Texans Chemistry: Do the Texans Have the Formula to Win a Championship?

Texans Chemistry: Do the Texans Have the Formula to Win a Championship?

"I believe in Matt. He's the quarterback of our football team. I've got no doubt about him. I think over the course of the last two years, he's won 70-plus percent of his starts. That's hard to do in this league. I feel very good about our quarterback. Our whole team has got to get better – that includes coaching and playing – for us to take the next step. And Matt is part of the team, but I've got a lot of confidence in him." – Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, January 14, 2013

If the 2012 Texans season was a movie, that right there would have been your final scene – amid the broken glass of another playoff loss, head coach Gary Kubiak dusting off the same sales pitch he's been using for six years to try and persuade the media, the fans, and, deep down, maybe himself that Matt Schaub is the quarterback who can take his team and this city to the promised land.

This is where the story of the 2013 Houston Texans begins.

The Rocky movies actually all started like this, remember? Each sequel of that saga started with the final scene of its predecessor, a reminder of where we left off and the gateway to the next chapter.

The contrast between the opening scenes of the Texans' 2012 season and their upcoming 2013 season is stark and noticeable, the difference between marching forward and being knocked backward.

If you remember, the Texans's 2011 season ended a lot like the first Rocky movie, the one where Rocky lost his title bout to Apollo Creed in a split decision, but in the process gained universal respect and planted seeds of hope.

Upstart, punch drunk, naively fearless after a hard-fought loss to Baltimore...that was the 2011 Texans!

Think back to the day after the Texans's playoff loss to the Ravens in January 2012. There was a quiet confidence about Gary Kubiak and this team. For the first time in most of their NFL careers, his group had finally tasted some success.

Having fought the Ravens tooth and nail with a rookie quarterback named T.J. Yates steering the ship, the general feeling was that this nucleus Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith had worked so tirelessly to assemble was simultaneously blossoming, like a superhero just discovering the fringe of his burgeoning superpowers.

Gary Kubiak after that playoff loss embodied that swagger:

"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."

Kubiak didn't say it back then, but he didn't have to. Many people thought the components of the Texans by the end of 2011 were good enough – the running game, the defense, Andre Johnson – that if Matt Schaub had been healthy for those playoffs, they could have gone to Super Bowl XLVI and played the Giants.

At that time, the 2012 season couldn't come soon enough. And eventually, it came.

And for the first 12 weeks of 2012, life was good. Matt Schaub was healthy again, the team was 11-1, and we anxiously awaited the results of the paternity test to see if, in fact, J.J. Watt was Jor-El's other son.

Then New England happened.

On a Monday night in early December, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady unleashed a barrage of touchdown passes (four in just more than a half, to be exact) that buried the Texans so fast, all that they remember is waking up the next morning face down in a pool of their own blood wearing only their Texans letterman jackets.

That loss triggered a downward spiral that saw Kubiak's squad lose three of their final four regular season games and eventually bow out in the divisional round of the playoffs again.

Central to the collapse was quarterback Matt Schaub, who was borderline terrible down the stretch last season, throwing one touchdown pass in the final four regular season games as the Texans went from a lock for a first round bye at Thanksgiving to a three seed before they even finished their Christmas shopping.

The Texans's brimming post-2011 confidence gave way to mild panic, and in an odd twist, post-2011's sentiment that Matt Schaub's absence kept the Texans from going to the Super Bowl was replaced with post-2012 blame that his presence did the exact same thing.

And therein lies the ironic existence of Matt Schaub, the "soft 18 against a dealer's face card" of NFL quarterbacks, just good enough to give you a chance to think you could go all the way, but in practicality not nearly enough to beat the two face cards that eventually await you in January. (For the record, in this blackjack analogy, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are both blackjacks. Mark Sanchez is a 16, and the dealer has an ace showing on every hand for the rest of eternity.)

To fans, the NFL is a bottom-line business, and along those lines, since arriving in Houston in 2007, Texans fans have never fully embraced Schaub. It didn't help that his first two seasons were marked by repeated injuries (only 11 starts each season) and saddled him with a figurative scarlet "I" that he still carries to this day.

In 2009, Schaub had a season that may have been the perfect metaphorical arc for the Matt Schaub Experience. He led the league in passing yards (4,770, to be exact) amid a season where the Texans blew several games in the fourth quarter during a 5-7 start, before rattling off four straight wins to close out the season 9-7 and miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

To top it all off, after a mountain of largely meaningless yards that 9-7 regular season, Scorcese could not have scripted a more appropriate ending than Schaub's hoisting that season's Pro Bowl MVP trophy, awarded to the player deemed the best in a glorified sandlot game.

Any inkling that there was a greater good to the Texans's 9-7 finish in 2009, that it was some sort of building block to take "the next step" in 2010, was flushed down the drain with that season's 6-10 finish, a season in which Schaub threw for 4,370 yards that were even less meaningful than 2009's.

Even by 2011, when the Texans as a team had graduated from "beginner" to "intermediate" in the NFL swim class, Schaub was still a walking embodiment of the Peter Principle, just competent enough to eventually show his incompetence.

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, with Schaub as their starting quarterback, the Texans haven't lost to any teams that eventually finished the season below .500, so credit where due, Schaub generally takes care of task-oriented business like slapping around Jacksonville or Buffalo.

At the same time, six of the Texans's seven regular season losses over that period have been to eventual playoff teams, and those six losses were by an average of 16 points.

In short, if Schaub were a bus driver, his bus would run on time every day as long as the weather was nice. If it started to snow, his bus would probably wind up flipped over in a ditch and would be the top story on the evening news.

So where do we go from here?

If you ask most Texans fans, their underlying frustration lies not just with Schaub, but with the organization's unending patience from the top down, and while owner Bob McNair's decision to retain Kubiak after that 6-10 debacle in 2010 and bring in Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator appears to have been the correct one, the team is still stuck at the divisional round of the postseason.

Like the first few years of the Kubiak Era, the team is again stuck in neutral; it just happens to be on the outskirts of River Oaks instead of, say, Baytown. (For purposes of this analogy, during the Dom Capers Era, the team was stuck in reverse, going 80 miles per hour, with Aaron Hernandez riding shotgun.)

If you're wondering just how abnormally patient Bob McNair has been with the combination of Kubiak and Schaub, consider the list of NFL quarterback/head coach combinations that have made the most regular season starts together since Kubiak and Schaub first combined forces in 2007.

It goes like this:

So to translate this chart into plain English, since 2007, only three head coaches and quarterbacks have participated in more games together than Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub. Each of those three teams has more Super Bowl appearances than the Schaub/Kubiak combo has playoff wins.

For fun, I even included the next three closest combinations, so among the seven captured in this chart, all of them (except Schaub and Kubiak, obviously) have won Super Bowls since 2007, except New England, to whom I'm willing to give a pass based on their three Super Bowl wins prior to 2007 and their undefeated 2007 regular season.

TRANSLATION: Bob McNair is ridiculously patient. Like, certifiably patient. Also, I'm fairly certain that degree of patience means Bob McNair would be the coolest grandfather ever.

(Honestly, if McNair has let Kubiak and Schaub steer his billion dollar enterprise for this long being average at best, how much does a McNair grandkid get away with around Casa de Bob? Crayon on every wall of his mansion? No problem. Ten 50-gallon drums of spilled milk? That's OK! Burning the pool house down playing with matches? Hey, this isn't the first time we've seen an ox in a ditch!)

In the end, all that chart provides is simple empirical validation of the culture of comfort that the Texans have allowed to permeate the Kubiak Era with respect to Matt Schaub.

Pressure and accountability, at least from the standpoint of competition for the starting quarterback job, have been nonexistent in six seasons. The Texans have drafted two quarterbacks since 2007, one in the seventh round in 2008 (Alex Brink, yo!) and one in the fifth round in 2011 (T.J. Yates, double yo!). No threats, no grooming of the next potential starter, just a franchise with the quarterback position switch set to "DEFAULT" at 4,000 yards, 10 wins, and a second round playoff exit.

All criticism of Schaub gets liquefied and blended into some sort of vague , spatial critique of everyone on the team that sounds something like this: "Yeah, Matt needs to get better, but so does everybody else. We all need to get better. Matt knows that, and so everybody else knows that. We need to get better as coaches, too, and I know that, and Matt knows that, and everybody else knows that."

Also, most franchises would hold off on extending the contract of a quarterback coming off of a delicate Lisfranc injury, especially a quarterback with exactly zero playoff wins to his credit. The Texans, however, are not one of those teams.

Apparently enamored with the mere speculation that Schaub was the missing piece to a Super Bowl in 2011 (as opposed to, y'know, actually getting to a Super Bowl), the Texans signed him to a four-year extension with $29 million in guaranteed money just before the start of the 2012 season.

Because why make your perennially .500 quarterback who's never played in the postseason play with the healthy fear of a "contract" year? Well, because fear is scary. Fear is uncomfortable. Matt's got to be comfortable.

From a personnel standpoint, the Texans have assembled everything just the way Matt likes it. Armed with a top five wide receiver (Andre Johnson), a top five running back (Arian Foster), a top eight tight end (Owen Daniels), protected by the best left tackle in the game (Duane Brown) and with a shiny new weapon in rookie DeAndre Hopkins, you can make an argument that no quarterback in the league has better pieces around him than Matt Schaub.

And I haven't even mentioned a defense that includes the best defensive player on the planet (J.J. Watt), a healthy Brian Cushing and a number of quality veterans.

This is a good football team.

But life in the NFL is dictated largely by quarterback play. If the NFL season were a college course, then the play of the quarterback is like the final exam – it counts for at least 50 percent of a team's grade.

Up until now, Matt Schaub has had the Texans in what George Costanza would call the "meaty part of the curve – not showing off, not falling behind." His averageness has led the Texans to a couple above-average seasons. The question becomes "How long until above average isn't good enough anymore?"

And if the plan doesn't come together in 2013, and the team stays stuck in neutral, Texans fans deserve to know when change will come.

Everybody loves to win, but how much does Bob McNair hate to lose?

The Pendergast Method

Ok, time to dive into the game-by-game analysis using a little thing I like to call the Pendergast Method. Now, as I've said in previous years, typically having your last name in front of any "method" is good for your look. It means that you've either created something intellectual ("Class, open your books to page 120; today we will be discussing the Pendergast Method of factoring binomials.") or you've created your own name-branded 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 win-loss record for the upcoming season. It's orgasmic in that it directly relates to football and last season came within one game of correctly predicting the Texans's record.

In other words, it's the only "method" that could be featured on both PBS and in Hustler.

So I got that going for me, which is nice.

Now, 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 or 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 2013 slate, according to me.

So where do the games on the 2013 slate stack up when we start applying the Pendergast Method? Well, let's take a look:

Must wins, 7: vs Tennessee, vs St. Louis, at Arizona, vs Oakland, vs Jacksonville, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee

Coin flippers, 8: at San Diego, at Baltimore, vs Seattle, at Kansas City, vs Indianapolis, vs New England, at Indianapolis, vs Denver

Steals, 1: at San Francisco

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, thanks to a season that saw the Texans emerge victorious over every sub-.500 team on their slate, while losing resoundingly to four playoff teams, I was pretty close!

Here are 2012's Pendergast Method designations:

2012 Must wins, 7: vs Miami, at Jacksonville, vs Tennessee, vs Buffalo, vs Jacksonville, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota

2012 Coin flippers, 8: at Denver, at New York Jets, vs Green Bay, vs Baltimore, at Chicago, at Detroit, at Tennessee, at Indianapolis

2012 Steals, 1: at New England

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

2012 Must wins: 6-1

2012 Coin flippers: 6-2

2012 Steals: 0-1

This is the classic ledger of a team whose nucleus has matured to the point that they either pound bad teams or find a way to win even when they bring their C- game against bad teams (think Jacksonville and Detroit overtime games). Unfortunately, because of a variety of factors, the Texans still have trouble on the big stage against good teams with great quarterbacks.

By the way, a 2013 regular season with this exact same profile – 6-1 in "Must wins," 6-2 in "coin flippers," and winless in "steals" – would mean 12-4 for the Texans.

Gary Kubiak would sign up for that right now.

Monday, September 9 – at San Diego

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There was a time not too long ago when Philip Rivers held the title of "best quarterback not to win a Super Bowl," kind of like the Lee Westwood of NFL quarterbacks. If I had to draw a Hollywood analogy, Rivers was like David Hasselhoff in his prime, a nice little acting novelty whom nobody took all that seriously, but everyone knew who he was. Unfortunately for the Chargers, in the last two seasons, Rivers has morphed into the version of Hasselhoff that went viral on the Internet rolling around drunk and shirtless making love to a cheeseburger while his daughter filmed him and uploaded him to YouTube. In other words, Rivers is sloppy, terrible and possibly making love to a cheeseburger. Turnovers will also be served on opening night.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Chargers have a new head coach in Mike McCoy. If you don't know who he is, McCoy was the offensive coordinator in Denver in 2011 when John Fox decided to turn to Tim Tebow midseason and asked McCoy to tailor an NFL offense to suit his needs, which is like handing a producer the script for Breaking Bad and telling him that Pee Wee Herman has been signed to play Walter White. Well, somehow McCoy coaxed enough out of Tebow to help the Broncos make the playoffs and win a playoff game. Based on this evidence, McCoy might have an IQ of 275, which definitely means he could win an NFL regular season game against Gary Kubiak.


PREDICTION: Texans 27, Chargers 21


Sunday, September 15 – vs Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Last season, Jake Locker was knocked out of the home game with the Titans early on a hit by Glover Quin, which meant Matt Hasselbeck came in to replace him. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith told me on my radio show the following Monday that the Texans were actually more nervous about their chances of winning the game once Locker was knocked out. In other news, Locker is the Titans's starter again this season.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Titans still have running back Chris Johnson, and with him there is no in-between – he either runs for 248 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns or he mopes to 12 yards on nine carries and winds up eating chili on uStream later that night. He's the only running back in the league who I think gets PMS. If the Texans catch him on the wrong end of his running-back menstrual cycle, the Titans might hang in.


PREDICTION: Texans 31, Titans 14


Sunday, September 22 – at Baltimore

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This is a drastically different Baltimore team than the one that won the Super Bowl back in February. Anquan Boldin is gone, which means Jacoby Jones is the Ravens's number two wide receiver (never a good thing), and more than that, inside linebacker and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis is no longer there to give his maniacal, howling pre-game speeches. That said....

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: .....Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco recently revealed that Lewis's pregame rants were the NFL equivalent of a nonsensical Ultimate Warrior promo in WWE: "If you listened to those speeches, a lot of them didn't even make sense. He meant everything he was saying, but I didn't know what he was talking about 90 percent of the time." I feel better now.


PREDICTION: Ravens 17, Texans 16


Sunday, September 29 – vs Seattle

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Last year, when he was mic'd up for the Ravens game, J.J. Watt told running back Ray Rice he's "eaten burritos bigger than [him]." Ray Rice is most definitely a burrito – round, firm and fully packed. Like Rice, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is small for his position, but he's shaped more like a spicy tuna roll. I'm going to guess J.J. Watt eats sushi, too.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: That little spicy tuna roll also happens to be a quarterback with elite-level skills. The Monday of anti-Schaub phone calls to my radio show reminding me that the Seahawks got Russell Wilson "IN THE THIRD ROUND OF THE DRAFT" just seems to be destiny.


PREDICTION: Texans 23, Seahawks 17


Sunday, October 6 – at San Francisco

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: If you're looking for a "team that we all think is going to be good, but could struggle early because of a gauntlet schedule," check out the 49ers's early-season slate:

Week 1 vs Green Bay

Week 2 at Seattle (Sunday night)

Week 3 vs Indianapolis

Week 4 at St. Louis (Thursday night)

Week 5 vs Houston

I mean, YIKES! Four playoff teams from last season and a division road game on a Thursday night. What the hell did Jim Harbaugh do to piss off Roger Goodell? (This is not a rhetorical question, by the way. Jim Harbaugh has done at least one thing to piss off every human being on earth. This is known. I want to know specifically what he did to Goodell.)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The only logical follow up to the "'Russell Wilson phone call' week from hell" is a week of anti-Schaub calls about the 49ers drafting Colin Kaepernick "IN THE SECOND ROUND OF THE DRAFT!!"


PREDICTION: Niners 27, Texans 17


Sunday, October 13 – vs St. Louis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: If you were making a scale of the most neatly coiffed and manicured NFL head coaches, Jeff Fisher would be at the "zero" end of the scale. With his Flutie-style mullet and indecisive facial hair strategy, Fisher is better suited for Duck Dynasty than an NFL sideline. Gary Kubiak, on the other hand, has a boxed-off buzz cut that is so damn angular and meticulous, it could double as a miniature work bench. Basically, Kubiak's hair is FDR's New Deal of hair; Fisher's hair is Obamacare. I don't know what any of this has to do with the game I'm just glad I got to share these thoughts with you.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The NFL quarterback draft class of 2010 is abysmal. The top four guys in that class were Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, and Colt McCoy. The latter three are literally almost out of the league, so now it's up to Bradford to carry the torch. The odds just seem to dictate he takes a big step forward this season. Also, I can see their rookie slot guy Tavon Austin tearing the ass out of Brice McCain for, like, 10 catches for 179 yards or something.


PREDICTION: Texans 20, Rams 13


Sunday, October 20 – at Kansas City

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because after having beaten the Rams the week before, this game will be for the Missouri state championship! (I don't think that Bob McNair would put a plaque shaped like the state of Missouri up in the Texans's trophy showcase, but it's not off the board completely either.)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Kansas City is my sexy pick to take the great leap forward this season. I know they were 2-14 last season, but they had maybe the worst quarterback play, the worst coach, and still they managed to put five guys on the 2012 AFC Pro Bowl team. In short, the 2012 Chiefs were like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, a schizophrenic, dandruff covered, rancid smelling mess. But with a little bit of makeup, a change of clothes, a shower and a new quarterback, the Chiefs now look like they have the chance to be decidedly average! Just like Ally Sheedy! Hell, they even went and got a boob job, bringing in Andy Reid and his ample 42 DDD cans to coach this spunky bunch! This will be a sneaky one for the Texans.


PREDICTION: Chiefs 19, Texans 17


Sunday, October 27 – BYE WEEK

BYE WEEK PREDICTION: Ed Reed leaves and goes somewhere other than Houston. That's a mortal lock. I'm pretty sure he's only flying in for games this season.

Sunday, November 3 – vs Indianapolis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Colts were winning games last year that they had no business winning and essentially used up all of their good will from the football gods for the next three seasons. (Note: I just realized you can't use the word "luck" when discussing the Colts, because any mention of that phrase comes across as a shoehorned attempt at a pun, what with their quarterback's last name and all. Chris Berman, I'm certain, disagrees with this.)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The game will be played on Sunday night, which means we have no idea what Texans team we will get. Seriously, watching the Texans in a prime-time game feels like a parent waiting for their high school senior to get home on a Friday night – you have no idea if the kid is going to walk in sober and quietly crash on the couch or if he's going to stumble in with vomit caked all over his shirt slurring the lyrics "I'm Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer" by Billy Currington. Not that I've done that before. Let's move on.


PREDICTION: Texans 31, Colts 21


Sunday, November 10 – at Arizona

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This is the beginning of a stretch of schedule for the Texans that is the NFL equivalent of Kansas State's out-of-conference schedule. Seriously, Arizona on the road, then home for Oakland and Jacksonville. That's the NFL's answer to Savannah State, Wofford, and William & Mary. Bill Snyder approves! (Random prop bet proposal: Texans +3 1/2 wins versus combined wins between Arizona, Oakland, and Jacksonville in 2013...who ya got?)

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Bruce Arians is a bit of a mad scientist, and quarterback Carson Palmer is just sneaky enough that if Arians mixes the chemicals properly, Palmer could have a big day. (Of course, there's also a 90 percent chance that the Arians/Palmer combination creates a turnover mushroom cloud that stretches from Glendale to Paradise Valley.)


PREDICTION: Texans 24, Cardinals 10


Sunday, November 17 – vs Oakland

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There is a decent chance that Terrelle Pryor is going to be the Raiders's starting quarterback. TROY McCLURE INTRODUCTION: "Hi! I'm Terrelle Pryor! You may remember me from such films as Tattoo Time: The Story of the 2009 Buckeyes and Oh Fuck! The Raiders Supplementally Drafted Me?" Pryor is pretty mobile and can't throw a lick; he's basically the right-handed, black version of Tim Tebow.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Back in 2011, the Raiders upset the Texans in Week 5 just days after longtime owner (and certifiable kook) Al Davis passed away. But unless Davis can somehow die again the week before this game, the Raiders aren't beating the Texans.


PREDICTION: Texans 41, Raiders 13


Sunday, November 24 – vs Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: As I was writing this article, I turned to my co-host John Granato and asked him, "Can you name the Jacksonville Jaguars's head coach?" Normally, I would be asking him a question like this as a sort of a quiz just to keep it light and keep him on his toes. In this case, I was really asking him because I had no fucking clue who the head coach of the Jags was. And neither did he. And that's the new rule – if two guys who cover sports for a living can't name your head coach (even two idiots like me and Granato), you are not winning a division road game. Sorry, Jacksonville. You lose. GOOD DAY, SIR!

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The answer, by the way, was Gus Bradley. Rule No. 2 – if your coach's name is "Gus," you're not winning a division road game. I SAID GOOD DAY!


PREDICTION: Texans 30, Jaguars 14


Sunday, December 1 – vs New England

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: In last season's December game against the Patriots, the Pats's receiving portion of the box score looked like this:

Brandon Lloyd: 8 catches, 89 yards, 1 touchdown

Donte Stallworth: 1 catch, 63 yards, 1 touchdown

Aaron Hernandez: 8 catches, 58 yards, 2 touchdowns

Wes Welker: 3 catches, 52 yards

Danny Woodhead: 2 catches, 34 yards

If we play "Where are they now?" with that statistical sequence, in September 2013, it would look like this:

Street Free Agent: 8 catches, 89 yards, 1 touchdown

Cut by the Redskins: 1 catch, 63 yards, 1 touchdown

Inmate #174954: 8 catches, 58 yards, 2 touchdowns

Peyton Manning's New Bestie: 3 catches, 52 yards

San Diego Charger: 2 catches, 34 yards

Yes, literally every Patriot who caught a pass from Tom Brady in last season's regular season game is playing elsewhere, unemployed, or incarcerated.



PREDICTION: Patriots 30, Texans 28


Thursday, December 5 – at Jacksonville

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because the name "Gus" will not have gotten any cooler in the two weeks since the previous game between these two teams.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It's a Thursday road game sandwiched in between games against the Patriots and Colts, and it's going to be played in one of the worst atmospheres to play football. Also, Jags owner Shad Khan has the resources to make sure the entire Texans offensive line catches a round of food poisoning before the game.


PREDICTION: Texans 23, Jaguars 7


Sunday, December 15 – at Indianapolis

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Damn the sports gods for smiling down upon little backwater sports markets like San Antonio and Indianapolis. In 1997, it was David Robinson going out with a season-ending injury for the Spurs that allowed them to tank one season, wind up with Tim Duncan and go on to win four NBA titles. Now Indianapolis, a sleepy little Midwest nothing of a town that stole this team from Baltimore in the first place, they enjoy the halcyon years of Peyton Manning, lose him for a season, go 2-14, and wind up with what might end up being a souped-up version of Peyton Manning in Andrew Luck. It's like when Emperor Palpatine was able to upgrade from Count Dooku to Anakin Skywalker as his Sith apprentice almost seamlessly, only Luck didn't slice off Peyton's head with a light saber. Other than that... Exact. Same. Thing.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: In their history, even in 2011 when they were significantly better than every team in the division, the Texans have never swept the AFC South, and they've still never won a game in Indy. Even in 2011, when the Colts finished 2-14, they beat the Texans in Indy (Dan Orlovsky, yo!).


PREDICTION: Colts 24, Texans 19


Sunday, December 22 – vs Denver

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because Indy's Count Dooku landed in Denver, and Count Dooku was easily the lamest of all the Sith.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: If there's one area of the Texans's defense that's looked shaky since the second half of the 2012 season (including the 2013 preseason), it's the secondary, and unlike Tom Brady, Peyton Manning has a wealth of proven weapons in is receiving corps. In fact, he already had a wealth of proven weapons, and still the Broncos went out and got him Wes Welker. This would be like Derek Jeter inviting Minka Kelly over in the middle of a threesome, just an embarrassment of riches. This has the earmarking of one of those vintage Peyton 367-yard games he used to spin against the Texans back when he was with Indy.


PREDICTION: Texans 33, Broncos 28


Sunday, December 29 – at Tennessee

WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Broncos's big offseason pickup at wide receiver was Wes Welker. The Titans's was Kevin Walter. Trust me, playing the Titans will feel like a game of Pop-a-Shot does after shooting 30-footers in your driveway for two hours.

WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: OK, I can't end the article without bringing up the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the Texans are a combined 1-5 in the final three regular season games of the last two seasons. It's funny, back when the Texans were playing meaningless games in December, Gary Kubiak was a monster. In fact, he finished the season with a win every year of his tenure until 2011, when he started making the playoffs. In fact, his regular season record after December 1 during his head coaching career goes like this:

2006-2010: 15-10

2011-2012: 4-6

And if we are looking to bring the theme of this whole piece full circle, therein lies one more shred of statistical evidence that the esoteric concept of "clutch" is either something the Schaub/Kubiak duo are still trying to master or perhaps subconsciously fear.

Ain't nothing to it, but to do it.


PREDICTION: Texans 19, Titans 17


To Sum Things Up

MUST WIN (7) – vs Tennessee, vs St. Louis, at Arizona, vs Oakland, vs Jacksonville, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee

I have the Texans, not surprisingly, winning all seven of these games. The only ones that make me even moderately nervous are the St. Louis game because I think they could be much improved, and Tennessee away in late December, because it's late December.

COIN FLIPPERS (8) – at San Diego, at Baltimore, vs Seattle, at Kansas City, vs Indianapolis, vs New England, at Indianapolis, vs Denver

I have the Texans going 4-4 in these eight games, including a loss to Kansas City that may surprise a few people.

STEALS (1): at San Francisco

I have the Texans losing their steal game because it's at the end of a brutal five-game stretch, it's on Sunday night, it's on the road, it's against an elite quarterback – really, there's no good reason to pick them (which means they'll probably win by three touchdowns).

So you do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, and the Pendergast Method yields an 11-5 record, which probably would not yield a first round bye, which probably means another second round exit from the playoffs.

And lots of angry phone calls about Matt Schaub.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS UNDER 8 1/2 wins (-115) –

Seemingly every year going back for about a decade now, at least one of the two teams (if not both) that goes to the Super Bowl backslides significantly the following season. Here's the data (with following season's results in parentheses):

2000: Baltimore (10-6, lost div round), New York Giants (7-9, missed playoffs)

2001: New England (9-7, missed playoffs), St. Louis (7-9, missed playoffs)

2002: Tampa Bay (7-9, missed playoffs), Oakland (4-12 missed playoffs)

2003: New England (14-2, won Super Bowl), Carolina (7-9, missed playoffs)

2004: New England (10-6, lost div round), Philadelphia (6-10, missed playoffs)

2005: Pittsburgh (8-8, missed playoffs), Seattle (9-7, lost div round)

2006: Indianapolis (13-3, lost div round), Chicago (7-9, missed playoffs)

2007: New York Giants (12-4, lost div round), New England (11-5, missed playoffs)

2008: Pittsburgh (9-7, missed playoffs), Arizona (10-6, lost div round)

2009: New Orleans (11-5, lost wildcard round), Indianapolis (10-6 lost wildcard round)

2010: Green Bay (15-1, lost div round), Pittsburgh (12-4, lost div round)

2011: New York Giants (9-7, missed playoffs), New England (12-4, lost AFC Title game)

So if you're scoring at home, of the last 24 teams to go to the Super Bowl, the following season's results are summarized as follows:

12: Missed playoffs

2: Lost in the wild card round

8: Lost in the divisional round

1: Lost in the conference title game

1: Won the Super Bowl

I firmly believe taking the under on both of last year's Super Bowl teams is, at worst, a split scenario, and feel good enough to give both out here.

NEW YORK JETS UNDER 6 wins (-105) –

Since about the time the Hard Knocks cameras showed up at Jets camp a few years ago, it's been a circus in New York. (Truth be told, it may have been a circus longer than that, but Hard Knocks gave us the pictures to prove it.) The last two years have spiraled wildly out of control for head coach Rex Ryan, from the boulder sized Mark Sanchez contract extension they've tied to the franchise's ankles, to the disastrous signing of Tim Tebow, to Rex's wife's foot fetish videos, to the most recent episode where he had a verbal spat over his inserting Sanchez into a preseason game behind the third team offensive line –- honestly, I could keep going. And going. And going. Just know, that the Jets are a mess, and you could let them add 2013 and 2014 together and they may not get to six wins.


It's been a couple years now since the late Raiders owner Al Davis passed away, but his legacy lives on in a black and silver sea of ill-advised moves, questionable signings and off-the-field gaffes. The most notable of them this offseason was the trade with Seattle for Matt Flynn, who is best known for backing up Aaron Rodgers, parlaying two starts into a big-money free agent deal with Seattle where he backed up Russell Wilson, and then being moved to Oakland, where it appears he will back up Terrelle Pryor. (Matt Flynn is officially the Barry Horowitz of the NFL, jobber to young stars league wide!) I like to think that somewhere Al Davis is still alive, likely locked in a tower with blood spattered bandages wrapped all around the charred remains where a face once existed, kind of like Robert the Bruce's old man in Braveheart, running the Raiders through a puppet regime while quietly spending his own life insurance money playing online poker or some shit. It's honestly the most feasible explanation for some of the Raiders's moves the last two years.

Watching Schaub and Kubiak flame out in the second round of the playoffs won’t be good enough for most Houstonians this season.
Watching Schaub and Kubiak flame out in the second round of the playoffs won’t be good enough for most Houstonians this season.
Aaron M. Sprecher


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