Texans the choice for Hard Knocks

TexansThe Houston Texans will be the featured team on Hard Knocks on HBO for the upcoming season. The series runs five episodes, with the first show airing the week of the opening preseason game, which for the Texans is Tuesday, Aug. 11 for the Texans before their preseason opener against San Francisco in Houston.

Not many members of the Texans team or football staff have been with the featured Hard Knocks team previously. Here’s the list I came up with:

Brian Gaine – asst GM Miami 2012 (current Dir. of Player Personnel)
Mike Devlin – Jets TE coach 2010 (current Texans OL coach)
Johnathan Joseph – Bengals CB 2009
Will Yeatman – Dolphins OT 2012

J.J. Watt will be all over this production to be sure and I think everybody remembers how he was introduced to Hard Knocks fans when the Falcons, the 2014 featured team came to Houston for some preseason practices.

Here’s the full video (NSFW – Mike Tice has a potty mouth) with Watt going up against rookie T Jake Matthews.

 

The other story lines that I will guess will be a part of the show :

– The QB battle: Remember the Texans QB room with Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and OC George Godsey, along with Bill O’Brien all were together in New England with Tom Brady. Wonder if any subtle, ball preparation topics get discussed. Also they were together for this little outburst, that may get brought up to illustrate O’Brien’s fiery personality:

 

– Arian Foster is very accommodating with the media when he wants to be – see him making the rounds at a Super Bowl or in sit-down interview with Hannah Storm – not to mention his acting career gets closer every day his NFL career gets shorter.

– JaDeveon Clowney – Injury recovery, rehab have always been a part of Hard Knocks and until they capture one that hasn;t yet happened, this recovery from microfractre surgery is a big one to follow if he is back on the field during training camp.

– There will be a rookie or two that they will focus on, plus the inevitable long-shot rookie, too. I’m guessing Jaelen Strong, since I imagine some focus on Andre Johnson being gong will be a storyline.

I’ve produced the Bill O’Brien TV show for the past couple of seasons and in getting to see his personality a little bit, while I don’t think he’s a big fan of the intrusion of cameras and the time it will pull from him and others, I think he will be quite good on the show. When he was at Penn State in 2013, the Nittany Lions were featured on ESPN’s training days and You can get a pretty good idea of the Bill O’Brien you’ll see on Hard Knocks.

Also if you’re really into seeing what O’Brien is like, here’s a huge video library from the Penn State TV crew from his time as their head coach in 2012 and 2013.

Remember these fisticuffs from last year, though D.J. Swearinger is no longer a Texan.

 

This is one of my all-time favorite clips:

 

On a side note, I have used Hard Knocks for my fantasy football team name several times in the past. Cheeseburgers on the Field from the Jets season was one of them, Tank from the Chiefs season was another. Child, Please was another. (This Chad Johnson clip is a big NSFW)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTrn2aZoZMU

Watt the MVP, not likely

NFL-Logo-jpgFor weeks, I have said J.J. Watt, not only wasn’t going to win the award, but did not deserve to win the award. But as Aaron Rodgers has finished off his season of not leading the league in passer rating or yards or touchdowns or completion percentage, giving the award to him is no longer the obvious thing to do. While I still believe Rodgers had the best season of any quarterback, narrowly edging the season for Tony Romo, the margin is tiny. With Romo’s brilliant season clearly being aided by tremendous offensive line play and the most prolific individual rushing season in Cowboys franchise history coming from DeMarco Murray, even a vote for him is far from clear.

The idea of an award with the word valuable in it, seems to indicate that value should matter. As in, when this guy plays well, it leads to wins or at least a great chance to win. Looking at the last two seasons for Rodgers and Watt presents a great look at “value.”

Rodgers got hurt in 2013 during the 8th game of the Packers season. When Rodgers got hurt he was fourth in passer rating and the Packers were 5-2. In the eight games last he missed (he was hurt early in their 8th game), Green Bay went 2-5-1 and their quarterbacks produced a 75.7 rating, which over the course of a season would have ranked 26th league-wide. They missed the playoffs for the only time in the last six seasons with Rodgers as the starting quarterback. This season he led them to an 11-5 mark, while throwing 38 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He ranked behind only Tony Romo in passer rating.

In Watt’s case, in 2013, he wasn’t all-worldly, but he was very good for 16 games. He had 10.5 sacks and led the NFL in quarterback hits. He was 1st team All-Pro. But Houston was a 2-14 team, losing their final 14 games in a row to close out the season.

This season he had 20.5 sacks for the second time in his career, becoming the only player in NFL history to post multiple seasons of 20 or more sacks. He was absolutely all-worldly, scoring 32 points on top of being the most dominant defensive player the league has maybe ever seen. The best quarterback never misses the playoffs in the NFL, especially not now, with the rules set up as they are now, so clearly benefiting offenses.

The best individual season by a defensive layer in the history of the league was just turned in by Watt, yet his team won just nine games and six of those wins came against the five worst teams in the league. But before I completely bury Watt, let’s take a look at his domination.

J.J. Watt led the league in quarterback hits for the third consecutive season. That’s impressive. What’s more impressive is the margin between Watt and the next best guy. Watt had 50 quarterback hits. No other player had 40. Or even 30. The two most prolific quarterback smashers combined had 56 quarterback hits, a mere six more that Watt had on his own. (Dunlap and Miller combined for 1853 snaps, while Watt had 1050). His pattern of nearly lapping the field in this category is nothing new.

Quarterback hits
2014: Watt 50, Von Miller & Carlos Dunlap 28
2013: Watt 46, Robert Quinn 34
2012: Watt 43, Cameron Wake 33

No player has had more than one season of 30 or more quarterback hits since 2000…except for Watt and he has three consecutive seasons of 43 or more quarterback hits.

Watt also led the NFL in tackles for loss for the 2nd time in the last three seasons.

Tackles For Loss
2014: Watt 29, Houston 23
2013: Quinn 23, Watt 22
2012: Watt 39, Miller 28

It was a tremendous season for Watt defensively, and as seen above, but he also scored 32 points. He caught three passes – all for touchdowns, the final two of which would make any NFL wide receiver proud. He picked off a pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown in a game the Texans won by six points. And he scooped up an Andrew Luck fumble, one of his league-leading five fumble recoveries on the season, and returned that 55 yards for a touchdown, too. He scored points in six games. The Texans were 5-1 in those games.

So Aaron Rodgers was arguably the best quarterback his season. Not clearly or overwhelming better than Tony Romo or Tom Brady. And possibly no more valuable than Andrew Luck.

J.J. Watt unquestionably was the best player at his position in the league. He was unquestionably the best player on defense in the league as well. He did things the league hasn’t seen in 50 years, 60 years in some cases. For instance, he was the first player in more than 50 years to have a touchdown reception, interception returned for a touchdown and fumble recovery for a touchdown in the same season. He was the first player since 1956 to have more than one touchdown in a season on offense and defense.

And none of what he did was aided by an emphasis on rule enforcement (illegal contact) that saw a record nine quarterbacks amass 30 touchdown passes. The league had never had a season with more than five quarterbacks throwing 30 or more scores.

Alright, hang on a second, the Watt hyperbole has gone too far, right? What about Justin Houston in Kansas City?

Justin Houston has 22 sacks, topping Watt’s 20.5. He also played for a 9-7 team. He was second to Watt in tackles for loss with  23 and fifth to Watt in quarterback hits with 25. He even had four fumbles forced, just like Watt (though he had zero recoveries, unlike Watt who led the league with five). The Chiefs defense also had only 14 takeaways, only the Jets had fewer. The Texans defense had a league-high 34 turnovers. So enough of that.

And again, while the perception is that Aaron Rodgers was clearly the best quarterback in the league, the numbers do not support that. He was 3rd in touchdowns, 2nd in passer rating, 2nd in yards per attempt, 7th in passing yards, 1st in lowest interception rate. He was 9th in completion percentage, one spot behind Jay Cutler.

But having said all that, I think Aaron Rodgers wins the award. It is virtually impossible to argue that a defensive player in this era of football, impacts the game in such a way that he can more directly lead to victories and thus have more value.

But if it’s any solace, the non-existent award for the best player in the NFL in 2014, goes to J.J. Watt. If 50 people had a vote, it should be 50-0. Every other elite player had a season in 2014 comparable to other players at the their position this season or comparable to recent seasons put up by their contemporaries. (DeMarco Murray had a Dallas Cowboys franchise record 1,845 yards rushing. A number topped twice in the last five seasons in the NFL.) The season Watt produced, had no equals – ever.

First year for draft class a disappointment

TexansThis is no revelation to say that the Texans’ 10 player rookie draft class provided very little to this year’s team. But their contributions were alarmingly low, especially considering the top pick in each round belonged to the Texans. Injuries obviously played a part with two players landing on injured reserve without taking any snaps and a third landing there also after seeing action in parts of just four games.

(1st round) That third player was top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had offseason sports hernia surgery, suffered a concussion during preseason practices with the Denver Broncos and then hurt his knee in the first half of the first game of his NFL career. He tried to play through it that day and then again in three games later in the season, but has now undergone microfracture surgery. His first season is chronicled here.

(2nd round) Xavier Su’a-Filo did not play badly when he was out there, but he just wasn’t out there enough. The simple truth is he didn’t out play Ben Jones. That is not a good thing for the incoming second round pick, because Jones was clearly their weakest lineman. He made one start when Brandon Brooks was sick against Indianapolis in week six, but was used for only a series a two in most of the games that followed. He ha a back injury that kept him inactive for the final three games of the season. Su’a-Filo needs to make a commitment to his conditioning and if he doesn’t enter next season as a starting guard for the Texans, then that would be alarming for a guy the Texans selected 33rd overall and before loads of already productive, talented players at every other position, including quarterback.

(3rd round) No draftee started more games than rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who that call nine times. However, he rarely saw more snaps than the other prominent tight end. In each game, either second-year tight end Ryan Griffin or fifth year tight end Garrett Graham were utilized more often and far, far more often as a receiving target. he rarely ran routes and was thrown the ball only seven times on the season. He really struggled during the middle portion of the season with his blocking, but played much better over the final few weeks. Again, Fiedorowicz was not a poor player overall, but the Texans made him the 65th overall pick. Suffice to say there were a handful of players drafted behind him that were not only more productive, but have much brighter futures. By the way, that handful would be gathered using the hands of Andre the Giant.

(3rd round) Defensive tackle Louis Nix had a history of knee problems at Notre Dame and that was one reason why he was available with the 83rd overall selection in the third round. He struggled with his conditioning and injuries through the offseason and didn’t play in either of the first two preseason games. Then after playing 11 snaps in the third preseason game and 45 snaps in the fourth preseason game he was on the opening day roster. He was inactive for the first three games and was then placed on injured reserve. It’s unlikely the Texans will cut ties with Nix early in the offseason, but it not out of the question that his spot on the roster for 2015 is safe. Ryan Pickett joined the Texans after Nix went on IR and started every game the rest of the season. He said if he continued playing next season, which would be his 15th NFL season, he would like to be in Houston.

(4th round) The Texans were expected to come out of the draft with a quarterback and they did, but not until six others were already gone. They grabbed Tom Savage with the 135th overall selection. After spending the first 11 games on the inactive list, he took a few snaps in game 12 – all handoffs at the end of a blowout. Then in game 14, he was the backup when Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg late in the first half and he entered the game. He looked unprepared and exceptionally nervous. Bill O’Brien constantly said he had a long way to go and he was right. Savage throws a great ball, maybe best on the team, but running this offense and actually commanding this offense is something he simply wasn’t ready to do. After watching his 54 snaps over two plus quarters against Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine him starting games for Houston anytime soon. Houston did less than just about any other team to address their quarterback situation. If that’s their plan this offseason, then you can count on another year of not being a serious contender.

(6th round) Three Texans 2014 draftees played in all 16 games and each was drafted in the sixth round. Defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan started the year slowly after an offseason of recovering from a shoulder injury. Over the last several weeks of the season. He got consistent work along the Texans defensive line over the final several weeks of the season. In the seven games following the bye week, Pagan averaged just over 15 snaps per game. In the nine games prior to the off week, his average snap count per game was just eight plays. He is likely in line to take over for veteran lineman Tim Jamison, who finished the season on injured reserve.

(6th round) By far the most helpful draftee was Alfred Blue. He had a remarkably productive season as the number two running back behind Arian Foster. With Foster missing three entire games and playing hurt in several others, Blue had at lease one carry in every game. He carried the ball 36 times for 156 yards in the Texans win over Cleveland in week 11. Both were the most by any rookie in the NFL this season and the 36 carries set a Texans franchise record. He finished the season with 169 rushes and 15 receptions and did have a fumble. He also blocked a punt in his NFL debut against Washington and returned it for a touchdown. While he may lack the explosiveness to be a top runner in the league, he will have a role on the team next season and likely for years to come.

(6th round) Fullback is clearly the least important position in the NFL. Quick, name the best two fullbacks in the league? Now name two more. Jay Prosch had surgery on his hand during training camp that slowed him down, that clearly affected his ability to block effectively. However, he was used so infrequently overall, his blocking as a healthy player later in the season didn’t stand out either. He played an average of just under 11 snaps per game or roughly 15 percent of the team’s offensive plays. That’s not likely to change in the future either. Only seven teams used their fullback on more than 20 percent of their offensive plays. It’s still debatable that Prosch will prove to be an NFL talent, but it’s also debatable if a fullback is a wise choice in the draft at all in this era in the NFL.

(6th round) Like Blue, cornerback Andre Hal had one game this season that he was leaned on heavily due to injuries. Though in Hal’s case, it was a game he’d like to forget. When the Texans hosted the Eagles, starting cornerback Kareem Jackson hurt his knee on the fourth play of the game. Six plays later, the other starting corner Johnathan Joseph got hurt on a big hit. Neither would return to the game. Andre Hal came in for Jackson and played the remaining 79 snaps. His first play following the Joseph injury had him isolated in coverage deep down the field with Jeremy Maclin. Maclin beat him for a 59-yard touchdown. Just simply ran by him. Later in the first half, Hal allowed his second touchdown reception, this time to fellow Vanderbilt rookie Jordan Matthews, this time in the slot on an 11-yard reception. More than one-third of Hal’s snaps on the season came in this game. When he was drafted, he was right behind A.J. Bouye on the depth chart. The Texans added Darryl Morris and Jumal Rolle after training camp and both spent most of the season firmly ahead of Hal, though Hal does look he may indeed have an NFL future.

(7th round) Safety Lonnie Ballentine was hurt early in training camp and was put on injured reserve before the season even began. He has excellent size for an NFL safety, but needs to put in the work. The Texans will be pushing him hard to make him into a useful player.

Here’s a look at the how much the Texans draft picks were used this season:

14Rookies

Overall
After one season this class has to be termed a disappointment. Clowney’s injury situation puts a cloud over all of it for sure since his future is so uncertain, though likely to have a career that comes in well short of draft-day expectations. But the disappointment over not hitting a home run possibly with the top pick is injury-related. That really doesn’t apply to the others. With apologies to Nix, he has to show this coaching staff a lot to earn his way onto the field. While Jerrell Powe is just a guy in the NFL, he, or a player just like him, could prove to be a better option than Nix. If Ryan Pickett returns and the Texans should hope that he does, he remains the starter.

The Texans knew they needed to get better along the offensive line, they drafted Su’a-Filo with the idea that he would be one of the five starters. He took reps all along the line during camp, before clearly being pegged as a guard with this group. He never really challenged for a starting spot. He had 54 snaps in his one start due to injury, that accounted for over a quarter of his plays. For where he was drafted, if he’s not among their top five lineman for another season, that is simply a bad selection, no other way to put it.

While Fiedorowicz, Blue, Pagan and Hal look like keepers, the Texans, like any other team in the salary-capped NFL can’t continue to miss on their early round selections constantly, which they have done repeatedly in the past. Their first round selections have for the most part been solid, if not spectacular. But finding a few truly top players in the second and third rounds is something this team simply has not done.

Not including the 2014 draft, Houston has made 13 selections in the second and third rounds. The list is hard to look at:

2013
D.J. Swearinger (Texans starter)
Brennan Williams (out of NFL)
Sam Montgomery (out of NFL)
2012
Devier Posey (inactive for all but 1 game with Texans)
Brandon Brooks (quality Texans starter)
2011
Brooks Reed (Texans OLB starter)
Brandon Harris (backup Titans CB, played < 10% of their snaps)
2010
Ben Tate (released by 2 teams during 2014 season)
Earl Mitchell (quality Dolphins starter)
2009
Connor Barwin (Pro bowl with Eagles in 2014)
Antoine Caldwell (out of NFL)
2008
Antwaun Molden (out of NFL)
Steve Slaton (out of NFL)

Barwin, by far is the best player in the bunch, reaching the pro bowl for the first time this season. He had one good season in four with Houston, but his final season was a dud, thus was not re-signed, which was the right move in my opinion. While the team has found a handful of starters, they have not found any players, beyond Barwin, that appear as even a possibility to become one of the better players at their positions. Finding nothing but average players in the second and third rounds makes it very tough to consistently field a strong team. Houston has managed to put together three winning seasons in the last four through this period of drafting, which is rather remarkable.

Houston will draft 16th in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.

Watt, Foster make the Pro Bowl

TexansA pair of Houston Texans have been selected to the 2014 Pro Bowl. Running back Arian Foster and defensive end J.J. Watt are headed to the Pro Bowl for the fourth and third time, respectively.

Foster has gained at least 105 yards from scrimmage in 11 of his 12 games this season and has rushed for 100 yards or more seven times. He is over 1,500 yards from scrimmage for the fourth time in his career.

“Coming off of a back injury, I really needed to focus on my core,” Foster said of his fourth selection. “It means your league peers, the people that love the game, coaches, and fans all alike respect the way you play the game. It’s an honor.

“I’m a guy that came from the ‘bottom of the bottom’ of the League being undrafted,” Foster continued. “Every time you get an honor like this it’s an extreme compliment to your teammates who helped you get there and a testament to the hard work that you put in.”

For Watt, it’s his third straight season to be selected for the Pro Bowl. Watt is the first defensive linemen since Chicago Bears DE Connie Mack Berry in 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in a season and the first player since Chicago Bears DB J.C. Caroline in 1956 to score multiple touchdowns on offense and defense in the same season.

Watt is the league leader in quarterback hits, tackles for loss and fumble recoveries, and is second in the league in sacks. He has 72 tackles, 17.5 sacks for 120 yards, 25 tackles for loss, 47 quarterback hits, 10 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, a blocked extra point and two defensive touchdowns.

“Being selected to the Pro Bowl is always an honor,” Watt said. “I am very appreciative of everyone who voted for me and thankful for the opportunity to represent Houston. With that being said, outside of enjoying the company of my family for the holidays, my focus is on the Jacksonville Jaguars and our final regular season game on Sunday.”

Texans T Duane Brown, WR DeAndre Hopkins and C Chris Myers were named as alternates. Brown and Myers have been selected to the Pro Bowl on two other occasions. Last week, Hopkins, a second year receiver, became the 25th player in NFL history to top 2,000 yards receiving in his first two seasons.

NFL Pro Bowl predictions

NFL-Logo-jpgClearly J.J. Watt will hear his name announced Tuesday night when Pro Bowl announcements are made. The Texans defensive end is the best defensive player on the planet. Texans running back Arian Foster should also be selected.

Any other Texans selected would be surprising. DeAndre Hopkins is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards, but Jeremy Maclin, Randall Cobb and Odell Beckham could easily be considered ahead of him, along with the 8 selections.

Duane Brown, as a two-time Pro Bowler will draw consideration, but he’d have to be considered among the top 6 tackles in the NFL to make the cut and I don’t think he was.

Here are my selections at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Remember, conference affiliation no longer matters in Pro Bowl voting.

QB
Tony Romo (DAL)
Aaron Rodgers (GB)
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
Tom Brady (NE)
Peyton Manning (DEN)
Phillip Rivers (SD)

RB
DeMarco Murray (DAL)
Le’Veon Bell (PIT)
Arian Foster (HOU)
Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
Justin Forsett (BAL)
Eddie Lacy (GB)

WR
Antonio Brown (PIT)
Julio Jones (ATL)
Jordy Nelson (GB)
Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
Dez Bryant (DAL)
T.Y. Hilton (IND)
Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)
Golden Tate (DET)

TE
Rob Gronkowski (NE
Antonio Gates (SD)
Greg Olsen (CAR)
Martellus Bennett (CHI)

Week 17 playoff scenarios – For Texans it’s simple.

TexansAs you saw from me on twitter, there remains one set of results, only one, that will have the Texans (8-7) season extend into the playoffs. They must win their game against Jacksonville (3-12) at NRG Stadium. Baltimore (9-6)  must lose their game at home against Cleveland (7-8) and San Diego (9-6) must lose their game on the road in Kansas City (8-7).

Those results would leave Houston, Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego all at 9-7. Houston would win the tiebreaker based on their 8-4 conference record. Both Buffalo and Miami could join the 9-7 tiebreak party, but there are already no scenarios for them to win tiebreakers, they have both been eliminated.

The Texans open as a 9.5 favorite. The Ravens are an 8.5 point favorite, while the Chargers are a 2.5 point underdog.

Here are all the scenarios for week 17, with contingencies based on the Monday night football result between Denver and Cincinnati.

AFC
CLINCHED:
New England – AFC East and a first-round bye
Denver – AFC West
Indianapolis – AFC South
Pittsburgh – playoff berth

– NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (vs. Buffalo)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI
New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) NE win OR
2) NE tie + DEN loss or tie OR
3) DEN loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs

– DENVER BRONCOS (at Cincinnati; vs. Oakland)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI
Denver clinches a first-round bye
Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) DEN win + NE loss or tie OR
2) DEN tie + NE loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
Denver clinches a first-round bye with:1) DEN win or tie OR
2) CIN loss OR
3) CIN tie + IND win

– CINCINNATI BENGALS (vs. Denver; at Pittsburgh)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI
Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:
1) CIN win
Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN tie OR
2) BAL loss or tie OR
3) SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot
Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:
1) CIN win or tie
Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with:
1) CIN win + DEN loss or tie OR
2) CIN tie + DEN loss + IND loss or tie

– PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Cincinnati)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI
Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:
1) PIT win or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:
1) PIT win

– SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (at Kansas City)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATISan Diego clinches a playoff spot with:
1) SD win OR
2) SD tie + CIN loss OR
3) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:
1) SD win OR
2) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

– BALTIMORE RAVENS (vs. Cleveland)
IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + CIN loss OR
2) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR
3) BAL tie + SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR
2) BAL tie + SD loss

– KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (vs. San Diego)
Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with:
1) KC win + BAL loss + HOU loss or tie

– HOUSTON TEXANS (vs. Jacksonville)
Houston clinches a playoff spot with:
1) HOU win + BAL loss + SD loss

NFC
CLINCHED:
Arizona Cardinals – playoff berth
Seattle Seahawks – playoff berthDetroit Lions – playoff berth
Green Bay Packers – playoff berth
Dallas Cowboys – NFC East

-DALLAS COWBOYS (at Washington)
Dallas clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) DAL win + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB tie
Dallas clinches a first-round bye with:
1) DAL win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR
2) DAL win + DET/GB tie OR
3) DAL tie + SEA loss + ARI loss OR
4) DAL tie + SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB does not end in a tie

-DETROIT LIONS (at Green Bay)
Detroit clinches NFC North with:
1) DET win or tie
Detroit clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) DET win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR
2) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss + DAL loss or tie
Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:
1) DET win OR
2) DET tie + DAL loss or tie OR
3) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss

-GREEN BAY PACKERS (vs. Detroit)
Green Bay clinches NFC North and a first-round bye with:
1) GB win
Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) GB win + SEA loss or tie

-SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (vs. St. Louis)
Seattle clinches NFC West with:
1) SEA win OR
2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie OR
3) ARI loss
Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) SEA win + DET/GB game does not end in a tie OR
2) SEA win + DAL loss or tie OR
3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie
Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:
1) SEA win OR
2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss OR
3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + GB/DET tie

-ARIZONA CARDINALS (at San Francisco)
Arizona clinches NFC West with:
1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR
2) ARI tie + SEA loss
Arizona clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR
2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie
Arizona clinches a first-round bye with:
1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR
2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie OR
3) ARI tie + SEA loss + GB/DET tie

-CAROLINA PANTHERS (at Atlanta)
Carolina clinches NFC South with:
1) CAR win or tie

-ATLANTA FALCONS (vs. Carolina)
Atlanta clinches NFC South with:
1) ATL win

How the Texans make the playoffs

While the Texans do not know who their starting quarterback will be in their final two regular season games, they know one thing. If they have any chance to make the playoffs, they must win both of their remaining games. They host Baltimore in week 16 and host Jacksonville in the finale the following week.

The Ravens could clinch a playoff berth with a win over Houston (along with a few other desired results) and it also marks the return of former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati could also clinch playoff berths this weekend, but we’ll look at how things must shake out for Houston to grab a wild card berth. For all week 16 playoff clinching scenarios, click here.

The gist of everything to shake Houston’s way is that they need no more than one wild card team to have 10 wins, since they can no longer reach ten wins. Take a look at this playoff chart heading into week 16 that includes nine teams battling for the remaining three AFC playoff berths. The Patriots, Broncos and Colts have already clinched their respective divisions.

Wk16playoffs

The Texas would win all multi-team tiebreakers at 9-7. Would win win all single-team tiebreakers with every team except Pittsburgh who beat them head-to-head. BUT there are no scenarios that would leave Houston and Pittsburgh tied for the final wild card spot as the only 9-7 teams.

If Houston finishes 9-7 and only one team or none from the following group reach 10 wins, then Houston will make the playoffs.

Pittsburgh (9-5)
Baltimore (9-5)
Buffalo (8-6)
San Diego (8-6)
Kansas City (8-6)

San Diego and Kansas City cannot both reach 10 wins since they face each other in week 17, but a tie in that game would prevent the Texans from catching them unless both lost their week 16 games.

San Diego will be underdogs in both of their games.

Kansas City will be underdogs in week 16 at Pittsburgh.

Buffalo is favored at 2-12 Oakland in week 16, but are at New England in week 17. The Patriots will not clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in week 16 unless they win and Denver loses at Cincinnati. So the Patriots could still have something significant to gain with a win over Buffalo in week 17.

If Pittsburgh beats Kansas City in week 16 (and they are favored to do so in Pittsburgh), and Baltimore beats Cleveland in week 17 in Baltimore and they will be heavily favored to do so, the Texans would be eliminated.

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If Baltimore beats Cleveland in week 17 to reach 10 wins, then Houston needs Buffalo and Pittsburgh to finish with only 9 wins. Pittsburgh would need to lose both of their games, which will be in Pittsburgh and they will be favored in both.

If Pittsburgh does lose both games, that would include a loss to Kansas City in week 16. Kansas City would then need to lose in week 17 at home to San Diego. Although if Kansas City loses to San Diego in week 17, then Houston would need San Diego to have already lost at San Francisco in week 16 to keep them below 10 wins.

Week 15 edition: Will the Texans make the playoffs?

If the Texans win their final three games, which would include a first-ever win at Indianapolis, then the Texans almost assuredly will make the playoffs. At 7-6, they are currently 8th in the AFC and trail three teams, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh by just one game.

The Texans also have a 6-3 record in the AFC, which would move to 9-3 with three wins obviously. That would guarantee them the best conference record among all the wild card contenders, except for one – Pittsburgh, who could also have a 9-3 record and has a head-to-head win over the Texans. Although, if the Steelers and the Texans each win their remaining three games, the Steelers would win the AFC north and the Texans would then have a 10-6 record and have the best conference record among all wild card teams. (Remember the Steelers could still match the Texans 9-3 conference record without winning the division potentially if they lost at Atlanta this week and the Bengals win their next two games before losing to Pittsburgh in the season finale. The Bengals would have already clinched the division, though could still be playing for seeding….and so on…etc…continued…you get it.)

If the Texans are 10-6 and with the Steelers as a division champ, the only way the Texans would NOT be in the playoffs as a wild card team is if the Chargers win out (vs Den, at SF, at KC) AND the Bengals win their next two games, before losing to the Steelers in week 17. (Though if the above happens AND Denver loses out (at SD, at Cin, vs Oak), the Texans would be the final wild card team and the Broncos would miss the playoffs!).

Here’s a look at the AFC situation in a nutshell, plus my projections for the remaining games. Note I do not have the Texans winning at the Colts and I do not have them making the playoffs at 9-7. I also include the final standings and playoff set-up should my projected results play out (h/t ESPN Playoff Machine).

Wk15Playoffs

Wk15PlayoffMachine

Here’s a link to the playoff machine. Just a slight tweak to the above, like a Ravens loss in week 17 to Johnny Football, would put the Texans (9-7) in the playoffs, even if all my other projected results stay the same.

Just one yard, but one very important yard from Foster

As has been the case with the rest of the trash the Texans have seen this season, the Texans did what they were supposed to do and beat a less talented team starting a rookie quarterback. While the Jaguars did hold a 13-10 halftime lead, the Texans dominated them after halftime, shutting them out and cruising to their seventh win of the season, 27-13.

Houston improves to 4-0 against rookie signal callers, having beaten Derek Carr and the Raiders, along with Zach Mettenberger and the Titans twice. Each of those four teams, also spots a league-worst 2-11 record. The combined scores of those four games is 132-64. Barring injury, they’ll see Blake Bortles one more time in the season finale in Houston.

This was the biggest struggle of the four lopsided wins and needed one special effort play to put this one to bed and they got it from their best offensive player – Arian Foster.

Foster did what he seems to always do, find yards where they don’t seem to be. He ripped off a 51-yard run early in the game that led to the Texans first points. But it was his miracle one-yard run from the one-yard line for the final score of the game that was undoubtedly his most important tote.

Houston had the ball at the one-yard line with a first and goal, holding a 17-13 lead with a minute left in the third quarter. They started with Foster losing a yard on first down run up the middle, then gaining the yard back on second down with a run to the left.

They let time run out on the third quarter before their third down snap, so they had a lot of extra time to make their play call and discuss what to do on fourth down if they didn’t score on third down. They went with a sweep to the left for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on third down. He’d scored on a similar play to the right in the first half from four yards out. This time, however, with again no push from the offensive line, Fitzpatrick was again stopped short. That left the Texans with three runs for zero yards and a fourth and goal from the one.

On came Randy Bullock for the incredibly short field goal attempt, but with a about 15 seconds on the play clock, the Texans called timeout for more discussion. Fitzpatrick, Foster, head coach Bill O’Brien and quarterback coach George Godsey put their heads together and sent the offensive back on the field to go for the score on fourth down.

They brought defensive end J.J. Watt back onto the field, he had been in on second down as a tight end in motion as a decoy. Fullback Jay Prosch was lined up in front of Foster and they had tight ends Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz on the field as well. Every payer was bunched up along the front and all nine in front of Foster, other than Fitzpatrick were set to block for him on what would be a fourth down run.

Not surprisingly, the Texans formation brought all 11 Jaguars into the box.

Texans set to run against 6-man front with all 11 Jaguars in the box.

Texans set to run against 6-man front with all 11 Jaguars in the box.

The handoff went to Foster and he followed Prosch to his right.

JJ Watt, Duane Brown and Ben Jones  are already off their feet on the left attempting blocks. The blockers in front of Foster are stood up.

JJ Watt, Duane Brown and Ben Jones are already off their feet on the left attempting blocks. The blockers in front of Foster are stood up.

Right tackle Derek Newton got pushed back two yards and right tackle Brandon Brooks was stoned, then pushed back slightly be Sen’Derrick Marks. Prosch was able to guide the linebacker out of the play, but with the Texans offensive line again unable to get any push, this play looked doomed.

Five Texans blockers are already down, while all but one of the Jaguars are still on their feet in pursuit

Five Texans blockers are already down, while all but one of the Jaguars are still on their feet in pursuit

Not a single Texan has pushed into the endzone when Foster was first touched and he wasn’t even to the two-yard line.

Foster avoid getting hit cleanly, sees the light to his right as Watt and Brown rise up.

Foster avoid getting hit cleanly, sees the light to his right as Watt and Brown rise up.

But none of the Jaguars was able to get a good hit or grab of Foster and simply back-pedaled, reversed course and with no backside contained, he scampered around the left side rather easily.

Foster now on the move to his left, Brown and Watt are there to help, though they don't need to block anyone and Foster cruises in for the touchdown.

Foster now on the move to his left, Brown and Watt are there to help, though they don’t need to block anyone and Foster cruises in for the touchdown.

After the game, O’Brien said Foster told him he was going to score, just give it to him. So he did. And he did. And that essentially ended the game.

Texans play counts vs Browns

Texans play counts against the BrownsTexans
Offensive Line
The offensive line played their best game of the season and took every single snap, as did quarterback Ryan Mallett. Mallett was not sacked and the Browns were credited with just two quarterback hits. Houston set a franchise record for rushing attempts in a game with 54. It was the tenth time in Texans history the team has rushed for at least 200 yards (213) and the second time this season.

Wide Receivers
As usual, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson hardly left the field. Hopkins played 82 of 86 (95%) snaps, while Johnson played 79 of 86 (92%). Damaris Johnson had his most touches of the season with one rushing attempt and five receptions. He was targeted eight times, a season high and played 55 (64%) snaps. Keshawn Martin played just 14 snaps.

Tight Ends
Garrett Graham was only targeted twice, but it came on consecutive plays just before the end of the first half and his two catches over the middle on those two plays closed out a touchdown drive that put the team up 14-7. He played 71 (83%) snaps, with C.J. Fiedorowicz getting 31 (36%) and Ryan Griffin getting three (3%) of the snaps. J.J. Watt had one snap, a productive one that resulted in a two yard touchdown reception.

Running Backs
With Arian Foster inactive, rookie Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes handled the entire load and it was a huge load. On 58 (67%) snaps, Blue set a franchise record with 36 carries and tied the team rookie record with 156 yards. Grimes also carried 13 time for 54 yards on his 27 snaps. Fullback Jay Prosch had nine snaps.

Defense
Defensive Line
As usual Watt got the most work with 70 (91%) of the snaps and he produced a sack, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and three tackles for loss. Jared Crick nearly had his first interception of the season and had 48 (62%) of the snaps. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett had 29 (38%) snaps, while Jerrell Powe had 17 (22%), a common split over recent weeks. Tim Jamison played 27 (35%) snaps and rookie Jeoffrey Pagan played 13 (17%) snaps.

Linebackers
Brian Cushing returned to the field after missing the last three games with a sore knee and he looked good for the first time this season. He played 59 (77%) of the snaps, a much higher number than head coach Bill O’Brien said he expected for Cushing. He finished second on the team in tackles with six, had two crushing hits on Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer and forced a fumble from running back Isaiah Crowell that Watt recovered.

Akeem Dent (45, 58%) and Mike Mohammed (23, 30%) took the remaining snaps for the inside linebackers and each produced their most impactful game of the season. Dent filled up the stat sheet with five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. Mohammed led the team with three passes defensed and near the end of the game, he intercepted a pass intended for Austin that he bobbled and Mohammed snatched out of the air. He also had a tackle for loss. Justin Tuggle played only special teams on Sunday.

Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (54 snaps, 70%) and Brooks Reed (50 snaps, 65%) took the majority of the snaps. Jadeveon Clowney (39 snaps, 51%) got his most extensive work of the season in his return and had two tackles and a tackle for loss. John Simon had six snaps.

Defensive Backs
A.J. Bouye started for Kareem Jackson and was the only defensive player to play all 77 snaps. As he said after the game, there was some good and some bad as he was targeted all afternoon long and led the team in tackles with nine. Jonathan Joseph, who practiced all week after clearing the concussion protocol took just four snaps off staying on the field for 73 of 77 (95%) plays. Jumal Rolle got all remaining cornerback snaps (36, 47%) and produced three tackles.

Safety Kendrick Lewis continued to be the workhorse of the back end with 70 (91%) of the snaps. Danieal Manning got the start over D.J. Swearinger, but Swearinger was on the field before the end of the first drive and ended up with more snaps (62, 81%) than Manning (49, 64%).