It's hard to believe that this Saturday will mark the 17 month mark since the Houston Texans held a 24-0 lead in the second quarter of a playoff game in Kansas City. We all know that would eventually play out — the Texans would lose that game, 51-31, in catastrophic fashion, the Chiefs would eventually win the Super Bowl, and Bill O'Brien would continue a string of horrific decisions that ultimately would lead to his ouster.
The Texans collapsing to 4-12 in 2020 was bad enough, and Deshaun Watson wanting out five months after signing a mega-extension in September of last year was REALLY bad. However, the fact that a bad team will not only be without Deshaun Watson, but also was unable to trade him because of 22 lawsuits against the quarterback, is just a disastrous turn of events.
It is so bad that it led longtime NFL reporter Peter King to say this about the Texans in last week's version of his weekly column, after laying out how the team will be underdogs in all 17 of their 2021 games (as of right now):
“Quite a comedown for a team that has won the AFC South in four of the last six years. Reminds me of that classic NFL Films line by the former Houston Oilers head coach, Jerry Glanville, when he said to an official he thought had just blown a call: “You know what NFL stands for? Not For Long, if you keep making calls like that.” This is probably the most precipitous drop in recent memory by a franchise to rock-bottomville.”
SO, IS THIS TRUE? IS this indeed the "most precipitous drop in recent memory" for an NFL franchise. Well, let's examine this. First, we need to lay out the parameters. Let’s start with what Peter King’s definition of "recent memory" might be. While King is certainly getting older, and thus perhaps his memory is getting fuzzier, for practical reasons, let's call "recent memory" the period since 2011, which was the advent of the rookie wage scale.
Second, let's establish the period that constitutes the "drop". The Texans were in the playoffs and winning ten regular season games in 2019. King's hypothesis presumes the Texans will be the worst team in the NFL in 2021. So let's call it a two-year period for the "drop" to have occurred.
So with those two parameters in mind, here are the worst teams in the NFL going back to 2011, where those teams were for the two seasons prior, and when they reclaimed relevance by either winning ten or more games OR making the conference title game:
Previous 2 years 14-2 (2009), 10-6 (2010); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2012
ST. LOUIS, 2-14
Previous 2 years 1-15 (2009), 7-9 (2010); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2017
KANSAS CITY, 2-14
Previous 2 years 10-6 (2010), 7-9 (2011); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2013
Previous 2 years 8-8 (2010), 5-11 (2011); Return to relevance, 10-6 in 2017
Previous 2 years 10-6 (2011), 12-4 (2012); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2018
TAMPA BAY, 2-14
Previous 2 years 7-9 (2012), 4-12 (2013); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2020
Previous 2 years 6-10 (2012), 7-9 (2013); Return to relevance, AFC title game in 2019
Previous 2 years 7-9 (2013), 2-14 (2014); Return to relevance, AFC title game in 2019
Previous 2 years 4-12 (2013), 7-9 (2014); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2020
Previous 2 years 7-9 (2014), 3-13 (2015); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2020
Previous 2 years 3-13 (2015), 1-15 (2016); Return to relevance, 11-5 in 2020
Previous 2 years 7-8-1 (2016), 8-8 (2017); Return to relevance TBD
Previous 2 years 7-9 (2017), 6-10 (2018); Return to relevance TBD
Previous 2 years 5-11 (2018), 6-10 (2019); Return to relevance TBD
Previous 2 years 10-6 (2019), 4-12 (2020); Return to relevance TBD
OK, let's draw some conclusions:
First and foremost, the Texans are on the verge of doing something that hasn't been done since... THE TEXANS!
If "recent memory" constitutes the period between 2014 and now, then yes, the 2021 Texans have the potential to suffer the most precipitous drop in recent memory, assuming they finish with the worst record in the league this coming season. In fact, the last time that a bottom of the barrel team had finished above .500 at any point over the previous two seasons was... wait for it.... THE 2013 HOUSTON TEXANS, who were actually above .500 BOTH seasons before crash landing to 2-14 in 2013. Therefore, if the Texans fall to the bottom of the league, one could argue they are retaking their rightful place (sadly).
The Bill O'Brien Era of roster deconstruction makes this fall FEEL like the worst
Based purely on wins and losses, it would not be the MOST precipitous fall in recent memory should the Texans fall to last place in the league. I mentioned the Texans' fall from 12-4 to 2-14 in one year. The Indianapolis Colts actually went from 14-2 and a Super Bowl appearance to 2-14 two years later. However, we know why the Colts fell to the bottom of the league — Peyton Manning suffered a career threatening neck injury in 2011. The 2021 Texans were done in by a horrific streak of bad decision making from the owner all the way down to the head coach. The Texans' collapse was not lady luck frowning upon them, but instead a total failure in a sea of decisions that an eighth grader playing fantasy football wouldn't have made. Perception matters.
The bounce back for some other teams with records like the Texans was quick, but can the Texans do the same?
Since 2011, the teams that went from double digit wins to, two seasons later, the worst record in football all bounced back to at least nine wins the season after finishing in last place. Here is how each of them were able to retool and recover so quickly:
* 2011 COLTS - drafted Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft, finished 11-5
* 2012 CHIEFS - hired Andy Reid as head coach, traded for QB Alex Smith, finished 11-5
* 2013 TEXANS - hired Bill O'Brien (back when he was just a coach, not a bad GM, too), and probably had a much more talented roster than the normal 2-14 team
So, if indeed the Texans finish in last place in 2021, do any of the paths of the teams listed above offer a reasonable blueprint for the Texans? I don't think there's an Andrew Luck in the upcoming draft, so cross that off. Also, I'd be shocked if they fired David Culley after one season, so the path of those other two teams (i.e. finding a new head coach) is probably a no go. Indeed, if the Texans finish in last place in 2021, there's probably a much higher likelihood that they look more like the Browns of 2015 through 2017 than looking like the 2014 Houston Texans.
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