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Through the ups and downs, O'Brien has the Texans in position for another division title.
Through the ups and downs, O'Brien has the Texans in position for another division title.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Assessing the Houston Texans Playoff Scenarios

Truth be told, despite the catastrophic loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 14, the Houston Texans went into Sunday's Week 15 game against the Titans with a playoff berth still very much in the "high probability" category. 9-7 is probably going to be good enough for a spot in the dance, and the Texans would have had to really bottom out to go 9-7 (still a mathematical possibility, as they sit at 9-5 with two games left).

Certainly, the Titans needed a win far more than the Texans did on Sunday to feel good about their playoff chances, but alas, it was the Texans emerging victorious, so now, instead of pondering backing into a wild card berth, the Texans can protect their perch atop the AFC South with one more win (or a Titans loss). In short, Sunday's 24-21 victory in Nashville drastically swung the percentages in the Texans' favor when it comes to hosting a wild card round playoff game.

In fact, according to website Five Thirty Eight, the Texans have an 87 percent chance of winning the AFC South now, and are a virtual playoff lock at 98 percent. It's not perfect, but it's probably exceeding the expectations of many coming into the season. (For what it's worth, Vegas had the Texans' win total forecast at 8.5 before the season.)

So let's lay out the possibilities here over the final two weeks of the season. This should give you a quasi-rooting guide for games this coming Sunday, as the schedule maker was kind enough to give the Texans a Saturday game in Tampa, freeing all of us to Red Zone Channel the hell out of Sunday. WOO HOO!

Here are the current standings in the AFC, in playoff configuration, as of Tuesday morning:

                                        W L     DIV    CONF    SOS   SOV
1. Baltimore Ravens       12-2      3-1      8-2       .503   .491
2. New England Patriots 11-3      4-0      7-3       .454   .377
3. Kansas City Chiefs     10-4      5-0      8-3       .526   .489
4. Houston Texans           9-5       4-1      8-3      .513    .488
5. Buffalo Bills                 10-4      3-1      7-3      .418    .329
6. Pittsburgh Steelers       8-6      3-2      6-4      .490     .311
7. Tennessee Titans         8-6      2-3      6-5      .464     .450
8. Cleveland Browns        6-8     3-1       6-4      .538     .464
9. Oakland Raiders          6-8      2-2      4-6       .490    .331
10. Indianapolis Colts      6-8       3-2      5-6       .484    .500

Here are the remaining schedules of the ten teams who still have a mathematical chance at the postseason:

BALTIMORE: @ CLV, vs PIT
NEW ENGLAND: vs BUF, vs MIA
KANSAS CITY: @ CHI, vs LAC
HOUSTON: @ TB, vs TEN
BUFFALO: @ NE, vs NYJ
PITTSBURGH: @ NYJ, @ BAL
TENNESSEE: vs NOLA, @ HOU
CLEVELAND: vs BAL, @ CIN
OAKLAND: @ LAC, @ DEN
INDIANAPOLIS: vs CAR, @ JAC

So, what are the possibilities for the Houston Texans? Let's take a look at this, seed by seed:

AFC 1-SEED: This one is out the window, as the Texans are three games back of the AFC leading Ravens with two games to play, not to mention a head to head loss. All roads to the Super Bowl likely lead through Baltimore, come January.

AFC 2-SEED: According to the above link to Five Thirty Eight, the Texans have just a 2 percent chance at a first round bye. They actually hold the head to head advantage over the Patriots and the Chiefs, having beaten them both this season. However, losses to teams like the Panthers and the Broncos will likely prevent them from taking advantage. The Texans would need to find their way into an 11-5 tie with one or both of the Patriots and Chiefs, and unless the Patriots are resting players in Week 17, they're not losing at home to the Dolphins. Oh, also, apparently the Bills need to be involved for this thing to work, as well:

AFC 3-SEED: This one is interesting. The Texans trail the Chiefs by one game in the standings with the head to head tiebreaker to their benefit. So a tie goes to the Texans. It's probably too much to expect the Chiefs to lose both games (at Chicago, home for the Chargers), so let's assume they go 1-1 (which is still reaching, but necessary for purposes of this hypothetical). The Texans win out, then they would be the 3-seed inn 11-5 tie. The 3-seed would be big for matchup reasons, and here's why — first, it keeps the Ravens out of the picture until the AFC title game, and second, it would set up the Steelers as the wild card round opponent, not the Bills. The Bills are a bad matchup for the Texans, and a better team than the Steelers.

AFC 4-SEED: This is, far and away, the most likely scenario. In fact, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com. there is a 72.3 percent chance that the Texans and Bills will play each other at NRG Stadium in the wild card round (I'm guessing at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday of that weekend, the Texans go-to time slot!). The Texans would then need the 6-seed to win in Kansas City to avoid the Ravens in the divisional round. Yuck.

AFC WILD CARD: If disaster strikes, and the Texans lose their final two games, and they find themselves at 9-7 on the year, here are the potential tie breaker scenarios:

So the Texans are in great shape on tiebreakers, but they can't have the Steelers win their final two games, and go 10-6. Looking at the Steelers schedule, that Week 17 game at Baltimore looks like a loss on paper. However, there is a great chance that the Ravens won't need that game to clinch home field throughout the playoffs, so the Steelers might see Robert Griffin III at quarterback instead of Lamar Jackson.

The bottom line, Texans, is that we would, please, please, please, just like for you to win these final two games so we don't have to wrap our collective brains around wild card tie breaker scenarios.

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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