On the surface, for the Houston Texans, Week 17 of the 2015 season looks a lot like Week 17 of the 2014 season — the Jacksonville Jaguars come to town long ago eliminated from playoff consideration, while the Texans remain in the playoff conversation with an 8-7 record. Those are the surface similarities.
Peel one layer back, though, and this season the Texans are a virtual lock for the playoffs (as opposed to praying for help from Connor Shaw last season). In all likelihood, there may be as much attention being paid to smartphones on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium as there will be paid to the action on the field, as any one of eight other outcomes in games being played on Sunday can trigger a celebration for the Texans. (More on that in a second.)
For now, we will just hope that this nearly iron clad AFC South title, the Texans third in five years, didn't get jinxed by a) the Colts firing Chuck Pagano on Friday contingent on their not making the playoffs (yes, that happened) and b) the Texans' mailing out playoff tickets to season ticket holders. What could go wrong?
Now, a few things to watch on Sunday....
4. Brian Hoyer's rust proofing
The last time Hoyer was seen taking a snap in an NFL game, he was being chased around by the Patriots front seven in that disappointing Sunday night game. One T.J. Yates ACL tear and a rescue job by Brandon Weeden later, Hoyer is back in the saddle for the final game of the season. If there's one thing offensively that Texan fans should wish for (other than Secret Service protection for DeAndre Hopkins) heading into the postseason, it's a crisp outing from Hoyer on Sunday. (Side bar — how weird is it that, with all the shuffling at quarterback, that the stabilizing force was Brandon F-ing Weeden?!)
3. Surrounding Bortles
Statistically, Blake Bortles appears to be a better quarterback in 2015 than he was in 2016, as he's been among the leaders for most of the season in touchdown passes and passing yards. However, he still has accuracy issues (59 percent completion percentage) and problems with decision making (16 INT's) and holding the ball too long (11 fumbles). One asset Bortles does have is athleticism, as he's actually been the leading rusher for the Jags in the last two meeting with the Texans, including 63 yards in last season's finale. Keeping Bortles in the pocket, where bad things can happen for him, is a huge key Sunday.
2. Clowney-less Mercilus
Sports hernia, concussion, torn meniscus, microfracture knee surgery, sprained ankle, lower back stiffness.... no, that's not the syllabus for a pre-med class, those are all of the injuries suffered by Jadeveon Clowney since being drafted by the Texans. Well, go ahead and add some sort of mysterious foot ailment to the mix now, too. It appears Clowney will miss the game Sunday, which means he will have missed both Jags games this year. The good news is that, with Clowney down, Whitney Mercilus has had some of his best games of his career, including a two sack effort against the Jags in Week 6.
1. The scoreboard
In case you're going to the game on Sunday, just know that the scoreboard will be turned off. That's bad news for gamblers and people following Week 17 playoff scenarios, but on the oft chance that you're able to get a signal inside the stadium, here is your cheat sheet as to the nine things the Colts need to happen in order to win the AFC South:
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* Jacksonville must beat HOUSTON
* INDIANAPOLIS must beat Tennessee
* BUFFALO must beat New York Jets
* ATLANTA must beat New Orleans
* Baltimore must beat CINCINNATI
* DENVER must beat San Diego
* MIAMI must beat New England
* Pittsburgh must beat CLEVELAND
* Oakland must beat KANSAS CITY
And a reminder that $100 pays roughly $77,000 if you choose to parlay those nine games.
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Jags 17
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.