Sunday's Week 5 matchup between the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons will have a ton of multilayered significance. Some of it will certainly be emotional significance, with October 6 being the first Texans Founder's Day and the induction of the late Bob McNair into the team's Ring of Honor (more on that in a minute). Then, there's the actual, on field significance of this game, which is now slightly terrifying, if you're a Houston Texans fan.
The Texans did themselves no favors by spitting the bit agains the Panthers on Sunday to fall to 2-2 on the season, as it's created a near "must win" situation in this game against the 1-3 Falcons. Here's why — after Sunday's game, the Texans play exactly one home game (Week 8 versus the Oakland Raiders) between then and November 21. JUST ONE.
The schedule goes like this:
Week 6 — 10/13 at Kansas City
Week 7 — 10/20 at Indianapolis
Week 8 — 10/27 vs Oakland
Week 9 — 11/3 vs Jacksonville (in London)
Week 10 — BYE
Week 11 — at Baltimore
If the 2-2 Texans are who they've been thus far this season, the Texans will be underdogs, to varying degrees, in each of those four road games. So at 3-2 after Sunday's game, if you weather that road trip laden storm at 2-3, you're still 5-5 with the soft part of your schedule still ahead in December. If you're 2-3 after Sunday, and then go 2-3 in the next five, or God forbid the odds hold up and you go 1-4, then your season is on life support.
In short, this is a massive game, and the Falcons are, unfortunately, at 1-3 on the season, desperate. The Texans' best hope from an opposition psyche standpoint is that the team has given up on Dan Quinn (who, coincidentally, is tied with Bill O'Brien at 4/1 for second shortest odds on the "First NFL head coach to be fired" chart on betonline.ag).
Here are four things to watch for on Sunday....
4. Founder's Day
On October 5, 1999, Bob McNair got the notification from the National Football League — by a unanimous vote of 29-0 the league would be awarding an expansion team to the city of Houston, thus ending, by 2002, the short, but painful, nightmare of being a city without a football team. For nearly the next two decades, McNair would oversee the team through its ups and downs on the field, and in the process, establishing his legacy of philanthropy, which saw him donate over half a billion dollars to various causes. Recognizing McNair seems very appropriate on this anniversary of football's return to Houston, as it probably never happens without McNair's drive to get it done. He will join wide receiver Andre Johnson as the only two inductees into the Ring of Honor.
3. Julio Jones, the next number one WR
Back to the on the field stuff. In the first two games, the Texans have been solid defensively in two close, low scoring games at home, and a little less solid in the two, higher scoring road games. One of the areas that led to opposing offense productivity in the two road games was the presence of a true No. 1 wide receiver, with Michael Thomas (10 catches, 123 yards) of the Saints and Keenan Allen (13 catches, 183 yards, 2 TD's) of the Chargers. Now comes Julio Jones, who has 317 yards and four touchdowns on the season, and with second year man Calvin Ridley on the other side, this Falcons passing offense is tough to defend. I'm anticipating LOTS of phone calls to the Texans post game show (which I host with former NFL QB Clint Stoerner) lamenting Johnathan Joseph's extended cushions against Jones (and lots of easy 15 yard pitch-and-catch plays between Jones and QB Matt Ryan).
2. Turnover battle
Offensively, the Falcons have been fine moving the football through the air (second in the NFL in passing yards), despite their 1-3 record. The problem has been turnovers, where the Falcons are among the worst in the league at -5. (For what it's worth, the Texans are ahead of the curve at +2.) This is the scary part of the game for me on Sunday — I'd rather face a team that struggles to move the football, but protects it really well, than a team that can go up and down the field, but has turned the ball over a bunch. Basically, it's easier to be more careful with the football than it is to, all of a sudden, become better at executing your offense and moving the ball. The Falcons are going to score points. It will be up to the Texans to match their firepower, which likely falls on....
1. Deshaun Watson, Georgia native
This will be the first time Watson has ever played the team that he not only grew up rooting for, but also was a ball boy for back in his high school days. (Feeling old, Matt Ryan?) The Texans at home, going back to last season's playoff loss to the Colts, have scored just one touchdown in each of their last three home games. Their two touchdown drives at home this season have each been four plays long, one for 11 yards and the other for 18 yards. In short, the offense at home has been a mess, and the part that doesn't fall on head coach Bill O'Brien falls on Watson to be more decisive in getting rid of the football, and not taking nearly as many negative plays as he did on Sunday against the Panthers.
SPREAD: Texans -5.5
PREDICTION: Texans 30, Falcons 28
SEASON RECORD: 2-2 SU, 3-1 ATS