Our Year

Will Texans make it to playoffs?

"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.

Gary Kubiak better not be dreaming up any more halfback passes in the red zone.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Gary Kubiak better not be dreaming up any more halfback passes in the red zone.
Is it going to be Super Mario or ­Average Mario­?
Aaron M. Sprecher
Is it going to be Super Mario or ­Average Mario­?
Andre Johnson is the best Texan ever, and likely will be for quite a while.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Andre Johnson is the best Texan ever, and likely will be for quite a while.
Quarterback Matt Schaub excelled last year; he better at least match it this year.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Quarterback Matt Schaub excelled last year; he better at least match it this year.

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.

Steals: Road games in which the Texans will likely be an underdog of five points or more against teams that they've historically struggled with (Indianapolis), match up poorly with (New York Jets) or that they have to play in a hostile environment in potentially adverse conditions (Philadelphia in December on a Thursday night). If you're going to be a playoff team, as a rule, none of your home games can qualify for this category, and you probably need to win at least one of these along the way.

So where do the games on the 2010 slate stack up in the Pendergast Bucket Theory? Glad you asked, young grasshopper. Here you go:

Must wins, 6: @ Oakland, vs New York Giants, vs Kansas City, vs Tennessee, @ Denver, vs Jacksonville

Coin flippers, 7: vs Indianapolis, @ Washington, vs Dallas, vs San Diego, @ Jacksonville, vs Baltimore, @ Tennessee

Steals, 3: @ Indianapolis, @ New York Jets, @ Philadelphia

So the formula to get to the postseason is pretty simple — the Texans need to go 5-1 against the "must wins" (easily the part of the formula with which I'm most uncomfortable; none of those games are lay-ups), 4-3 in the "coin flippers" (split the home games, split Jacksonville and Tennessee on the road, beat Washington — very doable) and win a "steal" game (I'll go with Philly as the most likely).

If the Texans follow that formula, that equates to 10-6, which would have been good enough for a playoff berth in 2009. (Of course, in 2008, 11-5 wasn't good enough for the Patriots to make it, but that's because San Diego won the AFC West with an 8-8 record. That's obviously not the case this season; 10-6 should get it done.)

Just for fun, so you can see the Pendergast Bucket Theory at work, here's how I would have categorized the Texans' 2009 schedule on August 25, 2009:

Must wins, 6-2: vs New York Jets, vs Jacksonville, vs Oakland, @ Cincinnati, vs San Francisco, @ Buffalo, vs Seattle, @ St. Louis

Coin flippers, 3-3: @ Tennessee, vs Tennessee, vs Indianapolis, @ Jacksonville, @ Miami, vs New England

Steals, 0-2: @ Arizona, @ Indianapolis

So if you break it down, the Texans had one too many losses in the "must win" category (to be fair, the Jets ended up being a much better team than we thought they would be going into the season) and couldn't close the deal on stealing a win in Arizona or Indianapolis. In the end, success in the "steal" category is probably the biggest indicator of whether or not you had a playoff team to begin with. Good teams beat other good teams. The Texans built a 9-7 record largely beating up on inferior teams, another red flag that your playoff prediction is based on blind faith.

Let's go game by game and see if we'll be dancing in the streets of Kirby on January 2, raucously celebrating the right to travel to New York or Baltimore for a cold-weather wild-card-round matchup the weekend of January 8.
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GAME BY GAME
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Sunday, Sept. 12 – vs INDIANAPOLIS

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Texans are one of the few teams in the league that can stand toe to toe with Peyton Manning in a high-scoring shootout. Matt Schaub has improved every year, and the Colts' success in Reliant the last couple years has come largely from self-inflicted Texans' wounds (Rosencopter in 2008, Schaub fourth-quarter pick six in 2009). If the Texans protect Schaub, they can win this game. They're due, for God's sake.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It's the Colts, it's Peyton Manning and he's going to find whichever Texan is in there in place of Brian Cushing and send them to therapy mumbling Dallas Clark's name by the end of the night.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Colts -3

PREDICTION: You don't get rich picking against Peyton Manning. Colts 34, Texans 27.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Sept. 19 – at Washington

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because there are no hurricanes being forecast for Week 2 of the season, unlike 2008. Plus, if the Texans go 0-2, the feeding frenzy will make Ike seem like a midsummer drizzle. The Texans are the better team.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It's the week after the Colts, so win or lose in Week 1, there will be a letdown. Donovan McNabb changes the entire dynamic of this road game. Plus, in the history of student-versus-teacher matchups (student Kubiak vs. teacher Mike Shanahan), students are like 1-250 (the only win being Darth Vader striking down Obi-Wan Kenobi, and even then it actually made Obi-Wan more powerful as a forceghost...um, but I digress...)

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -1

PREDICTION: Start stocking up on water and sundries. Redskins 24, Texans 19.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Sept. 26 – vs Dallas

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because if 0-2 will get the sharks circling, 0-3 might actually have people throwing cinder blocks at Gary Kubiak while he tries to swim away from those big sharp-toothed suckers. Plus, Wade Phillips with his big goofy grin and clueless fist pumps looks like a fan who won the right to be coach for a day. Can't lose to that guy.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: In September, Tony Romo is Joe Montana. In December, Tony Romo is Joe Namath (the drunk, sixtysomething version that was hitting on Suzy Kolber, not the version that won a Super Bowl). It's September.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em

PREDICTION: Texans welcome everyone back onto the bandwagon. Texans 28, Cowboys 17.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Oct. 3 – at Oakland

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Yeah, the Raiders have a "try hard" vibe about them, but that's largely because they're afraid their coach (Tom Cable) is going to punch them in the face and chokeslam them through a table. Plus, the stench of JaMarcus Russell's purple drank still permeates the locker room.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Similar to Week 2, there could be a post-Cowboys letdown, regardless of the Week 3 outcome against Dallas. The Texans got their heads handed to them in Oakland two years ago by a worse Raiders team than this one.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3.5

PREDICTION: Texans learn their lesson. Cable punches someone. Texans 23, Raiders 14.

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
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Sunday, Oct. 10 – vs New York Giants

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Giants QB Eli Manning's blank stare makes you think that he would have trouble delivering pizzas, much less deciphering an NFL defense. His deal with the devil in the 2007 playoffs is still one of the all-time most lucrative.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Tom Coughlin will try to challenge the Texans' manhood by pounding Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, and the Texans typically react to that like Timmy Lupus getting ketchup poured on his head in The Bad News Bears.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -4.5

PREDICTION: Today, Timmy Lupus stands up. Texans 20, Giants 17.

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
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Sunday, Oct. 17 – vs Kansas City

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Chiefs are the team that cut Texan Bernard Pollard in 2009. Not sure if you all know this, but Bernard Pollard is insane. There is a good chance we could see our first decapitation in an NFL game. Frankly, I'm giddy.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Chiefs rookie Eric Berry decides to match Pollard dismemberment for dismemberment and turns David Anderson into a grease spot after a hit over the middle, after which KC coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel both walk over to the Anderson road kill and ask each other "You gonna eat that?"

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -7.5

PREDICTION: First easy one of the season. Texans 31, Chiefs 10.

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
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Sun, Oct. 24 – BYE

BYE WEEK PREDICTION:

Jacoby Jones tweets something that, after being translated into English, gets him into trouble.
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Monday, Nov. 1 – at Indianapolis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: At this point, I have them as the hottest team in the NFL! Four in a row, fools! AND they're coming off a nice, long bye week of rest. Plus, don't they have to win one of these marquee Colts games at some point?

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: See same reasons as Week 1 versus the Colts. Plus, this would put the Texans at three games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. Hate predicting "first time" things.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Colts -7

PREDICTION: Sorry, I want to pull the trigger. I can't. Colts, 24, Texans 20.

BUCKET RATING: STEAL
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Sunday, Nov. 7 – vs San Diego

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because this is the type of game a good team fighting for their playoffs lives wins. At home, against a good team, bouncing back on a short week. Plus, Philip Rivers throws like a girl.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Texans NEVER win this type of game.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Chargers -1

PREDICTION: Letdown city. Just wouldn't be a real season if we weren't trying to fire Kubiak eight games in. Chargers 28, Texans 24.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Nov. 14 – at Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because of all the teams in the AFC South, this is the one they own. And by own, I mean they're 8-8 in franchise history against them (compared to 4-12 versus Tennessee and 1-15 versus Indy, that's ownership, baby!)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: This is the spot last season where the Texans almost lost Matt Schaub for the year and where Kubiak tried the halfback option pass with Chris Brown (R.I.P....oh, he's still alive?). In other words, bad vibes. Plus, Maurice Jones-Drew turns into Tecmo Bo Jackson circa 1990 against the Texans.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em

PREDICTION: Must win situation, given the next month's schedule. Texans get it done. Texans 19, Jaguars 14.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Nov. 21 – at New York Jets

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: I have no idea. Pissed about losing out on Hard Knocks? Rex Ryan passes out from a diabetic coma after a box of Krispy Kremes? Honestly, I can't come up with anything legitimate here. Help me out!

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Because when we last saw these two teams play, the Texans offensive linemen were getting tossed in the air like pizza dough by the Jets defensive line.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Jets -4.5

PREDICTION: David Anderson continually gets in Antonio Cromartie's head by asking him to name all of his kids. Andre Johnson goes for 230 yards receiving. Texans win! Texans 23, Jets 21.

BUCKET RATING: STEAL
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Sunday, Nov. 28 – vs Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Titans are just the Oilers in a Tennessee luchador mask. There's nothing to be afraid of here, Vince or no Vince.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Chris Johnson was a big problem for the Texans last season. Like "a whole bunch of really long touchdowns" big. That could become an issue again.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -4

PREDICTION: The Texans treat prosperity like Antonio Cromartie treats condoms. Titans 21, Texans 20.

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
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Thursday, Dec. 2 – at Philadelphia

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: I'm pretty sure former Houston Cougar quarterback Kevin Kolb is going to have a big year for the Eagles just based on who is surrounding him in the Eagle offense, but you never know how people will react to the spotlight.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Have you been to Philadelphia in December? It's fucking cold! And the people are fucking mean! And this game could be a big fucking mess!!

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Eagles -5.5

PREDICTION: Meanness and cold win out. Eagles 31, Texans 21.

BUCKET RATING: STEAL
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Monday, Dec. 13 – vs Baltimore

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because it's December, bitches!! Time to get the engine revved up!! You don't scare us, Joe Flacco!!

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Because Ray Lewis actually does scare me. Like if I happen to fall asleep during SportsCenter and Ravens highlights are playing in the background while I sleep, there is a 90 percent chance I wake up in a pool of my own piss because Ray Lewis has infiltrated my dreams. Lewis should have his own video game where he just comes in the room and scares the shit out of you and you have to find some way to escape. You get the idea. Ray Lewis frightens me.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -1.5

PREDICTION: Andre Johnson saves the world from Ray Lewis, and saves Gary Kubiak from a trip to hotjobs.com. Texans 24, Ravens 13.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Dec. 19 – at Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Uh, have I mentioned it's December? Winning time, fools.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: They won't.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Titans -1

PREDICTION: The Texan steam train is picking up speed. Texans 26, Titans 17.

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
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Sunday, Dec. 26 – at Denver

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN:

If there's one place the Texans should be comfortable on the road, it's Denver, which has doubled as their farm team during the Kubiak Era.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It's Christmas weekend and the Baby Tebow is on the other team. Never a good thing.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3

PREDICTION: Photos of Tebow jaywalking released on TMZ distract Broncos. Texans 35, Broncos 17.

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
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Sunday, Jan. 2 – vs Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: They close out strong at home every year under Kubiak, 4-0 in the home finale, including a win over Jacksonville in 2007 (also known as Andre Davis Day)!

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Jaguar coach Jack Del Rio may be in "nothing to lose" mode at this point, which means someone has a legitimate chance of getting killed. He has crazy eyes.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -6.5

PREDICTION: Not today, Jacksonville! Texans 30, Jaguars 17.

BUCKET RATING: STEAL
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So let's add it up, shall we?

MUST WIN (6) — @ Oakland, vs New York Giants, vs Kansas City, vs Tennessee, @ Denver, vs Jacksonville

I have the Texans going 5-1 in these games, so they use their mulligan, but 5-1 is acceptable.

COIN FLIPPERS (7) — vs Indianapolis, @ Washington, vs Dallas, vs San Diego, @ Jacksonville, vs Baltimore, @ Tennessee

I have the Texans going 4-3 in these games. Right on target.

STEALS (3) — @ Indianapolis, @ New York Jets, @ Philadelphia

And I have them stealing one of these three games, again acceptable!

So are the Texans going to the playoffs? Well, the magic 8-ball that is the Pendergast Bucket Theory says "All signs point to YES!" Blind faith has gotten me this far, I'm not stopping now. I can't, I won't. Put away the saltines. It's nacho time on Kirby, Texans fans!

Your Houston Texans are going 10-6 this year.
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YOUR BEST BETS

I'm not here to condone gambling. However, in this economy, no available resource for income can be ignored. And there are many exotic plays out there that, quite frankly, are more reliable than the stock market right about now. If you're looking for a way to start caring about football a little too much, climb aboard the pain train and let's do some season proposition bets together.

ARIZONA CARDINALS UNDER 7½ wins (+110) — You'll notice a recurring theme in how I pick season win total wagers. Quarterback play counts for roughly 75 percent of my evaluation (and that may be underestimating it). The Cardinals QB situation is a dogfight between Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson right now. Let me repeat — the Cardinals QB situation is a dogfight between Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson right now. I smell 4-12.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS OVER 10½ wins (-135) — Virtually every season, either because of injuries or a tough schedule or just the general human condition of letting your guard down, one of the two Super Bowl teams from the previous season has a drop-off that leaves them out of the playoff picture. 2009 Steelers, 2008 Patriots, 2007 Bears, 2006 Steelers, 2005 Eagles, 2004 Panthers...keep going? Okay, 2003 Raiders and Bucs, 2002 Patriots and Rams, 2001 New York Giants. You get my point. That said, this year it won't be the Colts. Since 2003, they've been a lock to win 12 games every year. A bet on the Colts over 10½ wins is a bet on Peyton Manning staying healthy. I'll roll the dice on that. Which therefore means...

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS UNDER 10½ wins (-125) — I like Colts over a lot more than Saints under, and my wager amount would/will likely reflect that. This is strictly a trend play.

NEW YORK GIANTS UNDER 8½ wins (+140) — Eli Manning's perpetually confused look is enough for me to go under (especially at +140) in a division where the Cowboys and Eagles are likely playoff teams and the Redskins will be improved. Seriously, Eli Manning walking to the line of scrimmage looks like the old man Brooks trying to cross the street in The Shawshank Redemption. (You're starting to see my selection methods are not all that scientific.)

And finally...HOUSTON TEXANS OVER 8½ wins (-105) — Blind faith, myopia, call it what you will. I just know that the Texans have hit the over the last three seasons.

A couple Texans-related prop bets I really like...

HOUSTON TEXANS, MOST POINTS SCORED (25/1) — If the Texans get their red-zone issues figured out and they get better accuracy in the kicking game, this is a great value play. The Texans are going to be involved in some shootouts this year. Fire $10 to win your $250 and thank me later.

MATT SCHAUB, Leading league in passing yards (13/2) — Arian Foster has looked solid in camp, but I don't think you can feel nearly comfortable enough about the Texans' running game to think they won't be throwing it all over the yard again in 2010.

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