In this completely murky and bizarre NFL landscape in 2015, at 6-5, the Texans are actually among the luckier teams. The massive parity pervading the league has kept them in the mix for an AFC wild card spot (if the season ended today, they'd have one), and Andrew Luck's poor play (and eventually, hopefully, his lacerated kidney) has kept them in the mix for the division title in the AFC South. In other words, in this sea of football weirdness, they have two life rafts.
The team they play this Sunday has just one. At 5-6, the Buffalo Bills have to win this game if they're going to remain in the mix for a playoff spot. There are just too many 6-5 teams in the AFC to assume 9-7 is going to be good enough, and if they go to 5-7, they have no margin for error left. In other words, the Texans should be facing a desperate team in Buffalo on Sunday.
Fortunately, it looks like the weather will be unseasonably warm (for Buffalo) on Sunday, with a high of 52 and sunny skies. So, in a way, the Texans have already dodged the first bullet. Now, can they dodge the bullet of a cornered team playing them the week before a prime-time game at NRG Stadium against the Patriots?
We'll see. For now, here are a few things to watch…
4. J.J.'s world
On Thursday, it was announced that Watt had won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year, the third time in the past seven football months (September and November of 2014, the two others) that he took home the award. In the two seasons in which he won Defensive Player of the Year, Watt took home monthly conference honors twice, so if he can add December's hardware, needless to say, he will probably make it a hat trick. I think we are one big J.J. game this Sunday away from him being back onto the fringe of the MVP conversation, and a monster game against Brady and the Patriots could begin the stretch run on a campaign to another Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Johnson versus Watkins
In a season (and especially a past four weeks) in which the Texans secondary has played well, rookie Kevin Johnson has been the steadiest player back there, in coverage and tackling. The past few weeks, he's been given the hardest tests of any of the cornerbacks (A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Brandin Cooks frequently in one-on-one coverage), and he's been anywhere between steady and spectacular. This weekend, Johnson will likely draw Sammy Watkins, who had more than 150 yards last week against the Chiefs. This should be a fun matchup to watch.
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2. Texans running game
Through the first nine games, the Texans went over 100 yards just one time. They've now eclipsed that mark in each of the past two weeks. It's no coincidence the running game is coalescing at a time when the Texans have started the same offensive line multiple weeks in a row. The best part about the New Orleans game is they were more proficient running it conventionally than they were the previous week against the Jets, a game in which some wildcat and zone read sets helped inflate the numbers a bit. Buffalo rates 30th in run defense, according to Football Outsiders.
1. Mobile Tyrod Taylor
Fighting the Texans defense convention hasn't really been working for any of the last four teams they've played. Those teams have tallied 35 points collectively. If there is going to be a code cracking with the Texans defense, it likely comes from a team that has a running back who can hurt the Texans in the passing game (check, LeSean McCoy) and a quarterback who can scramble and make plays happen off schedule (check, Taylor).
PREDICTION: Texans 21, Bills 13
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