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Houston Texans QB Matchups In 2021 Are Surprising On Paper

With no Deshaun Watson, over how many teams will the Texans have a QB advantage in 2021?
With no Deshaun Watson, over how many teams will the Texans have a QB advantage in 2021?
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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Most NFL seasons, you can forecast, with some degree of certainty, a team's overall success by the quality of their starting quarterback play. It's the most important position in the most popular team sport in our American sports landscape for a reason — great teams are typically skippered by great quarterbacks, almost always.

Now, we did learn last year here in Houston that great quarterback play doesn't GUARANTEE anything. Deshaun Watson was, by most crucial statistical measurements one of the five to ten best quarterbacks in the league, and the Texans finished an abysmal 4-12. Right now, Deshaun is facing much bigger challenges than trying to carry the Texans on Sundays.

It would appear Watson has taken his last snap as a Texan, and that Tyrod Taylor will be the Texans' starting quarterback, at least until rookie Davis Mills requires a look-see from general manager Nick Caserio. However, let's take a look at the upcoming season's schedule, and see if there is a scenario where Taylor as the starting quarterback gives the Texans a chance to surprise some folks.

Before we go game by game, let's establish some baselines here, and agree on a couple things. First, there is no doubt that the Texans are viewed by experts and oddsmakers as the worst team in the NFL coming into 2021. As we've pointed out in a previous post, they are currently posted as underdogs in all 17 of their games.

Secondly, if we are assuming Taylor as the Texans' starter for the whole season — again, it's unlikely, but let's go with it for purposes of this exercise — then let's take the average of his QBR (ESPN's quarterback rating system, on a scale of 1 to 100) for 2015 through 2017 in Buffalo, his only three seasons as a full time starter for nearly the whole year, as the baseline for his likely performance in 2021, in a Texans' offense that frankly has as much, if not more talent than Buffalo's offense those seasons. Taylor's average QBR for those three seasons comes in at 61.7.

So with those assumptions, here is the Texans 17-game schedule, with betting spreads for each game, the presumptive opposing starting QB, and his QBR for 2020. Here we go:

WEEK 1: Sunday, September 12 vs Jacksonville
EARLY BETTING LINE:
Texans +2
LIKELY STARTING QB: Trevor Lawrence
2020 QBR: ROOKIE

WEEK 2: Sunday, September 19 at Cleveland
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +12
LIKELY STARTING QB: Baker Mayfield
2020 QBR: 72.2 (10th)

WEEK 3: Thursday, September 23 vs Carolina
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +4.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Sam Darnold
2020 QBR: 40.1 (33rd)

WEEK 4: Sunday, October 3 at Buffalo
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +14.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Josh Allen
2020 QBR: 81.7 (3rd)

WEEK 5: Sunday, October 10 vs New England
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +7
LIKELY STARTING QB: Cam Newton
2020 QBR: 47.0 (30th)

WEEK 6: Sunday, October 17 at Indianapolis
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +11.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Carson Wentz
2020 QBR: 49.6 (28th)

WEEK 7: Sunday, October 24 at Arizona
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +9.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Kyler Murray
2020 QBR: 68.9 (14th)

WEEK 8: Sunday, October 31 vs Los Angeles Rams
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +9
LIKELY STARTING QB: Matthew Stafford
2020 QBR: 68.4 (15th)

WEEK 9: Sunday, November 7 at Miami
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +10.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Tua Tagovailoa
2020 QBR: 52.5 (26th)

WEEK 10: BYE WEEK

WEEK 11: Sunday, November 21 at Tennessee
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +11
LIKELY STARTING QB: Ryan Tannehill
2020 QBR: 78.3 (4th)

WEEK 12: Sunday, November 28 vs New York Jets
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +1.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Zach Wilson
2020 QBR: ROOKIE

WEEK 13: Sunday, December 5 vs Indianapolis
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +7.5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Carson Wentz
2020 QBR: 49.6 (28th)

WEEK 14: Sunday, December 12 vs Seattle
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +8
LIKELY STARTING QB: Russell Wilson
2020 QBR: 73.5 (8th)

WEEK 15: Sunday, December 19 at Jacksonville
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +5
LIKELY STARTING QB: Trevor Lawrence
2020 QBR: ROOKIE

WEEK 16: Sunday, December 26 vs Los Angeles Chargers
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +6
LIKELY STARTING QB: Justin Herbert
2020 QBR: 69.5 (13th)

WEEK 17: Sunday, January 2 at San Francisco
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +12
LIKELY STARTING QB: Trey Lance
2020 QBR: ROOKIE

WEEK 18: Sunday, January 9 vs Tennessee
EARLY BETTING LINE: Texans +7
LIKELY STARTING QB: Ryan Tannehill
2020 QBR: 78.3 (4th)

OK, a few observations on this somewhat fortuitous QB dynamic that exists on the Texans' 2021 regular season schedule. Let's start with the good news:

In over half their games, they should face NINE starting quarterbacks who are either rookies or were worse in 2020 than Taylor's 61.7 QBR baseline
While Las Vegas only sees the Texans winning around 4 of their 17 regular season games, in the most important positional matchup, the Texans are not exactly overwhelmed  by their opposition. In four of their games, they face rookie quarterbacks. Granted, the rookies involved are the top three picks in the draft, but still, they are ROOKIES. In five other games, they face quarterbacks who were 26th or worse last season — Tua Tagovailoa, Carson Wentz (twice), Cam Newton, and Sam Darnold. If Taylor is the starter and he plays at his baseline level, they should be even or have an advantage at QB in all of these games. That is over half the schedule.

The schedule lays out in a way that could set up for a surprising start
The Texans are underdogs in every one of their games, but by the spread, some of their more winnable games come early in the season. This also lines up predictably with the caliber of quarterbacks they will face. Of the nine quarterbacks denoted in the previous paragraph, they face four of them in the first six games, and five in the first nine games. In other words, winning the QB battle is a distinct possibility in over half the games before the bye week.

What might have been if Deshaun Watson were still happy with the Texans (and not being sued into oblivion)
We are sports fans, so we are never happy with what's in front of us, and let's face it — if you're a Texans fan who'd waited a lifetime for an elite quarterback, watching Deshaun Watson go, even with his off-putting legal peccadilloes, is going to hurt. So, knowing exactly what you're thinking, I'll do the work for you. Watson was 12th in QBR last season, with a 70.5 rating. Thus, the Texans would have either had a QBR advantage or been facing a rookie in 12 of their 17 games, so three more matchup wins than Taylor theoretically gives you. For what it's worth, the three quarterbacks on the Texans' schedule who rate higher than Taylor but below Watson were Justin Herbert (69.5, 13th), Kyler Murray (68.9, 14th), and Matthew Stafford (68.4, 15th).

CONCLUSION: Believe me, the purpose of this post is NOT to plant my flag in the ground on calling an above .500 season for the Texans. I still think they are firmly in competition for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, especially if the second half of the season turns into the Davis Mills audition show. However, I merely wanted to point out that the schedule, especially early on, is somewhat kind to a team that will be challenged from an overall talent standpoint, especially on defense.

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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