Things would have been much, much easier if the Texans could have gotten a defensive stop in the last two minutes against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. That would have set up the ultra simple "win and you're the 2-seed" scenario that felt so good for a week. Now, the Texans need the Jets to beat the Patriots on Sunday for that to even be in play.
Oh, there's also the pesky little situation in which an injury-riddled Texans squad needs to handle its business at home against Jacksonville on Sunday, a task that will be much harder than the standings right now would have you believe. If the Texans win, it's pretty simple — they'll be, at worst, the 3-seed in the AFC. If they lose, they will almost assuredly be the 6-seed and have to travel to Baltimore or Indianapolis or Nashville for a wild card round playoff game. (A tie between the Colts and Titans is the only scenario under which the Texans can lose and still win the division.)
Let's dig into this further, with four thing to watch for.....
4. Respecting the opponent
It's easy to look at the Jags' 5-10 record on the season, and look at their dysfunction at the quarterback position — Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler, stand up! — and say "Well, they're back to being the same old Jags," and certainly this is a team that hasn't come close to backing up all of the bluster from their star cornerback Jalen Ramsey this past offseason. However, they still have a ton of talent on defense, a capable running back in Leonard Fournette, and nothing to lose. That's a dangerous combination going against a Texans team with major offensive line issues and injuries gutting the skill positions. The Jags have been down-to-the-final-moments competitive in all but one of their games since losing to the Texans in Week 7, and falling to 3-4 on the season. They shut out the Colts a few weeks ago, and that SHOULD be enough to get everyone's attention in the building over at NRG Stadium.
3. Hopkins versus Ramsey
DeAndre Hopkins has been the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, and on Sunday, he will need to be in order for the Texans to move the football. The Texans lost Will Fuller to a torn ACL in Week 8, traded for Demaryius Thomas, and then lost him to a ruptured Achilles last weekend. Hopkins will likely get an overload of attention on Sunday, including Ramsey, as the other receivers on the field for the Texans will be DeAndre Carter, Vyncint Smith, and.... yeah, let's just keep this moving. GO NUK!
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2. Forcing mistakes
In the first game between these two teams, Blake Bortles was incredibly generous with the football, losing two fumbles that the Texans turned into touchdowns, and that was the difference in the game. The Jags coughed it up a third time, Kessler throwing a pick to Tyrann Mathieu, to seal the game. The Texans have been among the league leaders run turnover margin all season, and actually WON the turnover battle against the Eagles last week by a +2 margin, and still lost. With all of their injuries on offense, the Texans will need a short field or two set up by the defense to win this one.
1. Deshaun Watson, unbreakable
It's probably been this way all season, but it's far more pronounced now with the Texans' issues running the football and the secondary giving up over 400 yards per game in the month of December — this team will go as far as Deshaun Watson can take them. The first Jags game of the season was his first turnover free game since his NFL debut in 2017. Since then, he's kept from throwing picks in every game other than the win over the Redskins. I think this game will be close on Sunday, but in the end, the final result will boil down to "The Texans have Deshaun Watson, and the Jags don't."
SPREAD: Texans -7.5
PREDICTION: Texans 17, Jaguars 13
RECORD: 9-6 SU, 7-8 ATS
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.