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Bill O'Brien seems to be hitting his stride as a play caller and head coach.
Bill O'Brien seems to be hitting his stride as a play caller and head coach.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Four Thoughts On the Toughest Schedule Stretch of the Bill O'Brien Era

For nearly six years, the Bill O'Brien Era has been a complex talking point on the Houston landscape. Detractors of his entire body of work will (rightfully) point to his overall slightly above average record and lack of playoff success. Defenders of O'Brien's body of work will point out that, for all but the six starts by Deshaun Watson in 2017, he had journeymen or worse (BROCK!) starting at QB.

From there, the conversation narrows in on the last couple seasons, in which O'Brien's had Deshaun Watson as his starting quarterback, and O'Brien's detractors will say that he isn't getting nearly enough out of a potential MVP. Defenders will say "Hey, some of this is on Deshaun." Undoubtedly, now, in the wake of Sunday's 31-24 Texans victory over Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Kansas City Chiefs, we are sitting at the closest thing to a Kumbaya moment between O'Brien's defenders and critics.

The Texans have been dominant offensively over the last two weeks, racking up over 1,000 yards in total offense, and in the Kansas City game, possessing the football for two thirds of the game clock. That game on Sunday was the first in a rough patch of schedule in which the Texans play four of five games on the road (beginning in Kansas City this past Sunday), and six of seven games against teams with records over .500.

Here are the details:

WEEK 6: Texans 31, Chiefs 24
WEEK 7: Sun 10/20 at Colts (3-2)
WEEK 8: Sun 10/27 vs Raiders (3-2)
WEEK 9: Sun 11/3 at Jaguars (2-4, game is in London)
WEEK 10: BYE
WEEK 11: Sun 11/17 at Ravens (4-2)
WEEK 12: Thur 11/21 vs Colts (3-2)
WEEK 13: Sun 12/1 vs Patriots (6-0, SNF)

Needless to say, getting off to a 1-0 start to this patch of schedule by winning in Kansas City is unexpected and a bit of house money. That said, if the Texans are still the somewhat inconsistent group we saw in the first five weeks, then there's trouble around the corner this weekend in Indy. We'll see. For now, this win over the Chiefs opens up all sorts of possibilities, as the Texans are the current No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff pecking order behind only the Patriots.

Let's dig into this a little further....

What are the expected spreads of these games?
Well, the spread is already out there on the Colts game this weekend, and the home team is a small favorite at "Colts -1," so clearly the stock price on the Colts has risen from the days following the shocking retirement of Andrew Luck. If I had to guess here is what I think the lines (in BOLD) would be this weekend, if the remainder of these games were played:

WEEK 8: Sun 10/27 vs Raiders (Texans -5.5)
WEEK 9: Sun 11/3 at Jaguars (Texans -2.5)
WEEK 10: BYE
WEEK 11: Sun 11/17 at Ravens (Texans +2.5)
WEEK 12: Thur 11/21 vs Colts (Texans -4.5)
WEEK 13: Sun 12/1 vs Patriots (Texans +3)

How many would have been called "the biggest win of the O'Brien Era" before the season?
I think one of the very underrated aspects of the win over the Chiefs on Sunday is that, not only is it clearly the biggest, most complete win of the Bill O'Brien Era, but it now allows us to move on from the win over the Chargers in Week 3 having that title, because the Chargers, as it turns out, might just stink. They're 2-4, after losing to the Broncos and the Steelers at home the last two weeks. As for the games on this patch of schedule, I would say that, had the Texans not defeated the Chiefs, a win over the Ravens in Week 11 would take the title of "biggest by O'Brien," and the Patriots game will absolutely get that label, even over the Chiefs win, if they can upset the defending champs at NRG Stadium. That game will have significant juice.

The Texans are finally dealing with some significant injuries.
For the first five weeks, the Texans had done a pretty good job of dodging the injury bug. They lost Lamar Miller in the preseason with a torn ACL, but Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson have probably been a better combination than anything the Texans may have had with Miller. Keke Coutee missed some time, and Kenny Stills pulled a hammy, but the receiving corps has had at least three capable guys out there every Sunday. Now, the Texans are dealing with a torn MCL on right tackle Tytus Howard, and a couple more hamstring injuries to their top two cornerbacks, Johnathan Joseph (missed the KC game) and Bradley Roby (could be out for several weeks). They should be okay on the offensive line with Roderick Johnson at right tackle, but the secondary will be a problem. Thankfully, the lineup of QBs through the bye week — Jacoby Brissett, Derek Carr, and Gardner Minshew — is not exactly murderer's row.

So what's a reasonable expectation heading into the final four games of 2019?
If we are just going by my forecasted spreads, then the Texans will be underdogs in three of the next six games, and favorites in the other three. I think the games in which they're underdogs are generally more winnable than the games in which they're favorites are losable, so I will optimistically say that they hold serve as favorites against the Raiders, Jags, and Colts at home, and I'll toss a road win over the Colts this weekend into the mix. That would give them a 7-2 record heading into the bye week, and an 8-4 record heading into the final month of the season, a patch of schedule in which all four games are against teams that are 2-4 right now (Broncos, Titans twice, Buccaneers). This win over the Chiefs has put 11-5 firmly in play, with an outside shot at 12-4, which would tie the 2012 team for the best record in team history.

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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