Earlier this week, on my morning radio show on SportsRadio 610, my cohost (former Houston Texan, Seth Payne) and I were having one of those "greatest moments of the decade" conversations that are a staple in that medium this time of year. The particular superlative being discussed was "greatest signature plays in Texans history from 2010 through 2019." Easy enough, right?
Well, here's the thing — the top of the list is easy, it's J.J. Watt's pick six in the team's first ever playoff win, a 31-10 thumping of the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2011. However, it's compiling the list beyond that play that illustrates what exactly Bill O'Brien is dealing with, from an ethos standpoint, with the Texans' fan base. For a team that's won six division titles in the last nine seasons, it's a franchise whose history, in that same chronological footprint, is relatively devoid of signature moments.
Deshaun Watson has a handful of regular season plays, but when most of your memorable moments are bunched up with spectacular, unscripted plays from ONE GUY, and they're each in some random week during the regular season, that's not good. O'Brien and the Texans need to start creating some signature moments, and quickly. The Texans have made the leap from perennial NON playoff team in the 2000s to perennial playoff team in the 2010s. Now is the time to begin the leap into the 2020s as a team that can make SERIOUS noise nearly every postseason.
It begins this Saturday with the Buffalo Bills coming to town. The last time Buffalo met a Houston NFL team in the postseason... well, avert your eyes, or don't click play....
It's a completely different franchise, with a roster full of players who weren't even alive for that game. So forget about 1993. What are the focal points for THIS game, THIS Saturday. Here we go....
4. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson
The strength of this Bills' defense is in defending the pass. They rank 6th overall in defensive DVOA (courtesy of Football Outsiders), but just 18th against the run. Teams have had decent success moving the ball on the ground against the Bills, particularly in the second half of the season. We know Bill O'Brien is going to try to establish the run, because there are times that's ALL he ever talks about — ESTABLISHING THE RUN. So this could be a Carlos Hyde kind of game, with some Duke Johnson sprinkled in. Fun fact — in games where Carlos Hyde has had 19 or more carries this season, the Texans are 6-0.
3. Kevin Johnson
Speaking of that vaunted Bills pass defense, guess who is part of their rotation in the secondary? Yes, you guessed it! Former Texans first round pick, Kevin Johnson! (I'll bet the name "Kevin Johnson" being typed above this paragraph gave it away. Dammit.) When the Bills are fully healthy, Johnson is a part time player for them, with the starters at corner being the great Tra'Davious White and Levi Wallace. Well, Wallace left the Week 17 game against the Jets with an ankle injury that was bad enough for him to be carted off the field. This means we could get a healthy dosage of Johnson at the corner spot opposite White. Now, to take full advantage, the Texans will need a healthy Will Fuller, and he's been limited in practice all week.
2. John Brown
As good as the Bills are defensively, they are quite challenged offensively. Quarterback Josh Allen has made a big leap in his second year, but it was a leap whose original basis was near the bottom of starting QB's in the league. So now, Allen is firmly in the middle of the third tier (like, somewhere between 14th and 20th) of the league's pack of starters. Thus, in order to score points, even against the Texans' mediocre defense, the Bills will need a few big plays. Enter Brown, who is the team's most dangerous deep threat. The question will be "Can Allen hit him?" Allen still has major accuracy issues, and as we saw in the Texans' win over Tampa Bay, guys will get open downfield, the QB has to connect, though. (In that Tampa game, Jameis Winston missed about five wide open deep shots.)
1. J.J. Watt, 2019, Chapter II
Here is the biggest x-factor in this game — Watt returned to the active roster this week, and will play on Saturday in this game. How much he plays is a mystery at this point, but if he gives the Texans several good snaps in obvious passing situations, that's better than no Watt at all. Watt reportedly gave an impassioned speech to his teammates at practice this week, a speech that gave Laremy Tunsil "chills." I think Watt realizes he is running out of time to play a playoff game in the conference title round, and he wants to be there for it, when it does happen.
SPREAD: Texans -3
PREDICTION: Texans 19, Bills 17
SEASON RECORD: 11-5 SU, 9-6-1 ATS