Because of their stellar defense, the AFC No. 4 Houston Texans cannot be disregarded in the 2016 NFL playoffs.
The NFL playoffs are upon us, that wonderful time of the year when we fall behind on work in order to watch as much football as possible. Starting tomorrow, the quest for a Super Bowl Championship begins. The AFC’s No. 4 seed Houston Texans won the AFC South with a 9-7 record. Can they make a run? How do they match up against AFC postseason teams? Let’s take a look.
Brian Hoyer has played in only 11 games this season due to injury. However, when he starts, the Texans passing offense performs better. They average 252 passing yards per game when Hoyer starts versus 212 passing yards per game when he sits, per Pro Football Reference. Fortunately for the Texans, Hoyer is healthy and set to start for the Texans’ wild-card matchup versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even a half-hearted NFL fan would recognize that DeAndre Hopkins is the key to the Texans’ offense. The three-year veteran posted some of the best receiving numbers in the NFL this season. Both his 1,521 receiving yards and 83 converted first downs ranked 3rd in the league, while his 11 touchdowns ranked 7th. As a result, Pro Football Focus ranked Hopkins as the No. 6 overall receiver in the NFL this season. In order for the Texans to succeed in the postseason, Hopkins must continue to perform at an elite level, and perhaps corral some of his signature one-handed catches.
Watt is a monster on the Texans’ defensive line. The 6’ 5”, 290 lbs defensive end is coming off another impressive season in which he tallied a league-best 17.5 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss. According to Pro Football Focus, Watt was the NFL’s No. 2 overall interior defender this season, ranking 6th in run defense and 2nd in pass rush. Considering these stats and Watt’s toughness—he played with a broken hand in three regular season games—one can expect the defensive end to make an impact during the playoffs.
Whitney Mercilus often falls unnoticed in the noise of J.J. Watt’s stardom, but the outside linebacker has been a large part of the Texans’ defensive prowess in 2015-16. Mercilus had a career-best 12 sacks, 6th most in league, and according to Pro Football Focus was the No. 15 overall edge defender this season, ranking alongside household names like James Harrison and Carlos Dunlap. The Texans succeed when Mercilus plays well, as the team is 5-1 when Mercilus records a sack versus 4-6 when he is sack-less.
Best Win and Worst Loss
Best Win: 30-6 over Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 17)
While the Texans offense played well in this game—Hoyer threw for 250 yards and a TD while the team rushed for 160 yards—the defense shined. Houston tallied eight sacks on Blake Bortles (Whitney Mercilus, 3.5 sacks; J.J. Watt, 3 sacks), forced four turnovers, and held Jacksonville under 40 rush yards and 190 pass yards. With this commanding victory, the Texans clinched the AFC South and a playoff birth.
Worst Loss: 44-26 to Miami Dolphins (Week 7)
This game was one for the record books. The Dolphins set two franchise bests by scoring 41 points in the first half and having a 41-point lead at halftime. That’s right, the Dolphins led the Texans 41-0 after two quarters. In the past fifteen years only a handful of NFL teams have suffered a bigger first half deficit. Admittedly, the Texans outscored the Dolphins 26-3 in the second half, but the points came in “garbage time” as the Dolphins had already secured a blowout victory. To make matters worse, the Texans lost their star running back Arian Foster for the season from a non-contact torn Achilles injury.
Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams
Week 1: 20-27 Loss vs (5) Kansas City Chiefs
Week 2: 17-24 Loss at (1) Carolina Panthers
Week 10: 10-6 Win at (3) Cincinnati Bengals
Week 14: 27-6 Loss vs (2) New England Patriots
Positives: The Texans served the Bengals their first loss of the season and played competitive games versus the Chiefs and Panthers, losing by just a single touchdown.
Performance Leading Up to the Postseason
The Texans are entering the postseason on a three game win streak in which their average margin of victory is 19.3 points. Take this with a grain of salt as their final three opponents were the 8-8 Indianapolis Colts, 5-11 Jacksonville Jaguars, and 3-13 Tennessee Titans. Not the most competitive matchups. Moreover, it doesn’t appear that a team’s record in the final weeks of the regular season significantly impacts postseason success.
However, there are several positives for the Texans as they enter the postseason: J.J. Watt will play without a cast on the hand he broke on Dec. 10; Brian Hoyer is set to start versus the Chiefs; and Alfred Blue has rushed for 254 yards in his past three starts.
Level of Contender: Low, but do not Disregard
Earning a playoff berth by winning the woeful AFC South with a 9-7 record, it is hard to believe that the Texans will make a deep run in the postseason. As a result, Vegas gives Houston 40/1 odds to win the AFC Championship and 75/1 odds to win the Super Bowl.
Nonetheless, Houston cannot be counted out. The Texans have a stellar defense and one of the NFL’s most difficult-to-defend receivers in DeAndre Hopkins. If J.J. Watt and company can limit scoring, the Texans’ offense will have an opportunity to keep the game competitive.
Houston first faces Kansas City in the wild-card round, and if they win, face the Broncos on Jan. 17th in the AFC divisional round. These first two matchups are defense oriented, which certainly favors the Texans’ style of play. But if Houston makes it to the AFC championship game, they would face either the Patriots, Bengals or Steelers—stronger offense teams. The Texans will have to be at their best on both sides of the ball if they want to make some noise this postseason.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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