The Pendergast Method: Predicting the 2015 Houston Texans Season

Quarterbacks, Clowney’s knee and Foster’s groin are three huge question marks for the 2015 Houston Texans.
Quarterbacks, Clowney’s knee and Foster’s groin are three huge question marks for the 2015 Houston Texans.

It was a Monday following the Houston Texans’ third preseason game (a 27-13 win over the New Orleans Saints, for those of you who keep track of those sorts of things), and head coach Bill O’Brien was conducting his routine Monday afternoon press conference. As had been the case with nearly every media session this preseason, the conversation quickly shifted from actual football to the dozens of cameras and microphones blanketing the Texans’ facility to film the HBO reality show Hard Knocks.

On most days, O’Brien was casually (but respectfully) dismissive of the voyeuristic glimpse the world received every Tuesday night into his operation via cable television, correctly pointing out that his team had work to do. On this day, for whatever reason, O’Brien was uncharacteristically talkative when asked about Hard Knocks.

“I thought the Hard Knocks people have done a really good job. They really have,” O’Brien began. “But being miked up and having cameras around all the time, as a coach and obviously as players, I don’t think that’s the easiest thing. I think as it’s gone on, it’s been a decent experience, but I’m looking forward to September 8 when they’re not here anymore.”

In some ways, the experience of the nation watching carefully chosen cut-ups of your every move has to bring some degree of fatigue. However, for O’Brien, in his second year as an NFL head coach, coming off a first season in which he oversaw a seven-win improvement from 2-14 in 2013 to 9-7, it was probably good practice, for the spotlight will burn brightly on him and the Texans in Year 2 of his regime.

In a league where half the playoff teams from the previous season are routinely shuffled out of the playoff picture the next year, predicting NFL success or failure for about two-thirds of the teams is already a dicey business. The Texans, through decisions of their own and obstacles thrown their way by the football gods, have made prognostication that much more treacherous in 2015.

Starting with a quarterback job that Brian Hoyer won over Ryan Mallett in a split decision and perhaps ending with Jadeveon Clowney’s roulette wheel of a right knee, it’s a roster and team with as many variables as constants, as many questions as answers. Maybe we should replace the star on the bull’s-head logo with a question mark, just for this season, because everything from a playoff berth to a 5-11 season is in play.

So how will the 2015 Houston Texans do? Well, as some of you know, I like to break the season down into three categories of games. Call it the Pendergast Method. They go like this:

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, 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: 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, you probably need to win at least one of these along the way.

So where do the games on the 2015 slate stack up when we start applying the Pendergast Method? Well, let’s take a look:
Must wins, 5: vs TB, at JAC, vs TEN, vs NYJ, vs JAC
Coin flippers, 8: vs KC, at CAR, at ATL, vs IND, at MIA, vs NOLA, at BUF, at TEN
Steals, 3: at CIN, vs NE, at IND

Now, let’s try to break this down game by game and see which side of the coin the Texans land on in 2015 (Texans’ predicted record entering each game in parentheses next to the game date):

Sunday, September 13 (0-0) — vs Kansas City
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -2
PREDICTION: Chiefs 16, Texans 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: For the Texans’ offensive line and QB Brian Hoyer, the bump up in competition, from preseason defenses to the Chiefs’ front seven, will be like going from Dora the Explorer to Ronda Rousey. A sobering early-season reality check. Chiefs NT Dontari Poe might eat whoever the Texans run out there at left guard.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, September 20 (0-1) — at Carolina
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3
PREDICTION: Panthers 21, Texans 16
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Likely a hangover effect from week 1, but let’s be honest — we’re all watching this game to see what a J.J. Watt/Cam Newton collision in the open field looks like. I’m guessing it resembles a battle scene in a Transformers movie where like six buildings end up collapsing.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, September 27 (0-2) — vs Tampa Bay
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -7
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Buccaneers 10
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This Texans team, defensively at least, is too good to start 0-3. Besides, there’s like a 42 percent chance Bucs rookie QB Jameis Winston gets pinched for shoplifting Blue Bell ice cream the night before the game.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, October 4 (1-2) — ?at Atlanta
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +1
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Falcons 23
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: You can’t be a playoff contender and lose to a team that has been fined and docked draft picks by the league for piping crowd noise into its home field. You just can’t.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Thursday, October 8 (2-2) — vs Indianapolis
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick ’em
PREDICTION: Colts 31, Texans 30
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Thursday night, national television, division rival, Andrew Luck coming home, the return of Andre Johnson, the possible return of Arian Foster, and at 2-2, probably an early-season “must” win. When was the last time the Texans won a game like this? (Sure, I’ll wait while you go check Wikipedia…waiting…waiting…)
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 18 (2-3) — at Jacksonville
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3.5
PREDICTION: Texans 21, Jaguars 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: A little extra rest, Blake Bortles at quarterback, a team the Texans can torment defensively, no real expectations after starting out 2-3. Unlike the previous week’s dynamic against the Colts, the Texans’ team history is littered with wins like this one. Book it.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, October 25 (3-3) — at Miami
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3
PREDICTION: Dolphins 27, Texans 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Look at the Dolphins’ 2015 schedule. They open with these five opponents (and quarterbacks) — at WASH (Cousins), at JAC (Bortles), vs BUF (Taylor), vs NYJ (Fitzpatrick), at TEN (Mariota). There’s a great chance they’re 5-0 heading into this game. Also, there’s a great chance Ndamukong Suh kills a man with his bare hands on the Texans’ offensive line in this game.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, November 1 (3-4) — vs Tennessee
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -7
PREDICTION: Texans 31, Titans 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Because even in their dog shit season of 2013, the Texans still beat the Titans at home. You suck, Titans. Hell, Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes against these schleps last season! FITZPATRICK!
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, November 8 (4-4) — BYE WEEK
BYE WEEK PREDICTION: Ryan Mallett sleeps in. This is the biggest lock ever.
BYE WEEK FUN FACT: Assuming they all stay healthy, the eight starting QBs the Texans will have faced to this point in the season would carry the following overall draft slots in their respective draft classes —
1. Smith, 2005
1. Newton, 2011
1. Winston, 2015
3. Ryan, 2008
1. Luck, 2012
3. Bortles, 2014
8. Tannehill, 2012
2. Mariota, 2015

There’s a thesis to be written in there somewhere.

Monday, November 16 (4-4) — at Cincinnati
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4
PREDICTION: Bengals 19, Texans 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: I don’t know why they will lose, I just know it will be in spite of Bengals QB Andy Dalton.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, November 22 (4-5) — vs New York Jets
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -5.5
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Jets 10
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: I’m guessing after practicing against him for a full season last year, cracking the code on Ryan Fitzpatrick shouldn’t be a big deal for Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. If quarterbacks were questions on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Fitzy would be the $100 question.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, November 29 (5-5) — vs New Orleans
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -2
PREDICTION: Texans 29, Saints 24
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The New Orleans defense is coordinated by a homeless man. (Rob Ryan is homeless, right?)
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 6 (6-5) — at Buffalo
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3
PREDICTION: Bills 14, Texans 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: “December in Buffalo” just sounds like one of those business trips where you can’t wait to get home. If there is an eighth circle of hell, it runs right through Orchard Park, New York.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 13 (6-6) — vs New England
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3.5
PREDICTION: Patriots 34, Texans 27
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Tom Brady is going to go on a Michael Corleone-style, score-settling, record-threatening rampage this season, regardless of what week he starts playing. It probably didn’t help that last week Bob McNair put the Deflate-Gate blame almost entirely on Brady’s handling of the situation. Brace yourselves, Houston.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, December 20 (6-7) — at Indianapolis
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +5.5
PREDICTION: Colts 28, Texans 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It’s a road game in Indianapolis. Texans are 0-13 lifetime as a franchise in that building. Next.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, December 27 (6-8) — at Tennessee
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -2.5
PREDICTION: Texans 20, Titans 19
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Marcus Mariota is still a year away from being able to win a game against a defense like this one. Also, the ghost of Bud Adams can stick it!
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, January 3 (7-8) — vs Jacksonville
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -7.5
PREDICTION: Texans 31, Jaguars 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: In seasons where they’ve finished at or above .500, the last time the Texans lost to the Jaguars was 2009. In other words, when the Texans are the better team overall, they generally beat these guys. This will get them back to .500 on the season.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

So if you’re keeping track of how I have the Texans doing within the context of the Pendergast Method, it goes like this:

Must wins: 5-0 (wins vs TB, at JAC, vs TEN, vs NYJ, vs JAC)
Coin flippers: 3-5 (wins at ATL, vs NOLA, at TEN…losses vs KC, at CAR, vs IND, at MIA, at BUF)
Steals: 0-3 (losses at CIN, vs NE, at IND)

SUMMARY: The metaphorical coin lands on its side, the Texans finish 8-8, not good enough for the playoffs, not horrible enough to draft a franchise quarterback. The danger of football purgatory hangs over the city like a black cloud.

If the season were a movie, it would end a lot like The Empire Strikes Back, with the forces of good left staring into space, wondering if they will ever overcome the evil empire. Or overcome the real enemy — the lack of a franchise quarterback.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanCablinasian or email him at sean.pendergast@cbsradio.com.


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