Having had a few more days to assess the impact of the Texans win over the Colts last Sunday, especially taking into account the fact that the Titans continue to find ways to win, as well, I think the biggest benefit of the victory might be this — the Texans have essentially turned a 16-game season into a 15-game season, IF THEY ARE ABLE TO HANDLE THEIR BUSINESS.
I put that last part in CAPS because nothing is clinched nor set in stone. The Texans need to win games. However, the Texans, by virtue of their 4-0 record in the AFC South and their forgiving upcoming schedule the next two weeks, have a good sporting chance to clinch the division on Christmas Eve night in a couple of Saturdays against the Bengals.
Simply put, if the Texans beat the Jags on Sunday and the Bengals next Saturday, they will win the AFC South. The Week 17 trip to Nashville will mean nothing in the standings, except possibly — but it's unlikely — a move up to the No. 3 seed from the No. 4.
If there's a chance to improve their seeding, the Texans must do it, for a handful of reasons that we can get to if that time comes, but for now, consider how significant it is that a 6-6 team that was on a three-game losing streak and having to save its season in a stadium where it was 1-13 in its existence now must only win two home games against sub-.500 teams to give its banged-up depth chart a week of rest.
Wow. Absolutely huge.
Now here come the 2-11 Jaguars, trying to play some semblance of a spoiler. (They play each AFC South team over the final three weeks of the season.) Remember coming out of the bye week when the Jags were a field goal favorite over the Texans? Crazy, right? Now the Texans are bordering on a touchdown favorite at home, so the world is somewhat in synch again.
If there's one thing Bill O'Brien does well, it's beat the snot out of Jacksonville, 5-0 straight up and 4-1 against the spread in his time here as head coach. Let's look at some wrinkles for this Sunday...
4. Keep the turnover train rolling
Against the Colts, the Texans finally had a game in which turnovers factored huge into the outcome, and they needed all three of them to escape with the win over the Colts, when you consider their inefficiency (1 for 6) in the red zone. They got the two interceptions (Demps, Hal) that set up short fields for the offense, and then the Clowney strip sack that might wind up being the play of the year for the Texans, with the Colts three yards away from taking a 17-16 lead in the third quarter. The Demps pick in the first quarter was the first turnover that set up a significant plus-field position situation since Kareem Jackson's pick six against the Jags on November 13. Some turnovers are luck and some are forced — the Demps INT was a little lucky (Colts TE Dwayne Allen fell down on the play), but the other two turnovers were cases of Clowney's imposing his will, first on his hit on Luck to force the bad throw picked off by Hal, and then the aforementioned sack and fumble. Blake Bortles is even more charitable than Luck, and the Jags are one of just four teams with a worse turnover margin than the Texans, -17 on the season, worst in the league. The Texans need to keep that thieving momentum going this Sunday.
3. Texans thin WR corps
Bad news this week on rookie WR Braxton Miller, whose shoulder injury suffered against the Packers is going to knock him out for the rest of his rookie season. Any way you slice it, even with the caveat that he's still "learning a new position," this was a disappointing initial campaign for Miller, in part because of injuries (there was a hamstring early in the season, too), but also because of inconsistency. To be fair, the Texans never really gave him many of the exotic looks that we had all anticipated, but Miller is also still incredibly raw, rawness that can be hidden against Purdue or Indiana, but not against the Packers or Raiders. (Hell, Miller still JUMPS when catching short passes thrown at his chest while he's stationary.) If I were Miller, I'd go spend my offseason with another former Ohio State QB-turned-WR, Terrelle Pryor, whose offseason workouts last year to change positions have become legendary. For now, the Texans are operating with a four-man WR crew that has Keith Mumphrey as the third WR and rookie Wendell Williams presumably suiting up for games. (To be fair, as much as Brock Osweiler throws to the tight ends, it's probably more appropriate to say Ryan Griffin is his third wide receiver.)
2. Proper mix of plays
About a month or two ago, I went to visit one of my sponsors, Men's Clinics of America (HIGHLY recommend for you guys in your thirties and above), and got one of those lab tests that tell you all of your important numbers — testosterone level, cholesterol, prostate, blood pressure, etc. They give you a tidy printout of all the numbers, like a biological box score! Well, if you sent the Texans to the Men's Clinic of Football America, I would tell you that they'd be thrilled if the tests came back on Sunday saying, "You ran the ball 41 times and Brock only threw it 24 times." That's the sign of a HEALTHY TEXANS TEAM! That was the mix against the Colts — 21 Lamar Miller carries, 16 Alfred Blue carries, a touch of Hunt and Grimes, and 24 Osweiler throws. That needs to be the mix this Sunday, in every game the rest of this season, and possibly every game until Brock Osweiler's dead cap money is something less than Tilman Fertitta's monthly income. This team will win most of its games with that mix, because...
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1. No gift giving
...the less Brock is throwing, the less chance that he makes some horrific decision like throwing it to C.J. Fiedorowicz with three defenders around him. That's one thing I'll say about Osweiler's interceptions — generally speaking, there have not been any cheap ones, where the ball was dropped by a receiver and landed in the hands of a defender. Osweiler's 14 picks have practically all been fairly egregious errors by Brock. On Sunday, you can't give the Jaguars any of those Christmas gifts, no fortuitous hope. This also goes for Bill O'Brien, who continues to make three or four completely head-scratching game-management decisions EVERY week. This has been his blind spot since he took over the job here in 2014, and it's only gotten worse. His blind spot needs LASIK surgery (which is code for "someone sitting in the booth making these decisions for him"). The Texans win this game if they protect the football, don't get cute and play sound defense.
Fortunately, this is normally what they do against Jacksonville...adieu, Gus Bradley...
Prediction: Texans 27, Jaguars 13
Spread: Texans -6
Season record (SU, ATS): 9-4, 9-3-1
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.