By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"If you're starving and somebody throw you a cracker, you gonna be like this: Goddamn, that's the best cracker I ever ate in my life! That ain't no regular cracker, was it? What was that, a saltine? Goddamn, that was delicious! That was the best cracker I ever ate in my life...Can I have another one, please? Please, one more." — Eddie Murphy, RAW
A couple of years after the Oilers left town, in the mid-'90s, Houstonians were starved for professional football. And in 2002, along came Bob McNair and the Houston Texans to feed the beast. But in 2010, the question is, just how much longer will the fans show up to eat saltines?
There's certainly been plenty of hand-wringing and talk-radio angst over the Texans' 49-79 record. But fans cast their votes on the team by spending money on game tickets and parking and food and gear. And the fans are still showing up.
Amazingly, they have shown up despite the following historical data. (Warning: If you love the Texans, these numbers will test that love.)
• At no point in their history have the Texans been three games over .500. Ever. Translation: Texans fans have not, for even one week, had a tangible reason to feel great about this team.
• In the eight years the Texans have been in existence, they've been over .500 for a total of 11 weeks. That's it. Peyton Manning had that knocked out in one season by Thanksgiving last year. Translation: Texans fans can practically count on both hands the number of weeks they could even feel slightly good about this team.
• Since 2002, the Texans' first season in the NFL, every team has made playoffs except for three: the Buffalo Bills, the Detroit Lions and your Houston Texans. Translation: It's never good to be mentioned with the Detroit Lions in any sentence.
This brings us to 2010, when we're all being told that the saltines will finally be upgraded, at the very least to a nice nacho plate (a first-ever playoff berth), and if things break the right way, perhaps even a nice chicken quesadilla (a deep playoff run). Unfortunately, at this point, Gary Kubiak has had a litany of fits and starts, with no evidence for him, Bob McNair or any of us to definitively say, "Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs."
Honestly, any argument in favor of the Texans going to the postseason boils down to some combination of blind faith, myopia and the general parity in the NFL. You can point to the last three Super Bowl winners winning eight, ten and eight games respectively in the seasons before winning the Super Bowl, but they either had been previous Super Bowl winners (Pittsburgh, 2008), had made a deep run in the playoffs before (New Orleans, 2009) or had been a fixture in the postseason the previous couple seasons (New York Giants, 2007).
The Texans think they are a playoff team in 2010. If Gary Kubiak were to ask fans in a "Jerry Maguire quitting SMI" fashion, "Who's comin' with me? Huh? Who's comin' with me?" and they decide to become Dorothy Boyd — "ME! I will go with you, Kubes!" — then their logic is based on hope and the fact that the Texans have looked a whole lot prettier being average under Kubiak (top five in total yards offensively each of the last two seasons) than they did being below average under Dom Capers.
In other words, you've made it this far eating saltines; you're gonna be there when the quesadillas come out, dammit! (See "Our Year: What Kind of Fan Are You?")
The Pendergast Method
So now it's on to the 2010 season. If indeed the Texans are going to make the playoffs, let's roll with the assumption that they'll need to go 10-6, something they haven't done in franchise history. Appropriately enough, in a season in which they have to shatter precedent, the schedule includes five of the six teams that the Texans have never beaten in their eight years in the league — Baltimore, the New York Jets, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington. (Minnesota is the sixth team; it's probably a good thing they don't get a crack at all six.)
The Texans' overall record against the slate of opponents they'll face in 2010 is 22-55 (and 13-35 against their division opponents, whom they will obviously face twice).
Being a Texans believer in 2010 involves a lot of blind faith. Can the Texans finish 10-6? Sure, they can. In breaking down the schedule, I have a little thing that I call the Pendergast Bucket Theory, wherein I categorize each game, putting them into three probability buckets. They are as follows:
Must wins: These are games that, to have any chance of making the playoffs, the Texans have to cash in on. Worst case, you can have one mulligan. (It's the NFL. Bad weeks happen. That needs to be factored in). But lose two of these games, and you're probably not a double-digit win team.
Coin flippers: Games that could go either way and will likely be played within one score. To make the playoffs, the Texans need to win more of these games than they lose.