2012: Year of the Texans

Assessing all their strengths and weaknesses, we could be looking at a repeat or better.

2012: Year of the Texans

Check out our Texans 2012 Season Bingo Card/Drinking Game.

"I've said this many times and I think we can win any week right now and that's very encouraging. I love the way our players came in here today. It was different than it has been. It's almost like they would've loved to have gone right back to work tomorrow on next year. That's important because I feel like they think they belong now...I think they're excited about the future and excited about the team."

That's a quote from Texans head coach Gary Kubiak in his press conference following the final game of the season. Reading between the lines (hell, reading the

Any hopes of bringing a Super Bowl championship to Houston hinge on the health of quarterback Matt Schaub.
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
Any hopes of bringing a Super Bowl championship to Houston hinge on the health of quarterback Matt Schaub.
Linebackers Connor Barwin (left) and Brian Cushing (right) are two of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips's fiercest "Bulls on Parade"
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
Linebackers Connor Barwin (left) and Brian Cushing (right) are two of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips's fiercest "Bulls on Parade"
The Texans fortified their nucleus this past offseason, taking care of running back Arian Foster with a five-year, $43 million contract
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
The Texans fortified their nucleus this past offseason, taking care of running back Arian Foster with a five-year, $43 million contract
Entering his tenth season, Andre Johnson hopes he can cap off the Decade of Dre with a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
Entering his tenth season, Andre Johnson hopes he can cap off the Decade of Dre with a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl

lines themselves), you can sense the confidence in Gary Kubiak's words.

We can win any week right now. Those are the words of a coach who has that twinkle in his eye, that cautious excitement that he is presiding over the foundation of the future envy of head coaches and general managers leaguewide. I think many Texan fans and league experts would agree with Kubiak's assessment were he using the words above to describe his team looking forward to 2012.

There's only one problem — that quote is from January 4, 2010. That was the day after the Texans wrapped up a 9-7 season in 2009 with a four-game winning streak and a victory over the New England Patriots.

And we all know what that cockeyed optimism coming off 2009 led to in 2010 — a horribly disappointing 6-10 record (including a 1-8 stretch after a 4-2 start), a "highlight" reel consisting of several near comebacks and numerous shots of the back of Kareem Jackson's jersey, and a defense that was so historically bad that its coordinator was spotted in a bar across the street from the team hotel in Denver in Week 16 at about two in the morning the night before the game. Witness!

Indeed, the Texans followed up their then-best 2009 season with the most disappointing season in franchise history. So when Gary Kubiak says things like the following the day after their new best season ended in 2011, with a 10-6 record and a playoff loss in Baltimore...

"I've never been around a group of guys who talk more positive about each other, about their teammates, how good a locker room we had, what type of football team we had, how they can't wait to go back and play with that group of guys."

...Why should we believe him this time?

In trying to predict the future for any entity — an athlete, a team, an actor, a musician, a share of stock — that just reached its new apex, the question you have to ask yourself is this:

Aberration or trend?

The graveyard is full of knee-jerk overreactions doused in delusions of grandeur for what wound up being a one-hit wonder. For every Star Wars fan who predicted Mark Hamill would be the breakout star after the first movie in the trilogy, there's a gloating Harrison Ford fan cackling in his face (possibly wearing a Chewbacca T-shirt, and definitely not in the presence of a woman).

From Notre Dame inking Charlie Weis to a disastrous ten-year extension seven games (and a 5-2 record) into his tenure as Fighting Irish head coach to Daryl Morey praying he got this Jeremy Lin thing right ($25 million over three years, or a million for each game Lin has started in the NBA), every evaluation or prediction made on a limited sample size boils down to that question:

Aberration or trend?

Depending on how you identify an "aberration candidate" in the NFL, the assessment process can be chilling if you're a fan of the Houston Texans. Consider this: Over the last eight seasons, 29 teams have gone from 7-9 or worse one season to 10-6 or better the following season. In other words, these teams have not just made a three-game improvement, they've also jumped figurative "tax brackets," from also-ran to likely playoff team.

In 26 of those instances, the team in question backslid to 9-7 or worse the season after its year of double-digit wins. That's 89.6 percent. In other words, for every team that turns rapid one season ascension into a trend, there are nine who turn out to be fool's gold.

Aberrations 26, Trends 3.

Gulp.

Heading into 2012, three teams qualify under this definition: the Lions, the 49ers and the Texans. If we believe the historical math I've outlined above to be an accurate predictor of the future, then we are closer to seeing all three of those teams regress than we are to seeing only two of them do so. And even assuming only two of these teams go backwards, it's only slightly less harrowing for Texans fans.

In short, this is some scary shit.

So the only question you undoubtedly should care about is "Why will the Houston Texans not be one of the carcasses littering Aberration Avenue?"

Well, here are a few reasons:

1. The transformation of the defense. Last season at this time, the hope was that the team would be able to parlay a ton of new defensive personnel and the addition of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator into moderate improvement on defense, enough to win three or four more games. Well, the Texans got that and then some as their defense underwent the most rapid transformation in style and swagger since the slow-footed brawler Rocky Balboa went to Apollo Creed's gym in Compton for like two months and emerged as the Italian version of Sugar Ray Leonard in Rocky III. The Texans went from last in the league in defense in 2010 all the way up to third in 2011, and the defense was so good that the Texans were able to get by with a third-string quarterback (T.J. Yates) for the final six games of the season.

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.

So where do the games on the 2012 slate stack up when we start applying the Pendergast Method? Well, let's take a look:

Must wins, 7: vs Miami, at Jacksonville, vs Tennessee, vs Buffalo, vs Jacksonville, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota

Coin flippers, 8: at Denver, at New York, vs Green Bay, vs Baltimore, at Chicago, at Detroit, at Tennessee, at Indianapolis

Steals, 1: at New England

In the event that this is your first season employing the Pendergast Method, I always like to go through the full disclosure of the previous season's results, and as you'll see, largely because of injuries and a late-season swoon, the game-to-game results were all over the board. All was well that ended well, as my 10-6 prediction was correct, but truthfully, if Matt Schaub had stayed healthy, the Pendergast Method would probably have undersold the Texans in 2011.

Here are 2011's Pendergast Method designations:

2011 Must wins, 7: vs Oakland, vs Jacksonville, vs Cleveland, @ Jacksonville, @ Cincinnati, vs Carolina, vs Tennessee

2011 Coin flippers, 6: vs Indianapolis, @ Miami, vs Pittsburgh, @ Tennessee, @ Tampa Bay, vs Atlanta

2011 Steals, 3: @ New Orleans, @ Baltimore, @ Indianapolis

So in a season where they needed to win six of seven "Must wins," split six "Coin flippers" and steal one win, the Texans went as follows:

2011 Must wins: 4-3

2011 Coin flippers: 6-0

2011 Steals: 0-3

This is the classic ledger of a team whose nucleus is just beginning to taste success for the first time collectively, or, in the case of the Texans, for the first time in franchise history. They lost a few games they shouldn't have (although to be fair, two of the "Must win" losses were post-Schaub injury), they couldn't get over the hump against good teams on the road (couldn't in the playoffs, either), but they took care of business in all of the 50-50 games.

By the way, a 2012 regular season with this exact same profile — 4-3 in "Must wins," undefeated in "Coin flippers" and winless in "Steals" — would mean 12-4 for the Texans.

And Gary Kubiak would take that in a nanosecond.

Onward and upward...

GAME BY GAME

Sunday, September 9 — vs Miami

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There's an episode of The Office in Season 4 when Michael Scott, in order to prove his survival skills to his fellow employees, decides to head into the wilderness with no supplies and wearing only his business suit. On several levels, Michael was ill-equipped to deal with the dearth of accommodations that such a voluntary plight entailed, and by about four hours in, he had his suit pants wrapped around his head like a bandanna and was eating poisonous mushrooms. I bring this up because Dolphin rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be making his first start on the road, against the No. 2 defense in the league, with Davone Bess as his No. 1 wide receiver. Ryan Tannehill is heading for a "Michael Scott in the woods" moment folks, and not even Dwight Shrute can save Tannehill for what Wade Phillips is going to have for him.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: While Tannehill may lack experience and may lack offensive weapons, one thing he does have is a smoking hot wife. Viewers of the Texas-Texas A&M game last Thanksgiving will remember the gorgeous Lauren Tannehill, who was shown so many times during the game that she was trending on Twitter ahead of #Turkey, #pilgrims and #NdamaukongSuhIsAnAssholeBecause. The only thing I can think of is maybe Lauren Tannehill does one of those slow strolls along the sideline in a bikini while her husband is on the field, and the Texans defense all get distracted at the same time while the Dolphins score points. Kind of like Miss Elizabeth did to Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase in the main event at Summerslam 1988. Exact same thing.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans 7 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 27, Dolphins 10

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, September 16 — at Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: You can tell a lot by a man's hair. Go back and think about all the great leaders at the quarterback position in NFL history and ask yourself, "Has there ever been a quarterback who has been able to consistently lead a team above mediocrity who had flowing locks?" I'm not talking about Kenny Stabler's greasy truck-stop mullet; I'm talking Vidal Sassoon-type shit. The answer is no.** Well, Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert has flowing locks. Flowing, goddamned blond locks. On September 16, Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt will stomp him into the turf. How's that for solid analysis?

**The closest thing to "Yes" for the flowing-locks question would be Tom Brady, but since winning three Super Bowls, Brady's life is one big heat check now. I'm pretty sure by 2014, Brady will be running out of the tunnel to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," wearing rainbow spandex and waving one of those rhythmic gymnastic streamers, just because he can. And guess what? He'll still win 13 games, go to the Super Bowl and bang Gisele that night. HE. DOESN'T. COUNT.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: As of this writing, here's what we know:

Despite his girlish do, Gabbert has actually looked reasonably competent in the preseason. Now when Wade Phillips dials up a blitz or 50 in Week 2, will that matter? Time will tell.

The Jags made major upgrades to their receiving corps, drafting Justin Blackmon and signing free agent Laurent Robinson. Will that be enough to scare the Texans? Probably not, but weaponwise, compared to Tannehill, Gabbert has the keys to the fucking Death Star. (Robinson, by the way, is the early favorite for "secondary receiver most likely to scorch Kareem Jackson for 137 yards and two touchdowns.")

Assuming he ever returns from his holdout, Maurice Jones-Drew always gives the Texans trouble, and if there's one Achilles heel with this Texans defense, it's defending the run between the tackles. If the Jags get a lead, they might be able to burn some clock with MJD.

The new Jags owner, Shahid Khan, has a fabulous heel wrestling manager mustache to go along with his equally fabulous heel wrestling manager name. This has to count for something.

All that said...

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -5 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 23, Jaguars 16

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, September 23 — at Denver

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There was a feeling last season (and, frankly, this coming season) that the Texans won the AFC South by default. For more than a decade, the division had been ruled by Peyton Manning, and Manning in particular had ruled the Texans, losing to them just twice in nine seasons. Is Manning now in a Denver Bronco uniform? Yes. But I have to imagine that the Texans, now equipped to take out a decade's worth of frustration on Manning, would like to make a statement that they would have won the division in 2011 even if Manning had been healthy (which they might very well have).

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Broncos have an absolutely brutal slate of games early in the season, including Pittsburgh at home in Week 1 (Welcome back, Peyton!) and a road trip to Atlanta in Week 2. There's an outside chance that the Broncos start out the season 0-2, and a really good chance the Texans start out 2-0. You see where I'm going with this? Football homeostasis, my friends. Texans 2-1 and Broncos 1-2 sounds more logical than Texans 3-0 and Broncos 0-3.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em

PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Texans 21

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, September 30 — vs Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Did I say that the Broncos have a tough early-season schedule? Well, the Titans are saying, "Really, Sean? REALLY?" Tennessee starts off the 2012 campaign with a home game against New England (loss), a road trip to San Diego (loss), and another home game versus Detroit (loss). That's 0-3, and unlike Denver, which at least has Manning to lean on during the rough times, the Titans will be starting Jake Locker against that gauntlet of a schedule, which is like trying to win Dancing with the Stars with a clubfoot.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Wow, let me just say as an aside, on a non-Titans-related note, that it is really hard to find reasons for the Texans to lose some of these games. This is a damn good football team we have, Houston. So my reasons for losing are likely to get weirder and weirder as we go along. So back to the Titans...how do the Texans lose a home game to a Jake Locker-led team? Well, they lose if Jake Locker is kidnapped by terrorists, that's how.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans 7 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 27, Titans 17

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Monday, October 8 — at New York Jets

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Entering "LIST" mode again. Engaged. FIRE!:

1. This is a team that willfully created a quarterback controversy this offseason by bringing in Tim Tebow. Only the Jets would knowingly create potential locker-room strife by bringing in a God-fearing quarterback with a cult following to compete with their womanizing incumbent quarterback. Oh, and did I mention that Tebow can't throw? This is like a pit bull owner with a one-room apartment happily buying a cat — a cat that misses the litter box by five yards every time it poops.

2. And as long as we're on Tebow — highly overrated, spastically energetic, on a path for an assistant coaching job by age 28...wouldn't Tebow have made the perfect Duke point guard?

3. This is a team that had enough training-camp brawls to justify bringing in Dana White as their next general manager.

4. There's a 50-50 chance Antonio Cromartie will have tired legs from impregnating somebody 24 hours before the game. (Hell, at this point, if I were an opposing wide receiver, I'd be afraid of him impregnating me just by breathing on me or something.)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: This is the first of several "prime time" games the Texans will play in 2012. It's amazing — for a team that played one game outside of a Sunday afternoon in 2011, the Texans play five this season. If the Texans were a Hooters waitress, they just got moved from the Tuesday and Wednesday lunchtime shift ("C" team at best) to happy hours and nights Thursday through Sunday ("Lauren Tannehill" team, baby!)! Playing on the prime-time stage on the road in New York, this may feel a little "new" to these Texans.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em

PREDICTION: Texans 19, Jets 16

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 14 — vs Green Bay

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Texans match up fairly well with the Packers, or as well as you can match up with a team that went 15-1 last season. The Packers don't run the ball all that well (that's good), the Packers were a terrible defensive unit last season (although they've made some improvements — Anthony Hargrove, Jerel Worthy), and on a Sunday night, Texan fans should be able to go beer for beer, cheese curd for cheese curd with the fatties who fly in from Green Bay.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Nightmare scenario — Texan fans sell their tickets to Packer fans, resulting in a muted home-field advantage (think Pittsburgh game last season), Aaron Rodgers picks away at whatever scab he can find in the Texans secondary (Kareem?) with Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, and Matt Schaub throws three picks. This is entirely feasible. (Pretend I used font size 72 on "entirely" there.)

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Packers -2

PREDICTION: Packers 31, Texans 24

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 21 — vs Baltimore

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because they have to beat Baltimore eventually, right? Hell, for a non-AFC South team, it feels like they play the Ravens every year. Frankly, most years it's felt like the Texans were the Ravens' homecoming game (0-6 all-time versus Baltimore). I think the playoff game gives the Texans a measure of confidence, along with the fact that they're playing a team who viewed Jacoby Jones as a major upgrade at receiver. The time is now.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Green Bay hangover, cumulative effect of fifth straight "high intensity" game (one division game, a Peyton game and two prime timers before this), the ethereal powers of Joe Flacco's unibrow. Plenty of reasons.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3

PREDICTION: Ravens 20, Texans 17

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 28 — BYE WEEK

BYE WEEK PREDICTION: Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, Shaun Cody and Antonio Smith go somewhere in Barwin's Prius. Pictures get tweeted. This is the biggest lock of my entire column.

Sunday, November 4 — vs Buffalo

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This game will be played in Week 9, so by then the Bills will have realized that their investment in Mario Williams is the worst guarantee of $50 million in history not involving the name "Lenny Dykstra."

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Mario Williams typically gets his sacks in bunches. For example, in 2010, Mario had five of his 8.5 sacks in two games. In 2008, he had 12 sacks on the season, and nine of them came in four games. Also, he had nine games that season with no sacks. Mario is like a lunar eclipse — he shows up once every year or so, and when he does, everybody makes a big fucking deal out of it. As lucky as Mario has been (he's pocketed about $75 million in his career before getting one dime in game checks in 2012), his three-sack outburst will come against his former team on his personal "judgment day" (his words, not mine).

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -7 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 34, Bills 20

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, November 11 — at Chicago

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Best sources for entertaining low-speed chase footage:

Any evening news telecast in Los Angeles

Random episodes of Cops

Jay Cutler running for his life against any defense ranked in the upper half of the NFL

The Texans are one of those defenses that could send Jay Cutler to the bench by the fourth quarter debilitated, with that look on his face like he's been sitting at the DMV for three hours.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Sunday night in November, this baby has a chance to be frigid. If this turns into an "elements" game, with a gassed-up-on-Old Style crowd, this thing could definitely go sideways on the Texans.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Bears -2

PREDICTION: Texans 24, Bears 23

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, November 18 —

vs Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Blaine Gabbert. That is all.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Perhaps some caper where the heel wrestling manager/Jags owner Shahid Khan hatches a diabolical plot to lock Connor Barwin, Shaun Cody, Brooks Reed and Antonio Smith in Barwin's Prius for four hours, while slipping roofies in the Gatorade of the Texans' entire offensive line. Seriously, I have no idea how the Texans lose this game.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -10 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 33, Jaguars 17

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Thursday, November 22 — at Detroit

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There's a decent chance that a half dozen or so Lions will be arrested the night before the game.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: There's a decent chance that the arrests could involve the Lions' assaulting members of the Texans.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Lions -2 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 23, Lions 17

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 2 — at Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Jake Locker. That is all.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Two reasons — first, this is a classic "sandwich" game, meaning this is a crappy opponent plunked down right in between two highly anticipated big-time opponents. Second, the Texans have never come close to going undefeated in the division. They will lose an AFC South game, and Locker or no Locker, at Tennessee is the best shot at that.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3

PREDICTION: Titans 19, Texans 17

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Monday, December 10 —

at New England

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: By December, this has a chance to be touted as a "preview of the AFC Championship Game." The Texans are one of the few teams in the league that can get into a shootout with the Patriots and still win. And frankly, if it's a tight defensive game, the Texans would be even more comfortable.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Look at the Patriots — Tom Brady has a Brazilian supermodel wife, head coach Bill Belichick is a home-wrecking machine, owner Robert Kraft has a 32-year-old girlfriend who would fit perfectly in Cinemax softcore porn, and then there's Gronk. I mean, good lord, GRONK! Yeah, the Texans aren't quite ready for this stage yet.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Patriots -6 1/2

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Texans 21

BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, December 16 — vs Indianapolis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Colts are a team that's in rebuild mode, albeit an accelerated rebuild mode with Andrew Luck as the precocious quarterback of the future. Hard to believe that when the Colts made this trip last season, Kerry Collins was their starting quarterback. (Somewhere, he just fumbled again. He might be grocery shopping, but he just dropped something. Guaranteed.)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: In a weird quirk in the 2012 schedule, the Texans don't catch the Colts until Weeks 15 and 17, meaning that Luck (who already looks fantastic in the preseason) will have 13 games under his belt. Delightful.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -9 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 24, Colts 14

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, December 23 — vs Minnesota

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: It seems like in every game, the Texans either face one of the marquee quarterbacks in the league or they face a green, raw rookie or second-year guy. So here comes Christian Ponder, this week's serving of Filet-O-QB. Dinner is served, Messrs. Barwin and Cushing!

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Andre Johnson and Arian Foster get stuck in line Christmas shopping at the Galleria? I have no idea.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -10

PREDICTION: Texans 38, Vikings 17

BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, December 30 —

at Indianapolis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: These two teams will have played two weeks ago, so pretty much the same reasons apply.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Two things: First, the Texans have never won in Indianapolis, and if they didn't win in Indy last year, when the Colts were the worst team in the league, then frankly, there's no such thing as an automatic win there. Second, there's an outside chance the Texans may be resting guys in Week 17, like last season, when we saw Jake Delhomme almost become the first 65-year-old to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback in league history.

SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -5 1/2

PREDICTION: Texans 21, Colts 20

BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

TO SUM THINGS UP:

MUST WIN (7) — vs Miami, at Jacksonville, vs Tennessee, vs Buffalo, vs Jacksonville, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota

Like last year, I have the Texans clean-sweeping the must-win category, and frankly, given the quality of quarterbacks they play in the coin flipper and steal games, 6-1 might be the minimum requirement to have a shot at a first-round bye.

COIN FLIPPERS (8) — at Denver, at New York, vs Green Bay, vs Baltimore, at Chicago, at Detroit, at Tennessee, at Indianapolis

I have them 4-4 in these coin flipper games, including a road loss in the division to Tennessee. It's too soon to say this team is good enough to avoid a bad loss or two, so on the road in the division is a pretty good place to predict that.

STEALS (1): at New England

So, tack on the loss to New England and look at where we are! 11-5 and AFC South champions for a second year in a row! Movin' on up!

And, dare I say, a trend.

YOUR BEST BETS

DENVER BRONCOS UNDER 8 1/2 wins (+140) — We all know why Denver is being mentioned as one of those teams on the short list to win the Super Bowl this season — Peyton Manning. Of course, a season win total of 8 1/2 (even with OVER juice of -170) is not a "Super Bowl contender" number. Vegas knows the deal, and the deal is this — subtract Manning from the equation for a second, and examine what he is walking into. Based on their record last season, you might say, "It's already an 8-8 team, Sean!" In record, you're right, but look at the season point differential of -81. That's much closer to Jacksonville (-86) and Cleveland (-89) than it is to the remaining playoff teams. When the Broncos lost in 2011, they lost huge; when they won, they generally needed a heavy dosage of luck to eke out close wins. Point being, Peyton Manning is walking into something much closer to a 5-11 team than an 8-8 team. Add into that equation an unfortunate first-place schedule (six 2011 playoff teams and two division games in the first eight games), and I LOVE the value of the Broncos under at +140.

TENNESSEE TITANS UNDER 7 1/2 wins (-145) — Tough-schedule victim number two, only the Titans are having to attack their slate with a second-year quarterback (Jake Locker) with virtually no starting experience. Trips to San Diego, Houston and Green Bay along with home games against New England, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, and the Jets. Add to that four division games against Indy and Jacksonville where they might be losing the quarterback battle, and it's bad.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers UNDER 9 1/2 wins (+120) — As mentioned earlier in this piece, historical data over the last eight years tells us two of the Lions, Texans and Niners (teams with six wins or less in 2010 and ten wins or more in 2011) are going to backslide. I'll take the Niners as the candidate I'm most sure of. Yes, Jim Harbaugh has one of the best defenses in football. But I still don't totally trust Alex Smith, and the Niners turned the ball over only ten times all last season. TEN TIMES. Stat geeks will tell you that turnovers are as much luck as skill (especially fumbles) and they tend to even out over time. I'll bank on that 49er turnover number going up in 2012.

BUFFALO BILLS UNDER 7 1/2 wins (+175) — So from Week 9 on last year, from about the time quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick inked a huge $59 million contract extension, the Bills went 1-8 and were outscored by a margin of 287-135. They went out this offseason and gave Mario Williams, the ultimate when it comes to hiding behind hollow sack numbers, almost $100 million over six years. So NOW this is a .500 team? Or better? I'm not buying it, and as long as Vegas is going to put juice of -230 on the over, I'll gladly take the value of +175 that a team with Fitzpatrick at quarterback and Williams as the cornerstone piece will be sub-.500.

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Funny. I always thought "The Pendergast Method" was a term used for the proper way to polish silver.

 
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