The win over Arizona moved the Texans to 4-6, which incredibly keeps them in the playoff hunt.
The win over Arizona moved the Texans to 4-6, which incredibly keeps them in the playoff hunt.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Don't Look Now, Houston Texans One Game Out of Playoff Spot

Whether it’s sports turmoil or life turmoil, we’ve all been there before — so engrossed, maybe even wallowing, in whatever life has handed us, so much so that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on outside our own little cocoon. That was me the last few weeks as a Houston Texans fan and media member.

With J.J. Watt’s injury and Whitney Mercilus’ injury and Deshaun Watson’s injury and Duane Brown’s whatever-the-hell-that-was and Tom Savage being Tom Savage and… you get my point. Focusing on stuff going on elsewhere around the NFL hasn’t really been a priority for me. The season felt functionally over, and I was more worried about seeing some of these young players show their stuff so Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien could evaluate for next season.

Then a funny thing happened — the Texans won on Sunday, moving to 4-6 on the season. And then another funny thing happened — I looked at the standings for the first time in about a month and, lo and behold, pretty much everyone in the AFC not named the Patriots or the Steelers or (maybe) the Jaguars SUCKS!

Indeed, as we head into Thanksgiving weekend, the Texans sit in a gigantic 4-6 mud puddle with five other teams, just one game behind the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens (who they play this coming Monday) and the 5-5 Buffalo Bills (who handed the keys to their team to a rookie last Sunday, and promptly watched him throw five picks… IN ONE HALF).

I’m not here to tell you the Texans have a great shot at the postseason, but I am here to tell you that neither do any of these other teams they’re competing with. For the sake of bookkeeping, here are the current AFC standings (ESPN.com has explanations on the tie breakers for the AFC, and NFL.com has the actual tie breaking procedures):

1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 8-2 (AFC North champ)
2. New England Patriots, 8-2 (AFC East champ)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-3 (AFC South champ)
4. Kansas City Chiefs, 6-4 (AFC West champ)
5. Tennessee Titans, 6-4 (Wild Card 1)
6. Baltimore Ravens, 5-5 (Wild Card 2)
7. Buffalo Bills, 5-5
8. Miami Dolphins, 4-6
9. New York Jets, 4-6
10. Cincinnati Bengals, 4-6
11. Houston Texans, 4-6
12. Los Angeles Chargers, 4-6
13. Oakland Raiders, 4-6
14. Indianapolis Colts, 3-7
15. Denver Broncos, 3-7 0
16. Cleveland Browns, 0-10

Yes, the Texans are 11th in the AFC, which ironically is the same spot they were in three seasons ago when I first wrote a Texans Fan Rooting Guide for a scenario exactly like this. Perhaps I’ll help all of you out in a post later this week with that (Early note — root for the Cowboys to beat the Chargers on Thanksgiving Day, and I know that hurts, the whole "rooting for Dallas" thing).

As bad as the AFC is, and even though the Ravens are in the playoffs right now with a .500 record, let’s assume that 9-7 will be the bar the Texans need to get to in order to be in the discussion. If we are assessing the Texans’ chances of pulling off this miracle (and make no mistake, this would be a freaking FOOTBALL FESTIVUS MIRACLE), here is what they have working for them:

O’Brien down the stretch
Say what you will about his clock management and his annoying proclivity to absorb the blame for everything that goes wrong with this team, but O’Brien has a really good record down the stretch in his three full seasons so far with the team. In the final five games of the season for 2014 through 2016, O’Brien has a total record of 10-5 and an 8-2 record in the AFC South. Worth noting, the Texans have three division games in December, all on the road.

Near-term opportunity
We should have a very clear picture as to where this is all going within the next seven days. The Texans play the Ravens on Monday night. If they pull off the upset (they’re seven point underdogs), and Kansas City can beat Buffalo at home (Chiefs are 11 point favorites), then the Texans are tied for the sixth playoff spot with the Ravens, the Bills, and whoever the hell else is 5-6. Yeah, baby! Being sub .500 never felt so good!

Clowney and Hop
For all the injuries and the issues on the offensive line, the Texans still do have two players playing impact positions at a near league best level in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. If Tom Savage can protect the football — a gigantic, size 72 font IF — then maybe they hang in these games to where the “play here and play there” that decides a game are plays Clowney and Hopkins are making.

Now, here is what they have working AGAINST them:

The home/road splits (and really the whole schedule)
As a matter of actual data, at this point in the season, this is not a schedule that is set up for the Texans to go any better than 6-10. They will be at least seven point underdogs to the Ravens, the Titans, the Jaguars, and the Steelers. The 49ers might have Jimmy Garoppolo starting at quarterback for them by then. Hell, even the Colts game is against a team that beat the Texans at home. Also, while we tout O’Brien’s 8-2 division record late in the season, this is not the same AFC South, and all three of these division games will be on the road.

The football gods
I think that we in Houston are a kind, gentle folk that always want to help our fellow men and women. We saw it during Harvey, right? So why the football gods have chosen 2017 of all seasons to take their injury vengeance out on our fair city is beyond me. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Deshaun Watson… those are the marquee names, but even guys like Dylan Cole, Kevin Johnson, Ryan Griffin, and now D’Onta Foreman all getting hurt. Is it even worth rooting for a miracle when we expect Jadeveon Clowney or DeAndre Hopkins to just spontaneously combust in the middle of the field in, like, Week 14?

Um…. it’s still Tom Savage…. and dear God, that offensive line
Yeah, this has been a fun few hundred words to type for y’all, but let’s be real — it’s still Tom Savage playing behind a Swiss cheese offensive line. Despite the progress Savage made against Arizona, he still did keep his streak alive of fumbling the ball away in every start this season. His six fumbles have led to 30 points for the opposition. Why would we, all of a sudden, expect this to start happening LESS now, especially against defenses like the Ravens, Jaguars, and Steelers?

Add it all up, and I’d like to say that stranger things have happened than the 2017 Houston Texans making the NFL playoffs, but I’d be lying.

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.

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