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NFL Week 17 Finale: Titans 41, Texans 38 — Four Winners, Four Losers

Derrick Henry (22) had another monster year for the Titans in 2020.
Derrick Henry (22) had another monster year for the Titans in 2020.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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As the Houston Texans' 2020 season was crashing into a brick wall back in early October, and it became quite evident that the search for new leadership in 2021 was going to be mroe compelling than any of the games on Sunday, I often let my mind wander ahead to this very day — the day after the season ended, and I wondered "What would it feel like?"

Would it be a sense of relief? Would I still be angry over practically every move made by Bill O'Brien? Would it all feel like a bad dream, like a cloud had been lifted? So as I sit here sifting through the ashes of another brutal loss, 41-38 to the Tennessee Titans, my prevailing emotion is hope. Indeed, there WILL be a new GM, an actual NFL adult, architecting this thing, and a new head coach, someone presumably several steps ahead of whatever O'Brien was.

And there is Deshaun Watson, and through him, all things football-wise are possible. I truly believe that. What we learned this season about Deshaun is he isn't great enough to overcome the worst mismanagement of an NFL roster and resources in league history. However, I still think he is good enough to carry an average roster to great things.

Hope is here, hope that the next GM and head coach can be great, but if they're not great, that they are capable enough to surround Watson with competent teammates and call the right plays on Sundays. Basically, I hope they find ACTUAL "dependable, tough, smart" players, who also happen to be, y'know, GOOD AT FOOTBALL. Now, onto winner and losers from this weekend (with very little coverage of yesterday's largely meaningless Texans game):

WINNERS

4. Dr. Allen Sills
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sills, he is the NFL's Chief Medical Officer, and the brains behind every COVID-related initiative the league has had to implement to get football onto the field this fall. Whether you enjoyed the quality of the football this season or not, the mere fact that we not only got a full regular season, but that it all was able to unfold in the normal 17 week window is nothing short of a miracle. Remember back in Week 5 when the league was shifting literally EIGHT games around, like a schedule shell game, and it appeared a lock that we would have to add weeks onto the regular season just to get 16 games for each team in? Well, somehow, we made it, and the playoffs will start next week, and we can all look forward to brighter days with fans back in the stands in full force in 2021. Kudos, NFL! You did it.

3. Alvin Kamara fantasy owners
Now, part of the kudos for Sills and his policies are wrapped up in this reality — there WILL be more positive COVID tests, and chances are, there WILL be a significant Super Bowl contender affected by league-mandated isolation for that positive test and/or the subsequent contact tracing. We are already seeing this play out with the New Orleans Saints, who were missing their star RB Alvin Kamara for Week 17, and might lose him for a portion of the postseason, due to a positive COVID test this past week. Kamara is one of the two or three most valuable non-quarterbacks in the sport, so this is huge news. I guess the silver lining for all of the Kamara fantasy owners (I am raising my hand) is that he squeezed in his six touchdown performance on Christmas Day before the contracted the virus. (We can joke about this, because he is asymptomatic. Settle down, people.)

2. Cleveland Browns
The pain of your team being out of the playoff mix is really accentuated when you see the scene unfolding in Cleveland yesterday afternoon, where the Browns, who did everything they could the last two weeks to try to cough up a playoff spot. Yet there they were, Browns fans, enjoying the fruits of a good head coaching hire, and making the postseason for the first time since 2002. I can't even imagine what that's like, rooting for a team that misses the playoffs for nearly 20 years, and grinds through dozens of quarterbacks and coaches long the way. Again, Cal McNair, I beg you, GET THESE HIRES RIGHT.

1. Buffalo Bills
It's crazy to think that a year ago TODAY, the Texans beat the Bills in a playoff game. Now, a year later, the victors in that game are trying to find a new head coach, a new general manager, and dealing with the reality of having no first or second round pick in the draft. Meanwhile, the losers in that game have a QB who is a dark horse MVP candidate, and they are going into the playoffs as the hottest team in football, 9-1 in their last 10 games (the only loss, on a DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary catch), with the last six wins all by double digits, and the last three by 29, 29, and 30 points. A Bills-Chiefs AFC title game has a chance to be a classic.

LOSERS

4. Brandin Cooks' grasp of NFL reality
The Texans' new general manager, whoever he may be, will have a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason in trying to cobble together the resources to give Deshaun Watson the roster he deserves. The Texans are short on draft picks and short on salary cap space, and one path to recouping some of both would be to trade wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Now, trading Brandin Cooks for a decent draft pick is nothing new. Three teams — the Saints, Patriots, and Rams — have done that already in Cooks' seven year career. It would appear, based on these comments, that he is kind of done with that:

I like Cooks. He is a capable NFL receiver with speed, who can get open. I'd like him to be here next year. That said, I'm fascinated to see an NFL with three years left on his contact try to somehow force free agency instead of accepting a trade. Would he retire? Would he just turn into a malcontent? I'm fascinated.

3. Tom Herman
I don't know if I've ever seen a college football head coach fired within a week after beating his bowl game opponent by more than 30 points, but Tom Herman managed to pull that off this week. In a tenure at the University of Texas short on accomplishments and long on bluster, the former University of Houston head coach, who was viewed as a "can't miss" head coach at UT, is out after four seasons. Ultimately what did Herman in was the plethora of losses to unranked teams while Texas was ranked, seven in all during his four seasons. Perhaps even more curious is the replacement for Herman, Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian, who was last seen in the college game getting fired by USC in 2015 for repeated alcohol-related incidents. It's quite the fall from grace for Herman, and I can't say I (or anyone who loves Houston) feels badly for the guy. In fact, let's relive the magic of this interview the day before he took the UT job in 2016:

2. Trevor Lawrence
It's tough to call Lawrence a "loser" in the traditional sense, as he lost as a collegiate quarterback for just the second time in his entire three year career on Friday against Ohio State. He's also about to be the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft, and it appears there's a decent chance that Urban Meyer is going to be his next head coach in Jacksonville. That said, here's an interesting career arc —

2018: National champions
2019: National runner up
2020: Blown out in the semifinals
2021: Likely last place in the AFC South

I suppose the analogy for this would be an actor whose career arc goes something like this — Academy Award winner, Netflix sitcom lead, corporate human resource videos, porn.

1. Romeo Crennel
Crennel seems like a nice man, a real sweetheart of a human being, but it's probably a good thing for him that he was committing his usual array of heads scratching coaching decisions amidst a lost season, because I would have been far angrier if the games had actually mattered. So while I thank Romeo for taking on a job that he hadn't signed up for at the beginning of the year, I will not miss watching him punt on 4th and 2 from midfield on the opening drive of a game where the Texans should be doing all sorts of radical stuff to win the game. Good bye and godspeed, Romeo.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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