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):
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
- By 3 in Indy thanks to the Frank Reich call going sour
- By 3 vs the Amari Cooper-less Cowboys
- By 7 at home over the Bills thanks to Nathan Peterman
- By 13 in Jacksonville. Enough said
- By 19 in win over the Osweiler-led Dolphins
- By 2 in the Mile High City vs Keenum & Co.
- By 2 in D.C. over Alex Smith & Colt McCoy
- By 17 on MNF after the passing of Bob McNair
- 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
30-47 (64%) for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
20 rushes for 73 yards, 0 TDs
Alabama 45 - Clemson 40
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.
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.