Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 16: Texans-Titans — Four Things To Watch For

Derrick Henry goes for his fifth straight 200 yard game against the Texans.
Derrick Henry goes for his fifth straight 200 yard game against the Texans. Photo by Jack Gorman
The Houston Texans overall results this season have been very straightforward, with very little nuance and plenty of clarity. They're 1-12-1, and they are a bad football team. There's nothing misleading about their record. However, they have had a strange season from an injury luck standpoint. Until recently, their injury luck with their own roster had been remarkably good.

Even more interestingly, though, their injury luck with their opponents has been pretty solid, as well. The first four games of the season featured teams that were all banged up either coming into the game (Colts, Chargers) or in game (Broncos, Bears). Then there is the luck they appear to be on the cusp of with the Tennessee Titans, where starting QB Ryan Tannehill missed the week 8 matchup and now is in danger of missing Saturday's game against the Texans.

This means that rookie Malik Willis could get his second start against the Texans. In the first one, he only had to throw the ball ONE TIME in the second half of a 17-10 win, as Derrick Henry plowed through the Texans for over 200 yards (again). What happens in the Christmas Eve matchup tomorrow? Well, let's take a look and make a bold prediction, shall we?

4. SPOILER ALERT!
So as Lovie Smith and the Texans cling onto reasons to show up for work every day, we direct you to the NFL standings, where all of a sudden, an AFC South race that seemed all but wrapped up a few weeks ago when the Titans were 7-3, is now a true race. The Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that has picked first in the last TWO NFL drafts, now control their own destiny in the division. If they win out, and go 9-8, the Jags are AFC South champions. Here is the thing — the Texans play the Titans AND the Jags the next two weeks! THEY CAN BE THE SPOILER! Sure, winning the division is fun, but pooping all over someone else's chances to win the division? SHEER BLISS, I TELL YOU! (Yes, I am drinking right now.)

3. Momentum from "the others"
I don't mean to imply that the final three woes of the season have little to no meaning for a team that's won one game all season. For most of the individuals on the Texans, the final three games serve as an audition for the Texans, and honestly, all 31 other teams. Of late, some of the short time free agents that Nick Caserio signed this past offseason (and in season) have started to flash. Among the players I will have my eye on this weekend to see if they can build on the momentum they've generated —- Tremon Smith, Chris Moore, Jordan Akins, Ogbo Okoronkwo, and Royce Freeman.

2. QB reset
I am hoping that we can put the Texans two QB system to bed, give it its appropriate eulogy and toll the bells for it. It SHOULD now be dead, after the Chiefs took the Jeff Driskel snaps last Sunday and turned most of them into negative plays for the Texans. It was fun while it lasted, but the practical thing to do would be just let Davis Mills steer this janky ship the rest of the way. Now, given the weather in Nashville this weekend (temps are expected to be in single digits), I could see some Driskel snaps on short yardage situations. I don't think they will work, but if we've learned anything about OC Pep Hamilton it's that he's not afraid to call plays that don't work.

1. Derrick Henry Express
Finally, this is the story of the game — can Derrick Henry continue to be the bully kicking sand in the face of the Houston Texans? Dating back to the end of the 2019 season, Henry has a four game stretch against the Texans that is likely as good as any one player has had against an opponent in NFL history — four straight games with over 200 yards rushing. Here are the composite stats:

120 carries
892 yards
7.4 yards per carry
9 rushing touchdowns

YIKES!

I don't know if Henry goes for over 200 yards, but given the QB issues in Tennessee, and given that the Titans' collective back is against the wall, I think they will lean on what they do best, and that's hand the ball to the army tank that is Derrick Henry.

SPREAD: Texans +7
PREDICTION: Texans 20, Titans 19
SEASON RECORD: 10-3-1 SU, 5-8-1 ATS

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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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 the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast