Each year since 2011, I believe, just before the start of the NFL regular season, I will do a preview of the Houston Texans' season using a method that I have (very creatively) titled the Pendergast Method. It's an evaluation of the season designed to essentially put games into one of three tiers of difficulty — MUST WIN, COIN FLIP, and STEAL.
The explanation in the eventual piece I drop in a month or so, for 2019, will give more detail, but basically the "MUST WIN" games are the easier games, the "COIN FLIP" games are essentially 50/50 propositions, and the "STEAL" games are the toughest ones, in which the Texans will be noticeable underdogs.
The formula for a playoff berth is pretty simple — the fewer games that fall into the "STEAL" category, the better off the Texans should be. Well, for this coming season — SPOILER ALERT — there are going to be a TON of "STEAL" games on the rundown. 2019 will be, by far, the toughest slate of games of the Bill O'Brien Era, because of the quarterbacks they face and the difficulty of the road portion of the schedule.
Now, while the opposing quarterbacks are going to be really, really good — four former league MVP''s, and that doesn't include Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, or Andrew Luck —- at least the Texans should be able to stand in and trade blows with Deshaun Watson under center. However, the two most important employees of an NFL team on game day are the quarterback and the head coach.
So, how does Bill O'Brien stack up against the 13 head coaches (twice against each AFC South head coach) he will square off with in 2019? NFL.com did their version of head coach power rankings this past week, and O'Brien came in at 19th overall. I think it undersells O'Brien slightly, I'd have him a few notches higher, but whatever.
The scarier thing about the rankings wasn't O'Brien's hovering on the fringe of the bottom third of the league. The scarier thing was the fact that in 13 of the 16 games in 2019, according to these rankings, the Texans will be facing a superior head coach. The only three games with a coach behind O'Brien in the rankings are the two games against the Titans (Mike Vrabel, 20th) and the December game against Denver (Vic Fangio, unranked — the six first time head coaches were not ranked).
So is the situation this dire? Are the Texans walking into a head coaching buzzsaw in 2019? Well, in some games, yes (what up, Belichick?), but rather than try to parse out whether O'Brien really should be 14th instead of 19th, let's apply a Pendergast Method style analysis to ONLY the head coaching match-ups for 2019. Here we go:
MUST WIN — Games where O'Brien should clearly be the better head coach
WEEK 14: Vic Fangio, DEN
COIN FLIPS — Games where the head coaching match-up is pretty even
WEEK 2: Doug Marrone, JAC
WEEK 4: Ron Rivera, CAR
WEEK 5: Dan Quinn, ATL
WEEK 7: Frank Reich, IND
WEEK 8: Jon Gruden, OAK
WEEK 9: Doug Marrone, JAC
WEEK 12: Frank Reich, IND
WEEK 15: Mike Vrabel, TEN
WEEK 16: Bruce Arians, TB
WEEK 17: Mike Vrabel, TEN
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STEALS — Games where the opposing head coach is clearly superior to O'Brien
WEEK 1: Sean Payton, NOLA
WEEK 3: Anthony Lynn, LAC
WEEK 6: Andy Reid, KC
WEEK 11: John Harbaugh, BAL
WEEK 13: Bill Belichick, NE
This is a pretty scary overview, if you're hoping for the Texans to replicate or exceed their 11-5 record of 2018. Typically, when calculating the yield of a season after it's been broken down via the Pendergast Method, I count on winning nearly all of the "MUST WIN" games, I count on splitting the "COIN FLIP" games, and I allow for maybe one "STEAL" game to actually be stolen.
Thus, in a breakdown done solely on where the teams stand in the head coaching match-up, the Texans are looking at about a 6-10 or 7-9 type season. In other words, Bill O'Brien is going to need to step up his scheming, play calling, and game management chops to levels well above expectations (at least, MY expectations), or the head coach will just be the next in a long line of Houston Texans that Deshaun Watson will be asked to cover for and elevate on Sundays in 2019.
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.