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Samuel Darley

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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?

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.

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.

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.

Rockets Take Two Steps Back Following Back to Back Losses

Just when everyone believed the Rockets had turned the corner, riding a five-game winning streak, they shifted into reverse following back-to-back bad losses. With the loss last Saturday, the Rockets dropped to a mediocre 9-9 (10-11 now). Chris Paul did not play in Saturday’s game, but do you really need CP3 to help you get by the now 4-17 Cavaliers? The loss Saturday was a result of when you do not respect your opponent; the Cavaliers never felt they were out the game, as a result, were able to steal it.

From the opening tip to the end, the Rockets were simply outplayed, and outhustled by the Cavaliers. Statistically, tonight's game was a matchup between 2 of the worst rebounding teams in the league. Still, Houston was dominated on the boards 49-30. To further detail how much this was a disaster for the Rockets, only Gerald Green and PJ Tucker finished with a positive +/- on the court tonight, this including Harden dropping 40 points.

The big question around Toyota Center, is Chris Paul the Rockets real MVP? Including Games 6 and 7 of the western conference finals, the Rockets are winless in the last five games Chris Paul has been out the lineup. With Paul, the Rockets have a floor general, a guy who demands a lot from his teammates and gets the best out of what he is surrounded by. I think James Harden is a top 5 player talent wise, and am glad he finally got his MVP a year ago.

Outside of putting up huge numbers, the Rockets need Harden to be as much of a leader as Paul is, even more so when Paul isn't in the lineup. I am not advocating any idea of trading Harden, but if the Rockets are going to have a great season, they need more from their reigning MVP.

Final Thoughts

Most people probably don't peak at the standings until the New Year, I do. Spoiler alert, the Golden State Warriors are the number one seed. Houston currently on the outside looking in, just three games back of the top 4 in the West with 64 games left. Even though there is plenty of seasons left, being in the tough western conference, the Rockets need to re-find the groove they had in their win streak; to

climb up the standings soon. Otherwise, Houston could be left scrapping their way to the 7th, or 8th seed a possible early postseason match up with the Warriors.

While the Rockets took five steps towards contention during their five-game win streak, falling back to 500 has Houston taking two steps back. The Rockets look to get back above 500 when they take on the 7-12 Washington Wizards at Washington tomorrow night.

Stats from NBA.com

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.

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

Houston Astros Offseason Checklist

Reflecting back on the 2018 season for the Houston Astros, I still feel some disbelief in the way the season ended. Following the news of Lance McCullers out for the 2019 season, following Tommy John surgery, along with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa on the mend. Key free agent decisions are looming. What should the Astros offseason checklist be?

Resign Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado

Despite the struggles Dallas Keuchel had this season, the Houston Astros have extended a one year $17.9 million qualifying offer which Keuchel rejected today. After the news regarding McCullers and the current outlook of Houston's pitching staff being so right-handed dominant, keeping Dallas whether on a short 2 to 3-year deal or a long-term deal depending on how long Keuchel wants to pitch; retaining him is a must. Keuchel in the past has shown the ability to rebound following a down season, he struggled in 2016 going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA via ESPN.

Keuchel brings much more than just his pitching. He is also the best defensive pitcher in the game, winning four gold gloves. It is understandable that Keuchel rejected Houston's qualifying offer. He appears to want more than just one more season, good pitching can be hard to find, and as long as the price is right, the Astros should not hesitate to resign Dallas.

Much like Keuchel, Gonzalez grew with the organization through the rebuilding years, to help hoist the franchise's first world championship. Honestly, every team needs a Gonzalez, he can play every position and do it comfortably, and though he does not put up huge numbers at the plate, Marwin brings a switch-hitting bat capable of getting on base as well as hit for some power. For everything Marwin has brought the Astros, Houston would be wise not to let Gonzalez walk without a fight.

Retaining Maldonado would be pretty interesting, but a move the Astros should make. Despite being linked to possibly trading for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston currently has no catcher outside Max Stassi on the roster. Maldonado does not bring a consistent bat, though he showed he could build a great rapport with pitchers and handle a pitching staff. Despite having a disastrous performance behind the plate in the ALCS, Maldonado is more well known for being great behind the plate. Should the Astros strike out trading for Realmuto, bringing back, Maldonado would give Houston continuity at that position, as well as they will not have to scramble for anyone.

Contact Cleveland and Seattle about possible trades

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted the Cleveland Indians, are open to listening to trade offers for Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, via ESPN. MLB.com Executive reporter also tweeted the Seattle Mariners, have made everyone available for trades, via Feinstein. Regardless of whether Houston can bring back their free agents, or not, the Astros should at least kick the tires with both teams. The big question with Seattle is, would they consider trading inside the division? Houston would also have to be careful trading with the Mariners because the last thing Houston wants is to help a division foe improve.

Cleveland even entertaining the thought of selling is a bit head-scratching. While they weren't as good as Boston, Houston, and New York right now, the Indians are a team a trade and a possible big free agent signing, boom they are back in the mix.

Bolster the bullpen

Collin McHugh figures to slot back into Lance McCullers’ spot in the rotation, which leaves an opening in the bullpen. Relievers Tony Sipp and Will Harris are both free agents, and both may not return which would leave three spots in the pen open. Josh James who was electric in 2018 figures to get at least one of those spots, if he is not in the rotation next year.

Final Take

2018 ended before the Astros wanted it to, and the roster figures to look a little different next year. Health did play a part in Houston falling short, so regardless of how this team looks on paper going into next season, health will be the biggest key to a return trip to the fall classic in 2019.

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.

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

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

Adding Butler Will Not Instantly Solve Rockets Issues

The talk around town surrounding the Houston Rockets is the possibility of sending four first-round draft picks to Minnesota in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Coming off of an incredible 65-win season and falling one game shy of the finals a year ago, Houston has hit some early turbulence in a 1-4 start. Much to everyone's chagrin, as good as Jimmy Butler is, simply putting a package together for a trade is not going to solve the root of Houston's woes.

For starters, GM Daryl Morey offering four first-round picks feels like a panic move. Has everybody forgotten the big blockbuster deal between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets? For those who need reminding, USA today's Chris Martin reported a year ago what is still considered one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

Fast forward to Houston's proposed trade to Minnesota. Unlike Brooklyn, the Rockets would acquire one of the top two-way players in the game. Knowing Butler will be a free agent after the season, Morey very likely will not pull the trigger unless Butler guarantees long-term commitment with Houston.

If the Rockets were to pull off a trade for Butler this early in the season, there are two questions which would stand out to me. First, how would Butler affect the Rockets’ current chemistry? This current roster has not played much together due to injuries and Chris Paul's suspension. Given their lack of cohesion on the court, adding another star to the mix feels a little premature.

Second, how will these guys mesh under D'Antoni? Houston currently has three ball-dominant players in Melo, Paul, and Harden. The Harden and Paul duo worked extremely well last year because both James and Chris can score but also facilitate. By contrast, Melo tends towards being a ball stopper, disrupting the flow of the offense. Adding Butler, another ball-dominant player, to the mix makes me curious about how D'Antoni will be able to get the best out of the team while making everyone happy.

Final Thoughts

The first five games of the season have been a nightmare for the Rockets, though there is a long way to go. Coming into the season without departed free agents Ariza and Mbah a Moute and retired defensive assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the defense was bound to relapse. Last season, Houston's defense allowed just 103.9 points per game; this season the Rockets are giving up a whopping 118.8 points a night. The issues on the defensive end of the floor are a combination of health and just not putting the effort in.

Daryl Morey needs to give this current team an opportunity to get healthy and gel before exploring any deal. If things have not changed through 20 games, then by all means re-explore trading for Butler. Why is everyone so hot after Butler now? Looking all the way to next summer, assuming everyone opts out their current contracts: if the Rockets can position themselves nicely money-wise, they could set themselves up for a run at one of the top free agents. Rather than putting all his eggs in one basket by adding Butler, if Morey is truly willing to give up those draft picks, he could use them in a sign-and-trade deal. From there, not only would he have added one star to the mix, but also traded for another one. In doing so without completely depleting the roster, Morey will have reloaded for another run in 2019-20.

In the meantime, the Rockets have work to do as they try to right the ship Tuesday night against the Trailblazers.