"This is not a long-term rebuilding process. I want to make that clear. We've got core players who are outstanding players, and we still need to fill a few holes." -- Bob McNair, 12/6/13
The day Gary Kubiak was fired, this was McNair's battle cry.
Despite 11 consecutive losses, the clear belief on high was that the Texans had plenty of top-tier NFL talent on the roster. They just had a few small personnel problems that were easily resolved with the football equivalent of spackle and touch-up paint.
The owner's narrative was clear -- this was a playoff-caliber roster that just needed a playoff-caliber coach. The only thing missing from the transcript of McNair's press conference was the THUD from the proverbial bus backing over Kubiak.
Enter Bill O'Brien.
While it was certainly time for Kubiak to go, all behavior from the time the team's new head coach arrived in the building in January indicates McNair's assessment of his team's personnel was far too rosy, if not a tad delusional.
Over the first three months of 2014, there was an ongoing purge, as O'Brien allowed several veteran free agents, such as Antonio Smith, to walk and escorted veterans with unfriendly contracts, such as Owen Daniels and Danieal Manning, to the door.
Miraculously, General Manager Rick Smith was able to hoodwink the Raiders into giving up a draft choice for quarterback Matt Schaub, the overseer and primary cause of the biggest aforementioned hole on the Texans' roster -- the canyon-size crater under center.
Outside linebacker and super freak Jadeveon Clowney was the team's selection with the first overall pick in May's draft, leaving the smoldering abyss at quarterback. ("Smoldering abyss" being code for "Ryan Fitzpatrick.")
And thus began the rebuild under O'Brien. It wasn't sexy, and only time will tell if it was effective.
Counting their blessings heading into 2014, the Texans can hang their collective hat on the following:
1. A defensive front seven that, with Clowney, J.J. Watt and a healthy Brian Cushing, should be one of the best in the league and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. 2. A return to health for Arian Foster (2013 back surgery) and Duane Brown (played with turf toe for all of 2013) that should help the Texans establish some semblance of an offensive identity. 3. A schedule that features games against none of the league's top 5 quarterbacks and 12 games against teams that finished at or below .500 in 2013.
The schedule should mask just how drastic a rebuild is under way over on Kirby. It's as if the Texans are taking the SAT, but the math portion is all simple arithmetic, and the English portion was written by George "The Animal" Steele.
So how will they do?
Let's take a look at their 2014 season, using the tried-and-true Pendergast Method, wherein I place each game in one of three labeled buckets:
Must wins: Games that, to have any chance of making the playoffs, the Texans have to cash in on. Worst case, you can have one mulligan. But lose two of these games, and you're probably not a double-digit-win team.
Coin flippers: Games that could go either way and will likely be played within one score. To fulfill McNair's prophecy, the Texans need to win more of these games than they lose.
Steals: Road games in which the Texans will likely be an underdog of five points or more against teams that they've historically struggled against or match up poorly with or that they play in a hostile environment in potentially adverse conditions.
Where does the 2014 schedule stack up when we start applying the Pendergast Method? Let's take a look:
Must wins, 3: vs. Buffalo, vs. Tennessee, vs. Jacksonville Coin flippers, 12: vs. Washington, at Oakland, at New York Giants, at Dallas, vs. Indianapolis, at Pittsburgh, at Tennessee, vs. Philadelphia, at Cleveland, vs. Cincinnati, at Jacksonville, vs. Baltimore Steals, 1: at Indianapolis
Yes, three-fourths of the season is essentially games of Rock-Paper-Scissors, meaning that virtually everything is in play for 2014, everything from another 2-14 Prozac buffet to a surprise run back to the post-season as an ugly, plucky 10-6 scrapper. In that respect, this is kind of fun.
Sunday, September 7 -- vs. Washington
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: There's a decent chance that if you removed Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin's uniform, it would be revealed that his body is, in fact, made of pipe cleaners. That's it. Just pipe cleaners, a head and some dreadlocks. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Because despite having the second-worst team in the league and continually bungling his amateurish P.R. campaign to keep the team's racist nickname alive, owner Daniel Snyder still oversees the third most valuable team in football. Dumb luck like that must be accounted for. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3 PREDICTION: Texans 19, Redskins 13 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, September 14 -- at Oakland
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Given that Schaub may be starting for the Raiders, this might be the biggest Week 2 game in the history of the Texans' franchise. They cannot lose to Schaub, the mope who buried their 2013 season under a barrage of soul-crushing turnovers; a guy who, when you stare into his eyes, makes you feel as if you're gazing into the soul of the least--motivated graveyard shift worker at -McDonald's. Sorry. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: By the time September 14 rolls around, there's a decent chance Raiders fans will have killed both Schaub and backup Derek Carr (more Texans ties!) with a crop dusting of Molotov cocktails, which means third stringer Matt McGloin would start. McGloin is 1-0 against the Texans. (Here's where you hit yourself in the nuts with a hammer, Texans fan.) SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3 PREDICTION: Texans 24, Raiders 13 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, September 21 -- at New York Giants
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Drive up Highway 59 North. Stop at any convenience store within 30 minutes of Lufkin. Choose any male patron. I guarantee you this person looks smarter than Eli Manning. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Predicting a 3-0 start makes me feel like Bob McNair has somehow infiltrated my soul. I hate that feeling. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3 PREDICTION: Giants 21, Texans 17 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, September 28 -- vs. Buffalo
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Longtime Bills owner Ralph Wilson passed away earlier this year, throwing the franchise's future in Buffalo into a state of uncertainty. One of the rumored buyers is Jon Bon Jovi, whose paperwork to the league reportedly indicates he may move the team to Canada, a prospect that frightens every citizen of Buffalo. You can't lose to a team whose city is afraid of Bon Jovi. You just can't. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: With Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, the Texans might be one of the few teams less fearsome than Jon Bon Jovi. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -5 PREDICTION: Texans 23, Bills 14 BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
Sunday, October 5 -- at Dallas
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Once all the salary dumps, season-ending injuries and drug suspensions have hit, the Cowboys could be sending letters out to Dallas residents drafting them into service on defense, like jury duty (and equally enticing). WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Texans will have spent their first four games playing brittle RG3, Matt Schaub's corpse, turnover machine Eli Manning and E.J. (stands for "Extreme Junk") Manuel. At this point in the season, playing the Cowboys' offense will feel like playing 11 Tecmo Bowl versions of 1990 Bo Jackson. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4 PREDICTION: Cowboys 31, Texans 27 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Thursday, October 9 -- vs. Indianapolis
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Have you ever heard Andrew Luck speak? Well, you know how on Dateline when they silhouette a witness to a brutal crime and run his or her voice through a modulator? That's what Andrew Luck sounds like all the time. In fact, I think he just walks around screaming "HODOR" on the sidelines. Also, Luck's beard makes it look like a miniature schnauzer died on his neck. My point is, deep down Andrew Luck could be a mindless barbarian, a monster who must be stopped on national television. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Past performance in prime time on national television would seem to indicate the Texans are afraid of monsters. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em PREDICTION: Texans 20, Colts 19 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Monday, October 20 -- at Pittsburgh
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Ben Roethlisberger is the Vince Vaughn of NFL quarterbacks, in part because he's always on the fringe of the super-elite at his craft and in part because his physique has slowly evolved from rangy NFL quarterback to Sunday beer league guy. It's as if Big Ben in his first two Super Bowls was Vaughn in Swingers and in his third Super Bowl was Vaughn in Old School. This iteration is Vaughn in The Internship, all souped up on donuts. With Pittsburgh's Swiss-cheese offensive line, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should be cooking Really Big Ben on a spit by the third quarter. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The only people to have spent more Monday night TV time on their backs than the Texans in the past three years are Steve Lombardi and every bachelorette from Juan Pablo's season of The Bachelor. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4 PREDICTION: Steelers 26, Texans 17 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, October 26 -- at Tennessee
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Ken Whisenhunt is the new head coach, and Jake Locker is still the quarterback. Trying to win a Super Bowl with the Whizzer and Locker is like trying to win the Masters using only a five wood and a spatula. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Watt, Clowney and Cushing might make Locker spontaneously combust by the second quarter, automatically improving Tennessee's chances. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -1 PREDICTION: Titans 17, Texans 14 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, November 2 -- vs. Philadelphia
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: With Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, James Casey, Bryan Braman and Roc Carmichael, the Eagles basically are the Texans. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Because with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Newton, Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed and Randy Bullock, the Texans actually are the Texans. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +1.5 PREDICTION: Eagles 28, Texans 20 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, November 16 -- at Cleveland
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine is putting on a clinic in mishandling a rookie quarterback, first saying Johnny Manziel may not play all year, then implying he may for a handful of plays. By the time the Texans face the Browns, Pettine will probably have Manziel playing slot receiver and Ben Tate playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Vince Young 2006, version 2.0. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +1 PREDICTION: Texans 23, Browns 13 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, November 23 -- vs. Cincinnati
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Remember who said this? "We have to surround him with tools. His arm's strong enough. He can make the throws. He's not the kind of quarterback to take a mediocre team on his shoulders and carry them all the way." It was McNair talking about Schaub before the 2013 season, but it could just as easily be Mike Brown describing Andy Dalton. Add in coach Marvin Lewis's heading into a Kubiakian-and-then-some 12th season and the Bengals' very-good-but-not-quite-great defense, and congratulations, Bengals! You're the only team to model yourselves after the 2012 Texans! WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Because, unfortunately, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lot like the quarterbacks the 2012 Texans routinely pounded. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em PREDICTION: Texans 16, Bengals 14 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, November 30 -- vs. Tennessee
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Titans owner Bud Adams died this past year. Remember in Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "If you strike me down, I'll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine"? I'd like to think that in the afterlife, the total opposite applies to Bud; that he is continually stuttering the same word over and over again while locked into a never-ending game of Candy Land with Al Davis. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Titans are the zombie version of the Houston Oilers, and zombies are still going strong in 2014. You know, Walking Dead and shit. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -5 PREDICTION: Texans 24, Titans 16 BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
Sunday, December 7 -- at Jacksonville
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Despite rookie third overall pick Blake Bortles's showing every inkling that he's ready to start in the NFL, the Jags insist that journeyman Chad Henne is their guy at quarterback. Willfully starting Henne when you have the third overall pick sitting on your bench is like searching National Geographic to find some nudity when you have, well, the rest of the Internet. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: They lost to the Jags twice last season, and the Jags should be improved in 2014. Also, their owner may have captured Jack Bauer at one point during a season of 24. He's super-scary. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -4 PREDICTION: Jaguars 24, Texans 17 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, December 14 -- at Indianapolis
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Did I mention previously that the Colts' GM, Ryan Grigson, flipped a perfectly good first-round pick into Trent Richardson, inarguably the worst starting tailback in a league in which Toby Gerhart and Ben Tate are starting tailbacks? Richardson is so bad, Whitney Mercilus might actually tackle him. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Death, taxes and the Texans in Indy. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4.5 PREDICTION: Colts 28, Texans 17 BUCKET RATING: STEAL
Sunday, December 21 -- vs. Baltimore
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Remember the last really good Texans win? Go back to Week 7 in 2012 when the Texans hosed these Ravens by a score of 43-13. That's depressingly long ago. There's no way the Texans are losing to a team that gave Jacoby Jones a second contract. NO. WAY. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: In December games played in NRG Stadium between teams battling for very little, the book says always take the team that employs Gary Kubiak. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Pick 'em PREDICTION: Ravens 20, Texans 19 BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER
Sunday, December 28 -- vs. Jacksonville
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: They might be angling for the first pick in the draft again, and no way the football gods allow that. WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: They might be angling for a playoff spot (hey, you never know), and no way the football gods allow that, either. SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -8 PREDICTION: Texans 28, Jaguars 14 BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN
3-0 in "Must Win" games, 5-7 in "Coin Flippers" and the losing beat goes on in their one "Steal" game in Indy.
I have the Texans at 8-8, not high enough in the 2015 draft to get a game-changing quarterback and not high enough in the standings to enjoy the postseason.
Welcome back to football purgatory, Houston.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/- Sean-Cablinasian or email him at email@example.com.
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