Sean Pendergast

Breaking Down Houston Texans 2018 Playoff Scenarios

Deshaun Watson and Bill O'Brien are still in the hunt for a first round bye in the playoffs.
Deshaun Watson and Bill O'Brien are still in the hunt for a first round bye in the playoffs. Photo by Eric Sauseda

If you're a Texans fan, the bad news is that your team's nine game winning streak ended on Sunday afternoon, as the Texans fell to 9-4 on the season, still good enough for a comfortable two game lead in the AFC South, but a tough blow in an AFC where there is a very slim margin for error with the upper level teams jockey for seeding.

The good news is that two of the other division leaders — New England and Pittsburgh — also lost, and in the case of the Pats, they lost in such historic fashion that the "Miracle in Miami" has been already been documented in Tecmo Bowl graphics form:

Awesome. Absolutely awesome, there's nothing else to say about that.

So now we are down to the point in the season where it gets much easier to formulate and hypothesize about certain playoff scenarios. Each team has only three games left in the regular season, and the tiebreakers become much, much easier to calculate. Even with the loss to the Colts on Sunday, the Texans still have a chance at a bye in the first round of the postseason, which would mean a top-two seed and a week of rest.

So let's examine the possible scenarios for the Texans, who currently sit as the 3-seed in the AFC, a game and a half ahead of AFC North leader Pittsburgh. For our purposes here, we will only look upward (What do the Texans need for the 1-seed or 2-seed?). There's no reason to look in the rear view right now in the AFC South, as the Texans percentage chance of winning the division is around 99 percent. Now, if the Jets beat the Texans this weekend — God forbid! — then there will be a post with a much different tone a week from today, but for now, let's look at how to move up.

So let's start with looking at the teams in the conversations that affect the Texans. These are the only six teams that have a puncher's chance at their division title right now, and they also happen to be the six AFC teams who would be in the playoffs, if the season ended this week (Records in parentheses are, in order — overall, division, and conference):

1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, AFC West champion (11-2, 4-0, 9-1)
vs LAC, at SEA, vs OAK

2. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, AFC East champion (9-4, 3-1, 6-3)
at PIT, vs BUF, vs NYJ

3. HOUSTON TEXANS, AFC South champion (9-4, 3-2, 7-3)

4. PITTSBURGH STEELERS, AFC North champion (7-5-1, 3-1-1, 4-5-1)
vs NE, at NOLA, vs CIN

5. LA CHARGERS, Wild card #1 (10-3, 2-2, 7-2)
at KC, vs BAL, at DEN

6. BALTIMORE RAVENS, Wild card #2 (7-6, 2-3, 6-4)
vs TB, at LAC, vs CLV

Now, let's look at possibilities for the Texans. Before we do, I would have the NFL's tie breaking procedures handy. You'll find these helpful. The tiebreakers to be mindful of against Kansas City, New England, and possibly the Chargers are:

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

First, any conversation about a 1-seed or a 2-seed for Houston presumes that the Texans win their remaining three games — at the Jets this weekend, at Philadelphia next weekend, and at home versus the Jaguars to finish the regular season. It's a virtual lock that the Texans need to be 12-4 to get a first round bye, as it would take a massive string of unlikely upsets for the Chiefs, Patriots, and/or Chargers to finish 11-5, and even then, the Pats would have the head to head tie breaker on Houston. So let's assume the Texans' winning out, a 12-4 record, is a must. 

Here are the Texans-related scenarios to be mindful of:

1. Patriots-Steelers on Sunday is, by far, the most important game remaining for the Texans that doesn't involve the Texans playing in it.
The easiest scenario for a first round bye, and it would be the AFC's 2-seed for which the Texans would take pole position, would be for the Texans to win on Saturday against the Jets, the Patriots lose to the Steelers on Sunday, and then have the Texans win their final two games. The Texans would be 12-4, the Pats would be, at best, 11-5, and we can all rest for a week after the regular season is over. Pretty simple.

2. If the Texans and Patriots BOTH win this weekend, the Texans are virtually locked in as the AFC 3-seed.
The Patriots and Texans are both 9-4, with the Patriots holding the edge on the Texans thanks to their Week 1 27-20 win in New England. The last REAL chance for the Patriots to lose a regular season game is this Sunday afternoon against Pittsburgh. If the Patriots win versus the Steelers, though, they will almost certainly finish 12-4 after likely home wins over the Bills and Jets in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. Meanwhile, a Texans win over the Jets on Saturday would move them to 10-4, with at least a two game lead for the 3-seed, with two games to play, over whoever leads the AFC North (Pittsburgh or Baltimore). While the 3-seed doesn't come with a first round bye in the playoffs, it does keep the Texans from playing the better of the two wild card teams in the first round, as that will almost certainly be the runner-up in the AFC West (Chargers or Chiefs).

3. As for competing with the AFC West leaders for seeding, it all hinges on Raiders-Chiefs in Week 17.
Yes, it hinges on a game between the Chiefs and the wretched Raiders. I'll try not to get too deep in the weeds on this one, but if the Texans and Chiefs both finish 12-4, the Texans will need the Chiefs' two additional losses to be to AFC teams to tie them for a 9-3 conference record (first tie breaker after head to head; the Chiefs and Texans didn't play each other this season). The Chiefs have two AFC games remaining, versus the Chargers and Raiders. The next tie breaker would be record against common opponents, and the Chiefs and Texans would both be 4-1 there, as each played the Broncos, Jaguars, Patriots, and Browns. The next tie breaker would be strength of victory, which the Texans currently lead .466 to .420.

On the other hand, the Texans' tie breaker with a 12-4 Chargers team would similarly probably go to the strength of victory tiebreaker, as both would be 9-3 in conference and 4-1 versus common opponents (Bills, Browns, Titans, Broncos), and again the Texans lead in the SOV metric by a mark of .466 to .372. The thing is that the Texans and Chargers tying at 12-4 will only matter if the Chargers win the division, and to do that, it's likely going to come down to tie breaking scenarios between the Chargers and Chiefs that would require a Week 17 Chiefs loss to the Raiders to force a tie in division record (first tiebreaker for division titles), OR it will come down to the Chiefs losing out and going 11-5, a highly unlikely scenario which AGAIN would require the Raiders to win in Kansas City in Week 17.

So, yes, in a weird way, Jon Gruden still matters. He matters with regard to the Texans' microscopic chances for a 1-seed in the AFC. Amazingly.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast