It's been a long week for Houston Texans fans. What was supposed to be a week of build-up and cautiously optimistic anticipation was buried under a cloud of gloom after the news that top pick Jadeveon Clowney's follow-up procedure on his knee on Monday was, in fact, microfracture surgery.
If you're an athlete, "microfracture" is a filthy, dirty four-letter word that used to be an athletic death sentence, and has since been upgraded to an athletic game of Russian roulette. As Dr. Kenneth R. First pointed out on Sports Radio 610 on Thursday morning on "In The Loop," 61 NFL players have undergone this procedure. Nine have gone on to play longer than five seasons.
Nine. That's it. So what does this mean for everyone involved?
Well, first and foremost, Clowney himself has to be experiencing a wide range of emotions. There has to be a massive amount of frustration (bordering on depression) that his rookie season has barely been a thing, a grand total of 151 snaps. There has to be some degree of vindication for Clowney against the naysayers who were questioning his desire to get back on the field and his threshold for pain.
Beyond that, I would imagine there is some anger over the way the team has handled this second round of surgery publicly, in particular General Manager Rick Smith, who was quoted in an interview with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle as saying:
"It's not about how disappointed everybody is," Smith said. "It's about how diligent he is in the rehab process. He's committed to it.
"That's something he can control, and he's committed to showing he's going to do everything in his power to come back and to be better than ever."
I don't think Rick Smith is doing this intentionally (fairly certain), but putting Clowney's diligence in rehab as the foremost variable in his recovery places the rookie perceptually directly in the crosshairs if, in fact, the knee doesn't recover all the way. To say that it's "about how diligent [Clowney] is in the rehab process" without highlighting a) just how lonely, tedious, and brutal micro fracture rehab is and b) the sporadic, at best, success rate of this type of surgery is irresponsible and unfair to Clowney.
I've also heard Smith say that the team expects Clowney to "make a full recovery," which I only define as his regaining the full explosiveness of a number one overall pick in the draft. Anything less and it's not a full recovery. Call me crazy, but I'd rather hear the "full recovery" expectation from a qualified doctor than a GM who is desperately trying to hold onto his job.
Okay, enough depressing Clowney talk. Let's map out the things we need to root for this weekend. (Yes, I'm aware the last time we did a post like this, the Bengals rolled up the Texans 22-13 and Ryan Mallett's season ended the next day. I gotcha.)
Here are the AFC standings as of Thursday night:
1. New England 10-3 (AFC East champion) 2. Denver 10-3 (AFC West champion) 3. Indianapolis 9-4 (AFC South champion) 4. Cincinnati 8-4-1 (AFC North champion)
5. Pittsburgh 8-5 (Wild card #1) 6. San Diego 8-5 (Wild card #2) ------------------------------------------------------- 7. Baltimore 8-5 8. HOUSTON 7-6 9. Miami 7-6 10. Kansas City 7-6 11. Buffalo 7-6 12. Cleveland 7-6
And here are this weekend's pertinent games to the Texans:
Sun 12:00 p.m. Miami at New England (-8) Sun 12:00 p.m. Oakland at Kansas City (-10) Sun 12:00 p.m. Jacksonville at Baltimore (-14) Sun 12:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Atlanta (+2) Sun 12:00 p.m. Cincinnati at Cleveland (-1) Sun 12:00 p.m. Green Bay at Buffalo (+4.5) Sun 3:05 p.m. Denver at San Diego (+4.5)
A few observations on this week's schedule and the Texan's playoff path, in general:
1. If the Texans win their final four games, there reportedly is over a 95 percent chance that they make the playoffs and, in fact, are a five seed in a number of scenarios. (Now all they have to do is win those games!)
2. As you can see, the Texans are the best of the 7-6 teams, due to a solid conference record. That's good. They're also one of three 7-6 teams who are underdogs of a touchdown or more this weekend (Texans +7, Miami +8, Buffalo +10). That's not so good. Indeed, this is a potentially a separation weekend in the AFC, with a decent chance that four of the 7-6 teams fall to 7-7.
3. So we know the Patriots and Broncos are going to win the AFC East and AFC West, respectively (and, in turn, to root against the Bills, Dolphins, and Chiefs this weekend). What the hell do we make of the AFC North? Good question, Sean. (Thanks, Sean!)
First off, remember we are working under an assumption under which the Texans are winning out, so in the AFC North, we ain't scared of Cleveland (head to head win over them on 11/16) nor Baltimore (presumed head to head win over them on 12/21 under a 10-6 scenario). So what about Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two teams that have beaten the Texans?
Well, here are their schedules the rest of the way:
BENGALS (8-4-1): at CLV, vs DEN, at PIT STEELERS (8-5): at ATL, vs KC, vs CIN
First, the Texans (or anybody) tying the Bengals is a virtual impossibility because of their tie with Carolina earlier this season, so the Bengals losing two games puts a 10-6 Texans team ahead of them. (Denver and Pittsburgh both look like games in which Cincy is going to be an underdog.)
Meanwhile, the Steelers are likely favored in their final three games, which is good for the Texans since that puts the Steelers in great shape to win the division and make the Texans' head to head loss in Pittsburgh a moot point. So while Atlanta's game against the Steelers matters to some degree to the Texans, it's the least important game on the schedule. (You could even make a case for the Texans rooting for the Steelers.)
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So the rooting guide looks like this (root for teams in BOLD):
Sun 12:00 p.m. Miami at New England Sun 12:00 p.m. Oakland at Kansas City Sun 12:00 p.m. Jacksonville at Baltimore Sun 12:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Atlanta (Doesn't matter) Sun 12:00 p.m. Cincinnati at Cleveland Sun 12:00 p.m. Green Bay at Buffalo Sun 3:05 p.m. Denver at San Diego
Enjoy the games, everybody!