With Brock Osweiler back as the starting quarterback, do the Houston Texans have a chance in the playoffs?
For those of you who have productive things to get done, get ready to procrastinate: the NFL Playoffs are at hand! This weekend, eight teams will begin their journeys to hold up the Lombardi trophy on Feb. 5. Entering the playoffs as the AFC’s fourth seed, the Houston Texans also come in as AFC South champs once more. However, the Texans’ path to the postseason was not an easy one. Can they make a run now that they’re here?
Offense: Brock Osweiler, QB; Lamar Miller, RB
The Houston offense has been held back by a $72 million offseason mistake: Brock Osweiler. Known to Football Outsiders statisticians as the least efficient quarterback this season not named Jared Goff, Osweiler has been a bane to Texans fans everywhere. With a league-worst yards per attempt of 5.8 this season, the former Bronco must play better to keep up with higher caliber playoff teams. It’s the turnovers that have damaged the Texans the most: he’s managed to average an interception a game behind the 12th-best pass-protecting offensive line in the league. If Osweiler can take care of the ball, his teammates can grind to some scores.
With a putrid quarterback who’s made even DeAndre Hopkins look pedestrian, the Texans have needed a rushing attack to keep them in games. That’s where Lamar Miller comes in. Another offseason acquisition, the former Dolphin has been crucial to the Texans’ nine wins this season. In fact, Houston won four out of the five games in which Miller scored this season. Averaging nearly 20 carries a game, Miller has been the lead back for the NFL’s eighth-best running game. Unfortunately, just 4.0 average yards per carry and a poor efficiency rating from Football Outsiders has kept Miller out of the conversation of top-tier backs. The Texans will be heavily reliant on Miller to be effective for any reliable offensive production.
Defense: Quintin Demps, S; Benardrick McKinney, ILB
The Houston Texans have won each game in which their defense has forced multiple turnovers this season. Safety Quintin Demps has led the way by recording six interceptions (tied for second in the league) and a forced fumble. As the Texans have only managed to sack opposing quarterbacks 1.9 times a game this season (25th in the NFL), they’ll need turnovers for high impact plays. Demps seems to have found a knack for making these types of impact plays this season, so the Texans will be looking for the veteran to step up in the playoffs.
With teammate Brian Cushing dealing with injuries throughout the season, sophomore Benardrick McKinney stepped up for the Houston Texans this season. Putting up the 11th-most combined tackles in the league this season, McKinney has been an essential piece for Houston’s number one ranked defense by yards allowed. The former Mississippi State linebacker has also been able to put pressure on quarterbacks by adding five sacks to his stat line. Without J.J. Watt’s presence along the line, the Texans will need McKinney to lock down opposing running backs and apply pressure up front.
Best Win and Worst Loss
Best Win: 24-21 over Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 10)
The Texans won just one game by more than one score this season, but this game should have been another. If Nick Novak had not missed two make-able field goals in the first half, the final score would not have been as close as it ended up being. The most impressive thing about this win was the lack of turnovers.
Though Osweiler was far from perfect in this game, he showed that he can do enough against a strong Jacksonville secondary. Houston also ran the ball well this game for 181 yards, with contributions from three different backs. All of this was cemented by two turnovers forced by the defense, including one that was converted to a touchdown.
Worst Loss: 27-0 to New England Patriots (Week 3)
Coming into this game 2-0, many thought the Texans had a chance against the Tom Brady-less Patriots in Week 3. This was not the case. In fact, everything collapsed for Houston in this game.
The Houston coaching staff was utterly mismatched against Bill Belichick’s crew. The New England coaches came in with a gameplan that left Houston with no answers.
The defense failed even taking the sub-optimal gameplan into consideration. Though poor preparation certainly played a part in the Texans’ poor defensive showing, a lot of broken fundamentals (like tackling, for instance) doomed the Houston defense.
The ball was not secure in the hands of Houston. The Texans committed three turnovers this game, including a bad interception from Brock Osweiler.
J.J. Watt re-injured his back this game which marked the end of his season. In what was perhaps poor judgment from both the coaching staff and Watt himself, the best defensive player in the league was forced to sit out the rest of the season after Houston’s Week 3 clash with the Patriots. The defensive line has not been the same since.
Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams
Week 2: 19-12 Win vs (2) Kansas City Chiefs
Week 3: 27-0 Loss at (1) New England Patriots
Week 8: 20-13 Win vs (6) Detroit Lions
Week 11: 27-20 Loss at (5) Oakland Raiders
Week 13: 21-13 Loss at (4) Green Bay Packers
Positives: The Texans have shown that their defense can carry them against a talented, quality opponent like the Kansas City Chiefs (albeit that was with J.J. Watt…).
Negatives: Especially after J.J. Watt’s season was over, the Houston defense could not compete against the best offenses in the league. Even with Watt, Houston was thumped by a Patriots team without Tom Brady. Disappointing defensive showings against the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers do not bode well for the Texans in the playoffs.
Performance Leading Up to the Postseason
Though the Texans entered Week 17’s match-up against the Tennessee Titans with three consecutive wins against AFC opponents, Houston dropped the ball in Nashville. While Tom Savage was supposed to be the Texans’ quarterback of choice heading into the playoffs, Savage left the game after 17 snaps with a concussion. As Savage remains in the concussion protocol, Osweiler is expected to start for Houston in the Wild Card round. According to Pro Football Focus, Osweiler played even worse than Savage against the Titans. This uncertainty at quarterback leaves much to be desired from the Texans as the playoffs begin.
As a positive, however, Houston’s defense enters the postseason with three straight games with positive expected point contributions according to Pro Football Reference. With a secondary that has allowed an average of just 153 yards/game the last three weeks, the NFL’s second-best pass defense is ready for playoffs.
Level of Contender: Wild Card Win at Most
The Houston Texans enter the playoffs this season with the second-worst odds for a Super Bowl win at 90/1. Luckily for Texans fans, however, Houston plays in the first round against the only team with worse odds: the Oakland Raiders (115/1).
With Brock Osweiler starting for the Texans again, I, personally, would not be comfortable betting on Houston in the Wild Card round. However, even if we assume the favored Texans beat the Raiders in the first week of playoffs, Houston would have close to no chance against either the New England Patriots or Kansas City Chiefs.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers are heavily favored over the Miami Dolphins, the Texans are most likely to face the Patriots in the second round. I would not be surprised to see a repeat of Week 3 if the Texans have to make their way up to Foxborough. Suffice it to say, the Houston Texans aren’t going anywhere this year.
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