, I was curious as if this was “group think” based on lack of production or factual. To try to form a researched opinion, I have compared the stats that Demaryius Thomas put up within the seasons in which Peyton Manning was the quarterback primarily, as opposed to when he wasn’t. Is the influx in numbers more about the accuracy of the pass, protection, etc.? Or has Demaryius Thomas truly lost a step at age 30?

Demaryius Thomas

2010 -  22 receptions  -  39 targets  -  283 yards  -  12.9 apc  -  2 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow (Rookie year for DT and only played in 10 games)

2011 -  32 receptions  -  70 targets  -  551 yards  -  17.2 apc  -  4 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow  (Missed first 5 games of the season)

2012 -  94 receptions  -  141 targets  -  1,434 yards  -  15.3 apc  -  10 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2013 -  92 receptions  -  142 targets  -  1,430 yards  -  15.5 apc  -  14 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2014 -  111 receptions  -  184 targets  -  1,619 yards  -  14.6 apc  -  11 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2015 -  105 receptions  -  177 targets  -  1,304 yards  -  12.4 apc  -  6 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both split the season almost evenly

2016 -  90 receptions  -  144 targets  -  1,083 yards  -  12.0 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch

2017 -  83 receptions  -  140 targets  -  949 yards  -  11.4 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch / Brock Osweiler

2018 -  36 receptions  -  56 targets  -  402 yards  -  11.2 apc  -  3 TDs

QBs  -  Case Keenum (through 8 games)

If we are saying that Thomas lost a step because of the lack of production this season, then we would have to say that he lost that step after 2014. He was 27 years old after that season. Is it perhaps more believable that when Peyton Manning declined during the 2015 season and Brock Osweiler started over half of the games, that the decline may have come from horrific quarterback play? 

After being inactive in a combined 11 games over his first two NFL seasons, Thomas is the NFL active Ironman at the wide receiver position with 115 consecutive games played. The next closest is Golden Tate with 102, who, oddly enough, was also traded on Tuesday. Tate went to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2019 third round pick.

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Thomas is also the NFL Ironman at the receiver position for consecutive starts, with 104. He almost doubles the next closest on the list, and almost quadruples the player who is third on the list.  

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DeAndre Hopkins would come in at number two on this list if he hadn’t sat out a meaningless Week 17 game against the Colts at the end of last season. Going into that game, Hopkins had started every game of his career since entering the NFL. He was 79 of 79. He’s currently started 87 of a possible 88 games in his career.

It’s easy to see why Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and the Texans decided to add Demaryius Thomas, opposite Hopkins. In Thomas, the Texans may not have added a replacement that displays Will Fuller’s 4.3 speed, but one strength Thomas has over Fuller is being able to stay on the field, and he does that better than anyone at his position.

After watching a little bit of film on Demaryius Thomas from the 2018 season, I believe that he’ll be able to fill a role similar to what Sammy Watkins provided for Kansas City against the Broncos last week. 

While it’s true that Thomas may not take the top off in the same manner as Fuller, there are several other areas that he can contribute in immediately:

- Versus Off-man, he’ll thrive in hitches and rolling outs.

- He can still kill with a double move to get over the top. (Watch late 2nd quarter vs. Jets where the safety was dead, but gets away with a blatant two-handed hit to the chest of Thomas to slow momentum enough to stop the would-be walk-in touchdown.)

- He can find dead spots in the zone with ease.

- He has good physical separation at the top of the route.

- In all seriousness, he is now one of the Texans’ best blockers. He can inline on down blocks like an extra tight end to assist with the running game, and he can throw off defenses with the personnel grouping.

- Slant and drags: my evaluation on Deshaun Watson coming out of college mentioned that his number one strength when throwing is the quick, accurate slant. The 6’3 - 230 pound Thomas will thrive on this, and drags underneath with physical yards after catch.

- Texans’ red zone struggles will receive a boost with another big target that can make contested catches, despite struggles with drops. He’ll also assist with blocking on quick screens, run routes, and down blocks from the slot.

After the brief film study, digging around on drop of production and thinking through his possible fit with the Texans, I would easily say that this was a no-brainer for the Texans. I would go even further by saying that I would be shocked if he’s not extended with the Texans or at the very least play through the 2019 season with the Texans.

If I were to have one concern with Thomas and his immediate fit, it would be in the area of option routes. We’ve seen numerous star receivers struggle in offenses with option routes. It’s not a major concern for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some miscues between Watson and Thomas early on.

In my opinion, the Texans just moved up to being the second-best team in the AFC, behind Kansas City and ahead of the Chargers and then the Patriots. The Texans killed two birds with one stone in the acquisition of Thomas as they also weakened the Patriots by not allowing them to pick up the much-needed, big-bodied receiver for the aging Brady.

Instead, Houston’s offense will be 3-D (Deshaun, DeAndre, and Demaryius) the rest of this season.

NFL Wide Receiver Rankings, Who's At the Top?

Looking at the top NFL wide receivers at the halfway mark.

We are approaching the mid-point of the NFL season, and inevitably, it’s the time of year where countless positional and team rankings along with a few half-season end-of-year awards lists are released. This is one of them. First, let’s go over some parameters for this list.

Our ranking lists have become overly influenced by fantasy football statistics. Which, is viable considering much of our small talk around the water cooler consists of that devastating 1 point loss because of that last meaningless sack on Monday night. Or that trash TD that Andy Dalton threw at the end of a blowout game to give us the bitter taste of defeat.

So let’s focus on tangible measurements, W-L record, REC (receptions), explosive plays (20 plus yard, catches), Yards and the most important, TDs, since points scored in actual football games result indirectly helping your team win. Intangible plays are recognized as well, we often call this, “the eye test.” Explosive bursts, One-handed catches, ability to separate, toe-tapping near the boundary and wide catch radiuses are in the repertoire of all the elite pass catchers in the NFL, so when we accumulate all these measurements into one receiver, who is at the top for the current 2018 season?

The current reception and targets leader in the NFL heading into Week 8 is Adam Thielen. The Vikings are sitting at 4-2-1, and he is a stalwart in their passing game. He’s also leading the league in Yards, having amassed 822 yards thus far, with Julio Jones being a close second with 812. Thielen is currently tied for seventh with three others at five touchdowns, also ranks second among receivers in YAC.

The argument can absolutely be made for Thielen to top this list with his amazing consistency this year, having over 100 yards each game and many Vikings’ fans will argue so, but let’s continue looking at the rest of the worthy receivers.

Jones.

Julio Jones is one of the purest physical specimens at the Wide Receiver position in the NFL. He’s the Adrian Peterson of receivers. If you were to comprise a receiver from top to bottom, much like AP at running back, Jones is the prototype. His 15.3 YPA average is tied for fourth among the NFL’s top 50 reception leaders. He’s second in yards and has the capability of providing some of the most acrobatic catches you will ever see. The Falcons are currently at the bottom of their division with a 3-4 record.

The most glaring statistic that can’t be overlooked is zero touchdowns this year, that’s right zero. I don’t have to inform you fantasy owners as I’m sure you’re the first to point it out to your fellow fantasy football players. His lack of red-zone, production is inexplicable, is it too few targets, lack of Falcons’ creativity missing Kyle Shanahan? Alternatively, is it that the Falcons have a legitimate, young shifty slot that supplanted the Taylor Gabriel role who was a legit no. Number one WR at Alabama? Either way, it’s mind-boggling and his lack of TDs this season means he can’t top this list.

Your favorite Texan.

DeAndre Hopkins has every intangible you want in a receiver. Wide catch radius, one-handed reception capability, DB separation and body control near the boundary abilities are all second to none. His highlight reel catches are exciting, game-changing and deflating for the opposing defender. He’s the leading receiver of the current AFC South first place 5-3 Houston Texans.

His 47 catches are tied for eighth in the league, and 707 yards are tied for third. He’s first in catches over 20 yards, Nuk is a monster. Us Texan fans are blessed to go from Andre Johnson to DeAndre Hopkins as our No. 1 option. Hopkins’ knack for the flair and timely 1st down receptions make him a strong candidate for the top but only hauling 4 TDs thus far in the season may not be a strong enough case.

Steelers top WR.

Antonio Brown is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Who will ever forget the time he drop-kicked Spencer Lanning on a punt return. AB is having an interesting year, he’s still shown game-breaking ability, specifically with his game-winning TD against Cincinnati, but with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, his production has dipped just a bit. His 40 catches are tied for 17th in the league, and 478 yards are 23rd. Weird, right?

You’d think a player of his caliber is ranked in the top ten of every reception statistic. He is second in touchdown catches with six, and the Steelers AFC North-leading record of 3-2-1 make him a viable option for the top spot, but at the halfway point, he still has some climbing to do in other categories to be the No. 1 receiver.

That Packer WR.

DaVantae Adams is Aaron Rodgers’ most targeted receiver this season. The rapport between them is undeniable, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best throwers of the football in the NFL. He’s currently tied for 8th with Hopkins with 47 REC on the year, tied for second with Brown with six TD catches. His 557 yards are ranked 16th, with Aaron Rodgers getting rest and healthier coming off the bye week, we’ll see DaVantae Adams put together a stellar second-half of the year. Heading into Week 8, he may not be quite there to be at the top.

Michael Thomas is one of the purest route runners in the game. He also has one of the best to ever do it, Drew Brees throwing to him. We’ve seen Brees enhance mediocre receivers in his career, but Thomas is far from mediocre. Thomas is ranked 11th in receiving yards with 588 and tied for 3rd with 53 REC. His 4 TDs are tied for 11th. The Saints are sitting atop the NFC South with their 5-1 record. Thomas’ benefit of having Brees propels him into the conversation of best receiver in the league. Let’s see if he’s able to jump to the top of the list at the end of the year, for now, he’s in the conversation.

Some others.

Odell Beckham Jr. is as electrifying a player we’ll see this year. He seems short in stature but plays like a 6’4’’ possession receiver. His slant routes are close to unstoppable. He is tied for third with 53 catches with Thomas and Jones. The New York Giants are a disappointing 1-6 on the year. Easily one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL. OBJ and the Giants will be competitive for the rest of the year, but with a horrible offensive line, Eli doesn’t have the time to get OBJ the ball. When he does touch it, he’s still amazing with the ball. His 649 yards are 4th in the league, but with the Giants struggling so bad, it’s hard to put him at the top.

Tyreek Hill is the fastest player in the NFL. Oh, how I wish we could see the fastest players race in a 60-yard dash as part of Pro Bowl week so we could settle this debate every year. He ran a 9.98 in the 100-meter dash in college. This is world class speed, couple that with the NFL’s hottest sensation of the year in Patrick Mahomes, and we have a recipe for a special year. His 7 TD catches top the league right now. He ranks 5th in yards with 635, is 2nd to Hopkins with 12 catches of 20 plus yards.

The Sunday Night play of him scoring this 75-yard touchdown is one of the NFL’s highlights and lowlights of the year. The fan that threw the beer at him at the end of play faced a charge of disorderly conduct the next day. His team is 6-1 atop the AFC West with their only loss coming to the dynasty that is the New England Patriots in one of the best games of the year. He’s a must-see player this year and the reason why I believe he’s the best receiver in the league at the halfway point.

NFL’s Top WR Through Week 7

  1. Tyreek Hill
  2. Adam Thielen
  3. DeAndre Hopkins
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Michael Thomas
  6. Davante Adams
  7. Odell Beckham Jr.
  8. Julio Jones

It’s so difficult to quantify each of these outstanding players hard work, performance week in and out. I believe this list is honest and directly related to team performance and wins. Take the player off the team and are they still atop their division or even more abysmal? Each one of these players is amazing, and I love to watch them play week in and week out. We’ll see who claims the top spot after week 17.

All Stats from NFL.com

The Giants Have Failed Odell Beckham, Jr.

The New York Giants have a problem with their team, but believe it or not, it actually isn’t Odell Beckham Jr.

Before the Giants lost 33-31 on a record-tying 63-yard kick by Panthers kicker, Graham Gano, the Giants superstar wide receiver garnered a lot of negative backlash Sunday morning for his Sunday NFL Countdown interview with ESPN personality Josina Anderson with multi-platinum selling artist Lil’ Wayne by his side.

The 7 minute interview captured Beckham’s current frustrations with: his team’s inability to score; the Giants then 1-3 record; his thoughts on Eli Manning not passing him the ball how he wants; and teams with high-powered offenses, such as the currently 5-0 Los Angeles Rams. Anderson even asked about Beckham’s happiness with the team currently.

Beckham answered every question truthfully, and this drove media personalities, and Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur, into a frenzy. Before the interview aired, the Giants Head Coach actually confronted Beckham about his comments, which lead to the disgruntled wide receiver publicly apologizing to his teammates before their Sunday afternoon matchup in Carolina.

As for the game itself, the Giants still lost, but the offense was able to score 31 points; the most the team has scored since January 3rd, 2016 in a 35-30 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Beckham led all players with 8 catches on 131 yards and a receiving touchdown. Ironically, he even threw a touchdown pass for 57 yards to Saquon Barkley, which is the longest pass play the Giants have had in since Week 5 in 2017. Beckham also graded out as the highest rated player on the Giants with 90.7.

After the loss, Beckham addressed the media and said he doesn’t regret his ESPN interview and believed his words were a positive influence. Based on his and the team’s numbers for the game, one has to wonder why Beckham continues to receive such criticism for his comments (and basically everything else he does on and off the field.)

What makes this situation even more concerning, is that Beckham straightforwardly expressed his opinion publicly, and the team, especially their offense, responded in a way the team hasn’t in nearly two years. Despite this, the general consensus appears to be that Beckham was wrong for what he said.

It is understandable that Beckham’s past behavior earned him the reputation of being a disruptive player, and many said he made a fool of himself. Who can forget him attacking a kicking net, throwing tantrums on the sideline, and getting into an on-field fight with Redskins corner Josh Norman? However, all of this is behind him.

Ever since the Giants re-signed Beckham to a five-year, 90 million dollar extension to make him the highest paid player in his position, he has also been the leader of the team. In every game this season, he congratulated his teammates when they scored or made big plays and consoled them in stressful situations. Yet, the majority of mass media continue to make him out as a bad guy.

The Giants organization on the other hand, hasn’t lived up to their expectations like Beckham has. Back in 2016, New York finally cut ties with long-term head coach Tom Coughlin after 12 seasons, 5 playoff berths, 3 divisional championships, and 2 Super Bowl Championships. Since then, the Giants fired Ben McAdoo in 2017 after a disastrous 3-13 season, following their 11-5 season in 2016.

So far, things look the same with Shurmur, as the team is 1-4 and currently has the highest chance of earning the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. 

As a fan of the Giants, I can honestly say that the team has failed Beckham, not the other way around. He is playing in his fifth season, and, though regarded as one of the league's most polarizing athletes, he continues to produce at a superstar level. His 39 catches for 462 yards is fourth in the NFL among receivers. His team on the other hand, makes you scoff at the fact that they once won two Super Bowls in a five year span.

With an upcoming Primetime matchup against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Beckham and the New York Giants either need to come together to produce a win or they will continue to be the media circus have been so far in 2018.

All Stats and info was used from Pro Football Reference and Giants.com

Is Lincoln Riley the Next Sean McVay?

There’s an offensive explosion happening in the NFL right now. With the changing of the NFL rules to benefit offenses, the yardage and point totals are piling up. What these changes also bring in is a change in offensive philosophy. The spread attack that is so prevalent in college football has made its way to the pros. Now coaches are studying film from their NCAA counterparts in order to learn how to implement them at the highest level.

As the dynamics of the NFL landscape change, there is a need for new and innovative minds to lead teams into the future. Look no further than LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay as the perfect example of this. He’s transformed that team from one of stagnation and bland offensive football into arguably the most exciting team to watch on Sundays. In the next series of articles, we’re going to profile coaches who might fit the bill of what teams should be looking for if they want to make a similar jump in success. First up is University of Oklahoma Head Coach, Lincoln Riley.

Coaching Background

Lincoln got his start coaching in 2003 after playing QB at Texas Tech, where he learned the Air Raid scheme under HC Mike Leach. He was Student Assistant until 2007 when he began to coach Wide Receivers. He left in 2010 when Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill brought him along to East Carolina University to run that offense. From 2010 until 2014, Riley was the Offensive Coordinator. During his 5 years there, the Pirates averaged 34.1 PPG and 448.5 YPG.

His success at East Carolina led to him getting hired as OC at Oklahoma for 2 years until Bob Stoops stepped down prior to the 2017 season. In his first year as HC, the team won the Big 12 Conference Championship and the Sooners were one game away from playing against Alabama in the national title game. His starting QB Baker Mayfield won the Heisman trophy and would eventually become the Number 1 pick in the following NFL Draft.  Here is a look at Oklahoma’s offensive ranks since Riley stepped on the sidelines in Norman:

2015: 43.5 PPG (4th in FBS), 530.2 YPG (7th FBS)

2016: 43.9 PPG (3rd in FBS), 554.8 YPG (2nd in FBS)

2017: 45.1 PPG (3rd in FBS), 579.6 YPG (1st in FBS).

2018 (as of 10/12/18): 48 PPG (8th in FBS), 524.7 YPG (11th in FBS)

Offensive Scheme

As mentioned earlier, Riley runs the Air Raid offense he learned while at Texas Tech. While the Air Raid scheme is designed to hurt defenses aerially, his version of this offense has also built an above-average running game into it. Inside/Outside zone runs are a staple of the Air Raid, but Oklahoma added counter run plays to the playbook last year. They were able to do this for two reasons: Their offensive line play is, and was, outstanding and their ability to still recruit elite RB’s.

Even so, Air Raid allows for the passing game to act as an extended running game with the use of Bubble/Tunnel screens. This offense is designed to get the playmakers in space and get them the ball quickly, whether it’s by run or pass. By spacing out the offense it also puts pressure on the D by having them cover more ground. Instead of having your offense bunched up, you spread them out and force the defense to decide who they want to cover. 

One of the staple plays of the Air Raid offense is 4 Verticals.  On this play, you have four receivers wide and have them run identical routes evenly spaced out. Receivers are given the option to break off their routes if they find open space or continue to stretch the route. This allowed for everything underneath those routes to be opened up. The defense cannot double team every receiver and it puts them at a disadvantage.

Another staple play “Mesh,” calls for two receivers to run crossing routes that opens up the middle of the field. From this very formation, the Sooners run draw plays, QB Runs, and more. They also use pre-snap motion to get their receivers into the matchups they want. Seeing as how Air Raid primarily runs out of the Shotgun Formation, and NFL offenses are in Shotgun a majority of the time now, it’s an ideal fit. With their ability to run the ball well, OU was also able to add some RPO (Run/Pass Option) plays as well, which adds another element of disguise.

Final Verdict

I think Riley would be a great hire for a team with a young franchise QB. Particularly a team who’s QB can make plays with both his arm and his leg. Had they not given Bill O’Brien an extension, I would’ve liked to have seen him work with Deshaun Watson and the Texans. I think he has the football mind to unlock Watson’s talents similar to how he was used at Clemson.

The other team that comes to mind is in Cleveland and being reunited with his old QB, Baker Mayfield. The Browns are finally respectable, largely in part to Mayfield. Hue Jackson is an okay coach but I don’t think he will be the coach to take them to true contender status. I predict that NFL teams will come knocking on Riley’s door by the end of the season, if they haven’t already.

(All stats provided by https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb)

Jadaveon Clowney Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

Hide your quarterback! Hide your running back! Hide your first-round offensive lineman! Jadeveon Clowney’s 2018 stat line reads as follows: four tackles for loss, four QB hits, two sacks, one fumble recovery for a touchdown. Clowney is back.

Not all sacks are created equal

Clowney had two sacks on the day, but one of them happened at a critical moment of the game. The play happened in overtime with one minute and fifteen seconds left til the game would end in a tie. The Colts had been moving the ball down the field. It was second down and eleven yards to go at the Colts thirty-six yard line. Clowney, lined up on the right side of the formation, and came around on a twist with Whitney Mercilus.

At six foot five, three hundred and thirty pounds, the highly regarded first lineman taken in the 2018 NFL draft, Quenton Nelson, set his hips to block Clowney. They met at the point of attack. And BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, Clowney had the POWER to completely bulldoze Nelson out of the way. He closed the gap with bad intentions, and sacked Andrew Luck for a loss of ten important yards. This was important because it created a third and twenty-one situation. The Colts then completed a seventeen-yard pass on the very next play to make it fourth down and four yards to go. The Colts had to make the decision to go for it on fourth and four to have a chance to win the game with a field goal, or punt it away and play for the tie. They chose to go for it, and did not make it. Clowney’s sack gave the Texans just enough breathing room to a secondary that was giving up chunks of yards to back-up receivers.

The rust is off

With off-season knee surgery, and limited participation in the preseason, the rust had been thick for Clowney. He told reporters “I’m coming along, I haven’t done a lot since the beginning of the season, no training camp, all of that, but like I said, this game should be a lot better for me. I’m expecting a lot better game out of myself this week, so just looking forward to the game.” Well, he shed that rust off like Forest Gump shed off his leg braces. He kept Andrew Luck running and running and running.

Like this.

NFL Transaction for October 2, 2018

The NFL releases their official transactions before the end of each league business day. As fans look for a leg up in fantasy leagues, or just to follow their favorite players from the same alma mater, we will provide every transaction, no matter how small.

ATLANTA:

Justin Zimmer – DT – Ferris State - WAIVED

Michael Bennett – DT – Ohio State – SIGNED (active roster)

ARIZONA:

Bernard Reedy – WR – Toledo – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Darian Thompson – DB – Boise State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Demetrious Cox – DB – Michigan State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Nigel Harris – LB – South Florida – RELEASED (practice squad)

BUFFALO:

Nate Orchard – DE – Utah - WAIVED

Dontae Johnson – DB – NC State – SIGNED (active roster)

CLEVELAND:

Jeremiah McKinnon – DB – Florida International – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Terrance Mitchell – DB – Oregon – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

DETROIT:

Dee Virgin – DB – West Alabama - WAIVED

DENVER:

Temarrick Hemingway – TE – SC State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

HOUSTON:

Tyrell Adams – LB – West Georgia – SIGNED (practice squad)

Breon Borders – DB – Duke – RELEASED (practice squad)

INDIANAPOLIS:

Jeremy McNichols – RB – Boise State – WAIVED

Skai Moore – LB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

Eric Swoope – TE – MIAMI – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Jonathan Williams– RB – Arkansas – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Kansas City:

Alex Ellis – TE – Tennessee – WAIVED (injured – reverts to IR if unclaimed)

Josh Shaw – DB – Southern Cal – SIGNED (active roster)

LA Chargers:

Jamar McGloster – OT – Syracuse – SIGNED (practice squad)

Steven Richardson – DT – Minnesota – RELEASED (practice squad)

LA Rams:

Sam Ficken – K – Penn State – WAIVED

Carlos Thompson – LB – Ole Miss – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Cairo Santos – K – Tulane – SIGNED (active roster)

Dominique Easley – DL – Florida – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

Marcus Martin – DE – Slippery Rock – RELEASED (practice squad)

MIAMI:

Jordan Phillips – DT – Oklahoma – WAIVED

New Orleans Saints:

Brandon Tate – WR - UNC - RELEASED (active roster)

Darius Hillary – DB – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad)

Will Holden – OG – Vanderbilt – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Tanner McEvoy – WR – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Chris Lammons – DB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

JT Barrett – QB – Ohio State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Rick Leonard – OT – Florida State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Arrion Springs – DB – Oregon – RELEASED (practice squad)

Deon Yelder – TE – Western Kentucky – RELEASED (practice squad)

New York Giants:

Thurston Armbrister – LB – Miami – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kaelin Clay – WR – Utah – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Jylan Ware – OT – Alabama State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Philadelphia:

Bruce Hector – DT – South Florida – WAIVED

Toby Weathersby – OT – LSU – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kyle Wilson – LB – Arkansas State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Pittsburgh:

Brian Allen – DB – Utah – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Nat Berhe – DB – San Diego State – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Herb Waters – DB – Miami – SIGNED (practice squad)

Seattle:

Khalid Hill – RB – Michigan – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Will Dissly – TE – Washington – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Earl Thomas – DB – Texas – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Tampa Bay:

Rakeem Nunez-Rochez – DT – Southern Mississippi – SIGNED (active roster)

Tennessee:

Chad Hansen – WR – Cal – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

LaTroy Lewis – LB – Tennessee – SIGNED (practice squad)

Kalif Raymond – WR – Holy Cross – RELEASED (practice squad)

Washington:

Mack Brown – RB – Florida – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)