On Friday, I received an email from the Texans' outstanding, award-winning media relations staff informing me that today's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers would be the official Fan Appreciation Day of the 2017 season, complete with a giveaway at the front gate and a halftime scramble where 11 lucky season ticket holders will get a chance to win prizes. WOO HOO!
The only problem I see with this plan is that there is a decent chance that there will be more Pittsburgh Steeler fans than Houston Texan fans in the building, as the Texans wind down what might go down as the most disappointing season in the franchise's short history, considering the sheer joy and unbridled optimism generated by Deshaun Watson before he tore his ACL in early November.
Honestly, as far as appreciating the fans goes, as someone who lives with a season ticket holder, I'd settle for a written promise from Bob McNair handed to fans on their way into the stadium that he will keep ticket prices the same for the 2018 season. That's not too much to ask now, is it?
For now, let's find some actual football reasons to dial into this game today.....
4. Bill O'Brien — his present, his future, his demeanor in the postgame
The biggest story surrounding the Houston Texans is undoubtedly the future of head coach Bill O'Brien. If we are to believe the reports that are out there, O'Brien apparently doesn't exactly have general manager Rick Smith on his Christmas card list, and with one season remaining on the head coach's contract after this year, everyone can see that this thing is going to come to a head very, very soon, especially since the team could approach O'Brien with a contract extension offer after the season, at which time he could make certain demands — and then it's on! It seems to be a foregone conclusion (and a demoralizingly sad one) that O'Brien would lose a political battle with Smith, even though there is zero proof that Smith is even average at his job. Players, including Deshaun Watson, have lined up in support of their head coach, but it may not matter in the end. Seeing O'Brien handle his numerous media sessions over the final two weeks of the season should be fascinating. (Worth noting, O'Brien does more open media sessions in one week than Smith does in a calendar year.)
3. Pittsburgh's wide receivers
The injuries have certainly been frustrating for Texans fans this season, but the frustration is compounded by the fact that the drop off from starter to reserve in most cases is like a fall into the Grand Canyon. If you want to see a team that knows how to scout talent and draft capable backups, watch the Texans' opponent today. They lost the most dynamic non-quarterback skill player in the league (WR Antonio Brown) to a leg injury last week, and they'll probably still go for over 300 yards in the passing game because Martavis Bryant and rookie Juju Smith-Schuster are both super explosive themselves. In fact, when you consider some of the wide receivers the Steelers have plucked outside of the first round during general manager Kevin Colbert's reign — Emanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Brown, Bryant, Smith-Schuster — the Texans should just hire whoever scouts wide receivers for the Steelers as their next GM.
2. Texan statistical milestones
Well, if the team is going to get smoked on the scoreboard, the least we can do is see if some statistical milestones occur. So go ahead and root for the following:
* WR DeAndre Hopkins needs 24 catches and 285 yards to break Andre Johnson's single season record.
* RB Lamar Miller needs 204 yards to become the third running back in Texans history with multiple 1,000 yard seasons.
* OLB Jadeveon Clowney needs one sack to hit double digit sacks for the first time in his career.
* QB T.J. Yates can tie Brian Hoyer for sixth in all-time wins as a starting QB with one more win, and tie Sage Rosenfels and Ryan Fitzpatrick for fourth all-time in wins with a sweep of the final two games.
Ok, now I'm reaching.
1. David Quessenberry
I mentioned Quessenberry among the five Texans for whom the final two games of the season matter in a post on Friday, but he is worth mentioning again here. We are all wringing our hands over J.J. Watt's rehabbing his knee, Whitney Mercilus' pectoral muscle healing, and of course, Deshaun Watson's knee. Hey, all rightfully so, these guys are important players! But let's level set here... David Quessenberry is returning from something could have literally killed him, where the treatments sap your will to live and physically shrink you to a size where, for Quessenberry, you can no longer perform your chosen vocation. And now here he is, expected to get playing time in an NFL game, back to his normal playing weight, and showing not only tremendous resolve, but amazing patience. FIVE YEARS, he's waited. In April, it will be five years since the Texans drafted him, and this will be his debut. To put that into perspective, Quessenberry's draft classmates included D.J. Swearinger, Brennan Williams, Sam Montgomery, and Trevardo Williams.
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Along those lines, here's a "WTF Rick Smith" stat for you — the second Quessenberry plays one snap, he will have played the fourth most games for the Texans out of their entire nine-man 2013 draft class, trailing only Hopkins, Ryan Griffin, and Swearinger.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
SPREAD: Steelers -10
PREDICTION: Steelers 34, Texans 13
RECORD: 11-3 SU, 8-6 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.