Brian Cushing is one of several Houston Texans who are auditioning for 2018.
Brian Cushing is one of several Houston Texans who are auditioning for 2018.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

NFL Football, Week 15: Texans-Jaguars — Four Things To Watch For

If you're looking for a sure sign the Texans' 2017 season is virtually over, look no further than the two biggest topics this week surrounding the team. Front and center was the team's handling (mishandling?) of Tom Savage's concussion against the 49ers. Bill O'Brien was under siege from multiple sides over whether or not he saw (or anybody saw) Savage's seizure symptoms after a hit from Niner defensive end Elvis Dumervil. That was topic No. 1.

The second and more subtle topic was O'Brien's job security. That topic was triggered by former NFL front office guy (and low key O'Brien pal) Mike Lombardi saying that O'Brien's relationship with the Texans' front office was like the "Hatfields and McCoys." This led to public shows of support for O'Brien from Deshaun Watson, Tom Savage, and Jadeveon Clowney, among others.

Such is life when your games don't really matter anymore. Actual football takes a back seat. So let's see what we can find to watch for this Sunday against the Jags, shall we?

4. Brian Cushing
Ok, I admit that I was completely wrong about the Texans' handling of Brian Cushing post-suspension. When he was put on the shelf for ten games back in September after failing his second PED test, I figured Cushing was done as a Texan. I literally could not have been more wrong. Instead, Cushing waltzed right back into the building, and not only regained his starting spot, but also had his captaincy restored. So, I give up. I'm assuming Brian Cushing has a lifetime pass for anything he does. So, that said, if he is going to be around in 2018, then maybe Cushing can make himself useful playing the "John Simon" role in this defense, as an outside linebacker who holds the edge and makes the occasional splash play. We know that he is not one of the two best inside linebackers on this team anymore with Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham filling those roles. So let's make these last three games a 2018 audition for Brian "John Simon" Cushing... because if he is going to be around, he may as well make himself useful.

3. Green Bay's playoff run
We interrupt this Texans Week 15 game preview for a quick dive into the potential playoff chase for the Green Bay Packers, who were left for dead a couple months ago when QB Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. Now, Rodgers is fully healed, and pronounced himself back to work this week. So what do the 7-6 Packers need to do to make the playoffs?  Well, here's the playoff picture in the NFC:

1. Philadelphia (11-2, NFC East)
2. Minnesota (10-3, NFC North)
3. LA Rams (9-4, NFC West)
4. New Orleans (9-4, NFC South)
5. Carolina (9-4, Wild Card #1)
6. Atlanta (8-5, Wild Card #2)
7. Seattle (8-5)
8. Detroit (7-6)
9. Green Bay (7-6)
10. Dallas (7-6)

Here is the Packers' schedule the rest of the way: @CAR, vs MIN, @DET

At a minimum, the Packers need to win out against that schedule just to stay in the mix, which unto itself is a tough putt, as all three opponents are teams ahead of the Pack in the standings right now. Green Bay probably needs help, so with that in mind, here are the schedules of the other teams hovering around them in the mix:

* ATL schedule: @TB, @NOLA, vs CAR
* SEA schedule: vs LAR, @DAL, vs AZ
* DET schedule: vs CHI, @CIN, vs GB

The chances of the Packers getting into the postseason dance are pretty slim (13 percent, to be exact, according to PredictionMachine.com), but the league could use a feel good story right about now to distract from all of the protesting and NFL Network sexual harassing that's been going on over the last few months. Maybe the Packers are that story.

2. A.J. Bouye vs DeAndre
I'm guessing, if they could do it over, the Texans would happily have placed the franchise tag on Bouye to keep him around at least another season. As we know, Rick Smith thought that $13.5 million per year was a little too   pricy, and he let Bouye walk. All Bouye has done as a Jag is actually IMPROVE as a player from last season's Pro Bowl caliber performance. In short, he's become one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and will get the requisite Pro Bowl recognition this season. Watching DeAndre Hopkins go up against Bouye and Jalen Ramsey this weekend, the latest in a series of tall tests for the Texans' standout wide receiver, should be highly entertaining. By the way, here is your crazy DeAndre Hopkins stat of the week:

Hopkins is an absolute beast.

1. T.J. Yates
2011, 2013, 2015, and now 2017. Yeah, if it's an odd numbered year, then it must mean that T.J. Yates is playing some kind of role in the Texans' season. Of course, his finest work was done in his rookie year in 2011, when Yates won a playoff game, and his least significant work came in the 2013 debacle, when he was left for third-string dead after a pick six in the Rams game. However, he came back in 2015 and won a game against the Jets, and now it looks like he will get at least one start to show his stuff this Sunday, and who knows? Maybe he puts together three solid games and secures next season's backup spot, a scenario with which I would be totally cool. One thing is virtually certain — Yates can't get sacked as much as Savage did the first time around this season against Jacksonville (six times, for those counting)... can he?

SPREAD: Jaguars -13
PREDICTION: Jags 24, Texans 20
RECORD: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS

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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