Life can turn quickly in the NFL, just ask any of the four teams in the AFC South. After Week 6, it was generally thought to be the 4-2 Houston Texans' division to lose, following a fairly emphatic 31-24 Texans win in Kansas City over the Chiefs, a final score that wasn't indicative of the way the Texans thrashed the Chiefs from the end of the first quarter on.
Two weeks later, after splitting games with the Colts (30-23 loss) and Raiders (27-24 win), the Texans are still sitting only a half game back of the first place Colts, but the bottom of the division has tightened things up, reducing the margin for error. Both 2-4 just two weeks ago, now the Titans and Jags sit at 4-4, on the fringe of the playoff picture.
The Titans will tussle with the Texans twice in the final three weeks of the season, but the Jags are on the docket for this weekend, in a rematch of a Week 2 game where the Texans needed to stop a two point conversion attempt in the waning moments to stake a win, in Jags rookie QB Gardner Minshew's first career start. Now, the two teams play in London this Sunday (EARLY kickoff here, 8:30 a.m.) in a game the Texans desperately need heading into the bye week if they are going to keep their goals alive.
Here are four things to watch for as you watch this game over scrambled eggs and a stack of pancakes....
4. London calling
This will be the Texans' first trip as a franchise over to London, making them one of the final teams to make their initial trip overseas. The Jags, meanwhile, essentially have London as their home away from home, playing one "home" game there in each season since 2013. So conceivably, the preparation familiarity advantage rests with the Jaguars, and Bill O'Brien knows that his close, personal friend Doug Marrone (Jags head coach) ain't helping out.....
O'Brien on Doug Marrone helping him out with London travel: "Hell no, he's not going to help me with that ... he helps me with food advice, bologna sandwiches." pic.twitter.com/fPzAYNUJV7— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 28, 2019
I think my favorite part of that O'Brien video is how he changes personalities in the middle of the answer, going from some form of "urban casual" to "coach speak" on a speed pivot. Impressive. Almost Robin Williams-like comedy bit like.
3. Gardner Minshew's final statement
Minshew's first start of his career at NRG Stadium in Week 2 was not a statistical bonanza, but the rookie QB did enough to make you see that he has some frisky elements to his game. Now, 4-3 as a starter, there should be a legitimate debate as to whether the Jags should continue to roll with Minshew over Nick Foles, who was signed to a big money deal to be the starting QB, but was injured in the first half of the season opener in Kansas City. Minshew is in the upper/middle of the pack in most of the QB statistical categories, and has done a nice job of protecting the football (just two picks thrown). This game in London might be the final statement for Minshew in trying to keep the starting role, as Foles should return from injured reserve after the Jags' bye week next weekend. From a serendipity standpoint, Minshew would have a hard time picking a better defense to feast upon, as the Texans' secondary is banged up, and it's the first game post-Watt pectoral tear, which brings us to.....
2. Pass rush, where you coming from?
For the third time in four seasons, the Houston Texans head into the wild blue yonder of the rest of the regular season without J.J. Watt. The first two times it happened — Week 3 of 2016, Week 5 of 2017 — the city was damn near in funeral mode, especially in 2016, where we just didn't know what life was like without Watt on the field. He'd literally missed no games up until that point. This time around, maybe it's the Astros in the World Series, maybe it's the rapid growth of Deshaun Watson, but it seems there's not nearly the panic of the first couple times. Ironically, this is probably the season that warrants the MOST panic relative to the hit this defense will take. Romeo Crennel has already been calling blitzes more than most defenses in the league, and I'm guessing that will continue. Outside of that, it's time to find out what the Texans have in Jacob Martin (part of the Jadeveon Clowney trade, he's flashed in pass rush a few times), Charles Omenihu (two strip sacks), and for Whitney Mercilus to provide an edge rush without Watt or Clowney on the other side.
1. Deshaun Watson, one eyed bandit!
In the end, it probably IS the presence of Watson that is keeping Texans fans sane, and it's certainly his presence every Sunday that gives the Texans a chance to beat anybody. Let's relive his one eyed touchdown pass from this past Sunday....
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On Sunday, Watson will be trying to avenge his worst statistical performance of this season, as in Week 2, he was just 16 of 29 for 159 yards, and the only touchdown drive the offense generated was an 11 yard drive off of a J.J. Watt fumble recovery.
SPREAD: Texans -2
PREDICTION: Texans 19, Jaguars 16
SEASON RECORD: 5-3 SU, 4-4 ATS