The internet has been a wonderful invention. It's allowed us to do all of our Christmas shopping in our underwear, go to college in our underwear, hell even go to work in our underwear. Basically, it's allowed us to do a lot of things in our underwear that we never thought possible, including giving us easy access to statistics/records/tie breaker rules such that a dork like me can easily perform "what if" scenarios for my hometown teams and promptly email them to my friends....in my underwear.
Among my college friends, I've always been that guy. (No not "doing stuff in his underwear" guy, I meant "stat geek, playoff calculation" guy.) Since the late `90's, any time that Notre Dame has still been in the mix for a BCS bowl or even the national title in early November (Yes, it DID happen. Once. In 2002. Now wipe that smirk off your face before I slap it off, Junior!!), I've been the guy who takes a look at the rest of the schedule and figures out the seemingly impossible permutation of events that need to occur to achieve the desired result. From there, I have the unique skill of boiling it down into an easy reference list of "who and what to root for and against." That's right, I can sift through a pile of win-loss minutiae and mold it into something semi-comprehensible. I would say that other than knowing exactly how long to microwave any Chef Boyardee product without reading the instructions, this is my most impressive skill.
Well, needless to say, thanks to the Charlie Weis Era it's been a while since I dusted off this particular talent. Fortunately, the Texans sit in a position where entering December, the playoffs are still a possibility (despite an ulcer-inducing month of November). Yeah, you heard me...the playoffs are a possibility!
I know many of you out there are skeptical. I know this because you email me. You call my show. You tweet. You leave the game with the Texans still only behind by one score against the Colts. You spend the month of December devouring Mel Kiper's Big Board for next April's draft. Well, if you're one of these people, then read no further. For ye of little faith, there's nothing for you to see here. Jump off the train right now, curse Matt Schaub, and go pop in some Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh highights.
Me, I'm heading to that place -- that place where we start to figure out who to root for and against the rest of the way so the Texans' will have more than one game this January. Who's comin' with me? Huh? (Yes, right now I am standing in the middle of an empty room in the Jerry Maguire "who's comin' with me?" crouch.)
All right then, for the twelve of you that hung around, let's start with what we know (NOTE: Records in parentheses are overall, division, and conference records, in that order):
1. It will take an act of Congress for the four division winners not to be New England (AFC East), Cincinnati (AFC North), Indianapolis (AFC South), and San Diego (AFC West).
The fact that the four division winners are this clear-cut may not make it any easier or harder for the Texans to make the playoffs, but at the very least it makes it easier to figure things out. These four teams have spots pretty well locked up, the only questions are:
(1) Will Indianapolis go undefeated? Or more to the point, do they even want to?
(2) Which of the other division winners will get a first-round bye?
The bottom line is that all of these teams have something to play for until the two first-round byes are sewn up, although Indianapolis (11-0, 4-0, 7-0) has essentially clinched the AFC South and is a couple weeks away from clinching home field throughout the playoffs. More on this in a little bit. It's actually relevant to the Texans, if you still believe in their playoff chances(and if you've made it this far, then by God, you believe!!).
As for the other teams:
Cincinnati (8-3, 6-0, 6-3) has a two-game lead over Pittsburgh with a sweep of the division and games remaining with Detroit and Kansas City. In other words, they'll go 10-6 in their sleep which will get it done in the AFC North.
San Diego (8-3, 5-1, 6-3) has a one-game lead over Denver, but is playing Super Bowl-caliber football, while the Broncos are 1-4 after starting 6-0. With games against Cleveland and Washington remaining along with manageable games at Dallas and Tennessee and home for Cincy, the Chargers are in good shape.
New England (7-4, 3-1, 5-3) has a two-game lead over the reeling Jets and Dolphins and play one game against a team over .500 the rest of the way, and that's 6-5 Jacksonville. They also play the Texans in Week 17. More on that momentarily.
So with those four teams firmly entrenched as playoff hosts, we move onto the second thing we know....
2. The AFC wild card picture is a virtual clusterfreak (keeping it clean today for all of you little Texamaniacs out there...).
For purposes of this exercise, I am going to establish 5-6 as the cut-off point because (a) if you're not 5-6 at this point, you're not getting into the playoffs, and (b) our PLAYOFF-BOUND HOUSTON TEXANS ARE 5-6!! YEEEEEE HAAAAHHHH!!!
Here are the contestants in the AFC Wild Card Beauty Contest, in order of what kind of shape they're in (subjective combo of records, remaining schedule, congeniality and swimsuit contests)...
Denver (7-4, 2-1, 5-3)
Jacksonville (6-5, 2-2, 5-2)
Baltimore (6-5, 3-2, 6-4)
Pittsburgh (6-5, 1-3, 4-4)
HOUSTON (5-6, 1-4, 4-5)
Tennessee (5-6, 2-3, 3-6)
NY Jets (5-6, 1-4, 4-5)
Miami (5-6, 3-2, 3-4)
So there's the list of suspects. My initial thought is that Bill Parcells always said you are what your record is, and over the course of an entire season, I agree, but looking at these teams, especially the 5-6 teams...well, does anyone think the Dolphins and Jets are nearly as dangerous as the Titans right now? (On the Texans, you know where I stand on this. The reason I type this manifesto? PLAYOFFS BABY!! PLAYOFFS!!!)
Okay, so now that we have the facts, what should we be rooting for and against each weekend within the context of the Texans making the playoffs? It would seem as simple as root for the Texans and against all of the other teams in the wild card mix, but we need to have priorities. What are they? Well, I'll tell ya, and in order of importance! Here goes...
1. ROOT FOR THE TEXANS to win all of their games.
2. ROOT AGAINST JACKSONVILLE regardless of who they're playing.
Why is this so important? It's pretty simple. If the Texans beat Jacksonville this weekend, then they'll have the same overall record (6-6), a season split head-to-head, and the same division record (2-4), assuming Indy takes care of them in Week 15 (no gimme as the Jags gave Indy everything they could handle in Week 1, 14-12, plus by Week 15 Indy may be folding the proverbial tents as they are already three games ahead of the next closest team in the AFC). So the next tiebreaker is conference record, and a Texans win Sunday would leave the Jags at 5-3 in the AFC and the Texans at 5-5.
This is a bigger killer than you'd think when there are potentially so many teams that could wind up at 9-7 for that last spot because the first process in the tiebreaker when there are three or more teams tied for the wild card is to whittle it down by division so that there is one potential remaining team from each division. In other words, if the wild card is a 9-7 mess of, say, four teams and two of them are the Texans and Jags, it doesn't matter how the Texans stack up against the other teams; they need to be beat the Jags in a tie-breaker just to stay in the consideration process.
If none of that makes sense, then just please trust me, the more Jacksonville loses, the better it is for the Texans. For informational purposes, here is Jacksonville's schedule:
Week 13: vs Houston
Week 14: vs Miami
Week 15: vs Indianapolis
Week 16: at New England
Week 17: at Cleveland
The good news is, if the Texans take care of business this weekend, I think Jacksonville has a hard time finding two more wins, assuming Indy is trying in Week 15. That's a BIG "if"....which makes me think that it might make sense to...
2A. ROOT FOR DENVER in Week 14 against the COLTS.
The more I think about it, the more I think we need to ensure Indy gives a rat's ass in Week 15 against Jacksonville. In Week 13, they play Tennessee. For reasons based in sound logic (Tennessee winning is not good for the Texans as both are 5-6 right now, and Tennessee beating the Colts would give the Titans even more momentum.) and an avoidance of vomiting (VY beating the undefeated Colts? I'm not ready for the phone calls and emails...), we can't root for Tennessee. It's probably okay to root for the Broncos in Week 14 to beat the Colts; Denver is 7-4 with TWO Kansas City games and an Oakland game left and a 5-3 conference record, so the Texans are unlikely to catch them anyway.
So bring it Kyle Orton! Let's go, B-Marsh! You da man, Knowshon!!! Beat the Colts in Week 14, and do us all a favor! (The fact that the Saints are still undefeated and keeping the idiotic 1972 Dolphins at bay also helps make this decision easier.)
3. ROOT AGAINST THE TITANS.
Why? Because they have the same record as the Texans, and we need to take this rivalry to the next level...so I say, root against them JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE THE TITANS!!!! BASTARDS!!!
In all seriousness, best case Titans finish 8-8. Take a look:
Week 13: at Indianapolis
Week 14: vs St Louis
Week 15: vs Miami
Week 16: vs San Diego
Week 17: at Seattle
8-8 at best. I so want to call 7-9 or 6-10, but I think Kerry Collins will bail Vince out at some point. (Kidding, VY lovers...)
4. Among the potential division winners, ROOT FOR NEW ENGLAND, and ROOT AGAINST CINCINNATI and SAN DIEGO.
On the surface, one would ask "Why does it matter what the division winners do, we're competing with the rest of the wild card mess, right?" Well, yes, but keep in mind that the Week 17 game for the Texans, which in a perfect world will be a game the Texans need for a 10-6 record, is against the New England Patriots. The more the Chargers and Bengals lose, and the more the Patriots win, then the better chance there is for the Pats to lock up a first-round bye before the Texans game, which would likely mean Tom Brady taking the day off. On the surface, it would appear like this is VERY unlikely since the Chargers and Bengals are both a game ahead of the 7-4 Pats right now, and that's probably true. However, the Patriots schedule looks like this between now and Week 17:
Week 13: at Miami
Week 14: vs Carolina
Week 15: at Buffalo
Week 16: vs Jacksonville
Patriots are at least five-point favorites in all of those games. So 7-4 will likely be 11-4 heading into the Texans game. Again, that game will probably mean something for the Patriots as it's doubtful both Cincy and San Diego fall behind the Pats by Week 17, especially because they play each other in Week 15, but stranger things have happened.
One other ancillary reason to root against Cincinnati -- if they happen to stumble badly down the stretch and fall into the wild-card mess, the Texans have a head-to-head win over them. Again, it's something that has like a two-percent chance of mattering but since there's no good reason to root for the Bengals, why not root against them!
5. To be safe, ROOT A LITTLE EXTRA HARD AGAINST THE NEW YORK JETS.
Honestly, I think the wheels have started to come off for Rex Ryan's bunch. Kris Jenkins, their monstrous nose tackle and cornerstone of their 3-4 defense, is out for the season, and the league seems to have caught up to rookie QB Mark Sanchez. However, they did beat the Texans in Week 1, and the fewer teams you have hanging around that beat you head-to-head, the safer you are.
Before you write off the Jets, just look at the schedule:
Week 13: at Buffalo
Week 14: at Tampa Bay
Week 15: vs Atlanta
Week 16: at Indianapolis
Week 17: vs Cincinnati
The Jets will be favored in the first three of those games, and likely will be facing an Indianapolis team that has sewn up home field throughout the playoffs. Hell, in Week 17 Cincinnati may have sewn up the OTHER first round bye. In short, the Jets schedule is easier than it looks; now they may have run out of gas, which means it won't matter, but if they regroup, they're a darkhorse.
6. In Miami's games other than the ones against the PATRIOTS and TEXANS, ROOT FOR THE DOLPHINS.
The Dolphins are the one team in the 6-5/5-6 mess that truly have the most control over their destiny, as they play all of their games against potential AFC playoff teams. (The flip side is they will probably be underdogs in all five of those games, but what the heck.) Here's their schedule:
Week 13: vs New England
Week 14: at Jacksonville
Week 15: at Tennessee
Week 16: vs Houston
Week 17: vs Pittsburgh
The bottom line is if the Texans take care of their business in Week 16 against the Dolphins (and it goes without saying in Weeks 13-15 against Jacksonville, Seattle and St. Louis), then the Dolphins become a virtual non-factor to the Texans as they would have the head-to-head tiebreaker on Miami, so go ahead and let Miami be your BFF and run roughshod over everyone else. Probably wishful thinking as I think the Dolphins have 6-10 written all over them, but it's all about whom to root for!!
7. Know this...the TEXANS are one of two teams in the wild-card jumble (PITTSBURGH is the other) that will be a favorite in 4 of its last 5 games. Here are their schedules:
Week 13: at Jacksonville
Week 14: vs Seattle
Week 15: at St. Louis
Week 16: at Jacksonville
Week 17: vs New England
Week 13: vs Oakland
Week 14: at Cleveland
Week 15: vs Green Bay
Week 16: vs Baltimore
Week 17: at Miami
Two very manageable schedules; the Texans may need the defending World Champs to fall asleep at the wheel. One problem -- they're defending World Champs for a reason. (Does anyone reading this have access to a hammer and Ben Roethlisberger's skull? Just asking.)
So once again, here is the abridged version of the TEXANS PLAYOFF ROOTING MANIFESTO, 2009 EDITION:
* INDIANAPOLIS (11-0, 4-0, 7-0) -- ROOT FOR (except Week 14 vs Denver)
* CINCINNATI (8-3, 6-0, 6-3) -- ROOT AGAINST
* SAN DIEGO (8-3, 5-1, 6-3) -- ROOT AGAINST
* NEW ENGLAND (7-4, 3-1, 5-3) -- ROOT FOR (until Week 17 at Houston)
WILD CARD CONTENDERS
* DENVER (7-4, 2-1, 5-3) -- ROOT AGAINST (except Week 14 at Indianapolis)
* JACKSONVILLE (6-5, 2-2, 5-2) -- ROOT AGAINST (with every fiber of your being)
* BALTIMORE (6-5, 3-2, 6-4) -- ROOT AGAINST
* PITTSBURGH (6-5, 1-3, 4-4) -- ROOT AGAINST
* Note: Baltimore and Pittsburgh play each other in Week 16. Who to root for in that game will depend on the standings at that time.
* NY JETS (5-6, 1-4, 4-5) -- ROOT AGAINST (more than you think you should)
* TENNESSEE (5-6, 2-3, 3-6) -- ROOT AGAINST (and spit at a Titans fan if you see them on the street)
* MIAMI (5-6, 3-2, 3-4) -- ROOT AGAINST in Weeks 13 and 16, ROOT FOR in Week 14, 15, and 17
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My prediction on how all of this ends up?
1. Indianapolis 14-2
2. San Diego 12-4
3. Cincinnati 11-5
4. New England 11-5
5. Denver 10-6
6. HOUSTON 10-6
C'mon, you don't think I was going to type nearly 3,000 words on what needs to happen for the Texans to get to the promised land and then pick them to go 8-8, did you? I'm staying positive; I don't have the energy to be pissed off anymore. I'm saving that for the announcers of the BCS title game which will set the record for Tebow-slurpage and "roommate" references.
By the way, in my world, a six-seed for the Texans would mean a return trip to Cincinnati, the site of their most complete performance of the season. A win there would mean....
Damn, how about we just beat Jacksonville this weekend, huh fellas?