Funny. I always thought "The Pendergast Method" was a term used for the proper way to polish silver.
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2. Culture change. For years, the talk around the league was that the Texans were, at best, a "finesse" team and, at worst, "soft." When asked about it publicly, the players would bristle. Former right tackle Eric Winston got so worked up one time on the radio, I half expected him to throw on a Lambda Lambda Lambda sweater and give the Louis Skolnick "If any of you have ever felt picked on, left out, spit on, put down, come on down here with me!" speech from Revenge of the Nerds. Well, those days are over. Between the viciousness of the defense and an offense that was actually called "dirty" by a few teams last season (Looking at you, Jacksonville! You big babies!), the days of the S-word are long gone.
3. Solid architecture and foundation. Perhaps the biggest indicator that the Texans are a team that's built to trend in the years to come is the slew of personnel decisions that they've had to make and that face them in the next 12 months. For the first time in their history this past offseason, the Texans' roster was the one getting raided in free agency. Why? Well, because they finally have guys worth signing, guys that other teams want! So it was adios to Mario Williams, Joel Dreessen, Jason Allen and Mike Brisiel in free agency, Eric Winston was waived and DeMeco Ryans was traded for middling draft picks. More important, the Texans locked up tailback Arian Foster and center Chris Myers with big contracts, and in early August did the same with left tackle Duane Brown before he hit the free agent market in 2013.
In the era of the salary cap, every NFL team has ten to 12 players that they're able to fiscally build around. The Texans have already committed to the next few years with Foster, Myers, Brown, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning and Antonio Smith. When re-up time comes, they will presumably find room for Matt Schaub, Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin's situation appears a little stickier, what with only one superb season under his belt (aberration or trend?) and serious depth at his position (Brooks Reed, rookie Whitney Mercilus). We shall see.
4. Quarterback "gauntlet" in 2012. Many fans point to the star quarterbacks on the Texans schedule as a possible reason for regression in 2012, and certainly the list is impressive: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco. To me, it's not so much the presence of the star quarterbacks on the schedule that is troubling, it's when and where the Texans play them: Four of them are on the road, and three of them are prime-time games (including the Thanksgiving Day game with the Lions). However, here's the good news! Keep in mind that the Texans have eight games with teams that will start a rookie or second-year quarterback: Andrew Luck (twice), Blaine Gabbert (twice), Jake Locker (twice), Ryan Tannehill and Christian Ponder. For Wade Phillips, that's like the Rodeo Cook-off lineup of quarterbacks; the big man has to be licking his chops!
So with 10-6 as the new bar around here, the goal is obviously to take things to the next level, which means 11-5 or possibly 12-4 as a reasonable "ceiling" on the 2012 season. Can they do it? Let's delve further, shall we?
The Pendergast Method
Now it's time to dust off our little friend I like to call the Pendergast Method. Typically, having your last name in front of any "method" is a good thing. It means that you've either created something incredibly smart ("Class, open your books to page 213, today we will be discussing the Pendergast Method of extracting polynomials.") or you've created a new way for your partner to achieve orgasm ("She loves it when I go all Pendergast Method on her.")
Well, the Pendergast Method is both of those things!
It's smart in that it applies practical knowledge and probability trends to place all 16 Texans regular-season games in figurative buckets with the sole purpose of arriving at an accurate prediction of won-loss record for the upcoming season. It's orgasmic in that last season it arrived at a 10-6 prediction for the Texans, which proved to be correct, and who doesn't achieve orgasm when they get a prediction like that right?
The aforementioned "buckets" in which we place the games go 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, match up poorly with or that they have to play in a hostile environment in potentially adverse conditions. 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. Also, if you're a really good team, you probably have very few "Steal" games on your schedule, and to that end, the Texans have just one on their entire 2012 slate, according to me.