Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 17 FINALLY: Titans-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

Could this be J.J. Watt's last game in a Houston Texans' uniform on Sunday?
Could this be J.J. Watt's last game in a Houston Texans' uniform on Sunday? Photo by Eric Sauseda
While the 2020 Houston Texans have undoubtedly been a major disappointment, it's hard to say that they are even the biggest disappointment in recent Texans' history. Considering they came into 2013 with Super Bowl expectations, something the 2020 Texans were not saddled with (despite Bill O'Brien making a series of mad scientist moves, as if they WERE in that mix), that Gary Kubiak-coached squad in 2013 that ultimately went 2-14 and secured the first pick in the draft was a bigger failure than this group.

While maybe we couldn't see a 4-11 record through 15 games coming, I think even the most diehard Texan fans knew that failure lurked around the corner. And man, did it ever! Bill O'Brien was fired four weeks into the season, and every J.J. Watt press conference feels like the nine year defensive end is getting closer and closer to killing someone with his bare hands.

So now the 2020 season mercifully comes to an end on Sunday afternoon for the Texans, and the attention will turn to hiring a new head coach and general manager. So let's lay out a few things to watch for in a game that means virtually nothing for the Texans, but could mean a playoff spot and/or division crown for the Tennessee Titans:

4. Derrick Henry's quest for 2,000 yards
When we last saw Derrick Henry against the Texans, he was rushing for over 200 yards on their defense in Week 6 this season, a Texans overtime loss. When we last saw him before that, he was closing out the 2019 season by rushing for over 200 yards against the Texans. So now on Sunday, Henry is not only trying to become the first running back to go over 200 yards in a game for three straight games against the same opponent, but with 223 yards, he will become the eighth back in league history to go over the 2,000 yard mark in a season.

3. Watson's quest for most passing yards
Speaking of statistical milestones, have I mentioned that Deshaun Watson has been incredible statistically this season while toiling on a horrific roster conceived by Bill O'Brien? Oh, that's right, I've mentioned it every week since the beginning of October. Last week, Watson become the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for 30 touchdown passes in a season, and he is doing it while protecting the football at an elite level, just six picks all year. It is expected that Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes is going to rest on Sunday, and if he does, Watson will need 283 yards to surpass him and win the passing yardage title this season. Watson is averaging over 297 yards per game through the air in 2020.

2. Tackle play
Of course, to get those numbers, it will help if Watson is protected and kept upright, something the Texans have had a harder time doing in the month of December. This Sunday, they will likely have to do so with backups at both tackle spots, with left tackle Laremy Tunsil hobbled by a sprained ankle and right tackle Tytus Howard on injured reserve with a concussion. That means we will likely see swing tackle Roderick Johnson at left tackle and rookie Charlie Heck at right tackle. For what it's worth, the Texans actually ran the football very well with this tackle combination last week, but Heck did surrender the strip sack that effectively ended last week's comeback attempt.

1. J.J. Watt's last game?
Watt's situation has been a saga all year long. Even at age 31, he is still this team's most valuable and effective defensive player, but the losing and the ineptitude of what surrounds him on defense is clearly wearing on him, as we saw in his now internet-famous rant following the loss to the Bengals last week:
Once the team hires a new head coach and GM, the attention will turn to Watt's future, the biggest player storyline of the offseason, bar none. I think Watt being in Houston in 2021 is still the betting favorite, but a trade is not out of the question, and would represent one of the saddest days in Houston sports history, if it does happen.

SPREAD: Texans +7
PREDICTION: Titans 38, Texans 28

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast