Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 17: Texans-49ers — Four Things To Watch For

Jimmy Garoppolo is likely on the shelf for Sunday's game against the Texans.
Jimmy Garoppolo is likely on the shelf for Sunday's game against the Texans. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The Houston Texans embarking on a December winning streak is not exactly something we all saw coming, as they struggled through three straight hime games in which they scored exactly ZERO points in the second half of any of those games. Yet, here we are, not just a two-game winning streak, but a two-game winning streak in which both wins were by double digit margins.

Give David Culley and his staff credit — this team is not very talented. It's largely older players hanging on to their careers by a thread, except at quarterback, where they have one of the least experienced players in the league starting (and playing well!), but they play hard for Culley. The effort is there, and now with another rookie opposing QB on the horizon, can the Texans make it an unthinkable three wins in a row?

We will find out Sunday afternoon, but here are a few things to watch for:

4. Post COVID Texans
Double digit margins of victory weren't the only double digit number of note the last two weeks for the Texans. One other number that was up in the double digits was the number of players they were forced to place on the COVID-19 Reserve list, due to the league's health and safety protocols. Included on the list were their best player (Brandin Cooks), their starting kicker (Ka'imi Fairbairn), and about 90 percent of their defensive line production. With the change in protocols this week shortening quarantine time for asymptomatic players from 10 days to 5 days, we should see a slew of Texans coming back for Sunday's game.

3. Player of the Week streak!

In the absence of so many teammates, it's been incumbent upon the non-infected Texans to step up, and for the second week in a row, a Texans defensive back won a category of the AFC's Player of the Week honors. Two weeks ago, it was Tremon Smith bringing home Special Teams Player of the Week honors with his 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return against the Jags, and against the Chargers, it was slot corner Tavierre Thomas, on the strength of his pick six to close out the game. That was enough to win AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Now, let's hit the trifecta and SOMEONE bring home AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors this week, Texans!

2. Hey, it's DeMeco Ryans!
Winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week will be easier said than done, as the Niners' defense is a step up in weight class from the defenses Davis Mills has seen since his return as the starting quarterback in Week 14. The Seahawks, Jaguars, and Chargers were all below average (or COVID-depleted, in the case of the Chargers) defenses. The Niners' defense, coordinated by former Texans standout DeMeco Ryans, is among the best in the league in yards allowed, and middle of the pack in scoring defense. While the Texans were able to avoid one Bosa brother last week (Joey, COVID list for the Chargers), they will see the younger Bosa this week, Nick Bosa, who is headed to the Pro Bowl on the strength of his 15 sacks on the season.

1. Rookie QB versus rookie QB
While Davis Mills seems to have figured some things out and has begun to generate some optimism for Texans fans, the 49ers have a rookie quarterback in Trey Lance who will start this game on Sunday due to a hand injury to Jimmy Garoppolo. While the Texans have something of a lotto ticket in Mills — if it doesn't work out, they will just move on — it is almost imperative for the 49ers' future that Lance become a franchise quarterback, considering they traded three first round picks to move up to the third overall selection to take him last spring. The Texans' defense has largely performed well against the rookie quarterbacks they've faced this season, although the only one they've beaten on the scoreboard is Trevor Lawrence (twice). This is a big opportunity for Lovie Smith and his defense on Sunday to keep their momentum going, and for Mills to show that maybe the Texans HAVE found their quarterback 0f the future.

SPREAD: Texans +12.5
PREDICTION: Niners 22, Texans 17

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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