So it's a Tuesday morning, and I'm running through my usual routine in preparing for my radio show on SportsRadio 610. During the NFL season, such prep work includes seeking out the various NFL power rankings, which admittedly have become increasingly more depressing with each passing week for us Texan fans and media.
The first set of power rankings I check are the ones on ESPN.com, and here's what they have to say about your Houston Texans, following their 34-6 loss to the Steelers on Monday afternoon:
25. Houston Texans
2017 record: 4-11
Week 16 ranking: No. 27
8.5 wins: Houston could have very well finished with a winning season had Deshaun Watson stayed healthy. Houston was 3-3 and averaging almost 35 points per game with Watson as the starter. In all other games, Houston has gone 1-8 and averaged 13 points per game.
As you might be able to ascertain from the optics of this blurb, the theme of this week's power rankings on ESPN.com is a comparison of how each team is performing compared to their posted Vegas win total from before the start of the 2017 regular season. Perhaps you notice the same thing I did in reading this entry on the Texans.
Actually two things — first, what in the hell happened around the league this weekend where the Texans actually moved UP two spots following a 28 point loss to the Steelers? Second, and more importantly, the conventional wisdom of Deshaun Watson's absence being the difference between a fringe playoff team (say, 9-7) and where the Texans are about to finish (probably 4-12).
That's Aaron Rodgers-type stuff right there. It's true, Deshaun Watson is just that valuable, so I ask you this — why can't he still be named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year? Before you click down below and send me an email telling me what an idiot I am, hear me out. I realize that it's not going to happen, that it's probably going to one of either Kansas City RB Kareem Hunt (leading the AFC in rushing with 1,292 yards) or New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (over 600 yards rushing and receiving). Both are deserving, and both have played a full season, unlike Watson.
However, Watson's seven game, six start tour de force is good enough so that I wouldn't be laughed out of court for taking his side in a three-way Offensive Rookie of the Year debate. My strategy, if I were invited to such an affair, would be a five-pronged approach:
5. Watson's overall stats are still really good, and he hasn't played since October
In seven games (six starts), Watson completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards. That's nice, but the most remarkable part of Deshaun Watson's statistical game is that he set a league record for the most touchdown passes (19) in the first seven games of an NFL career, breaking the mark set by Kurt Warner when he skippered the "Greatest Show on Turf" in 1999. That amount of TD passes was enough to where Watson, who hasn't played football in two months, was just knocked out of the NFL's top ten in TD passes a couple weeks ago. Also, Watson's 269 yards rushing is still good for ninth in the league among quarterbacks, and it's worth noting he's rushed for more yards than Marcus Mariota (262 yards), a division rival QB who is far more reliant on mobility and running the football than Watson needs to be. Watson went 3-3 in his six starts and very easily could have been 5-1, if Bill O'Brien made different chess moves down the stretch in New England and Seattle.
4. Hell, he is still LEADING the league in a few important stats
The bad news is that when you've played six games and everyone else has played a full season, they will pass you in the volume stats. The good news is that you can still whomp their ass in the per game stats and overall performance ratings. To that end, if he were eligible (his pass attempt amount dipped below league minimums for qualifying this past weekend), Watson would still lead the league in yards per pass attempt (8.3 yards per attempt, which gamblers will tell you is the greatest measure of a QB's play-in, play-out performance) and he would be the runaway league leader in ESPN's exclusive QBR rating, which evaluates quarterbacks based on stats and situational proficiency. Here are the league's QBR leaders for 2017:
(Deshaun Watson, HOU ... 81.7)
1. Carson Wentz, PHI ... 75.3
2. Case Keenum, MIN ... 69.9
3. Tom Brady, NE ... 69.5
4. Dak Prescott, DAL ... 65.6
5. Matt Ryan, ATL .. 63.7
Pretty good stuff there.
3. The "Terrell Davis, Hall of Famer" theory
After years of waiting, Denver running back great Terrell Davis was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer. Davis' calling card was a small window of complete dominance (four seasons, including a 2,000 yard season and a Super Bowl MVP) curtailed by injury. If football voters are so inclined to view a small window of transcendent performance for the biggest honor in the sport, then why not for an award like Offensive Rookie of the Year? When he was healthy, Watson's six starts were statistically (see above) and topically the biggest on-field story in the NFL in that moment. Years from now, will more people be talking about Watson's taking the league by storm in his rookie season or Kareem Hunt's rushing for 1,300 yards? I contend it will be Watson.
2. Deshaun Watson, superstar
As long as we are discussing Watson's star qualities, what other player would have NBC Sunday Night Football features done on his upbringing seven weeks into a stint on the injured reserve list? (Translation: Deshaun Watson is the hero we need!)
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1. The Texans with him scared everybody... without him?
Go back and watch the Texans over the last five games or so. Specifically, watch their offense. Other than DeAndre Hopkins (who is freaking amazing), it's hideous. The line play, the lack of explosiveness in the backfield, the line play, the quarterbacks, the line play, Stephen Anderson, and the line play. Bad. All of it. So bad that it's been averaging around 13 points a game without Watson. With largely that same cast of characters, Watson was triggering the most explosive offense in the league, at around 35 points per game. That's a 22 point difference, or one point for every year that the precocious Watson has existed on this earth.
Yeah, Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara is going to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and good for whoever wins it. I wouldn't trade Deshaun Watson for a clone army of either guy.
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.