How 'bout them Texans? Mike Brisiel's injury last Sunday is a pretty apt metaphor for this team so far. Injured in a way that should have knocked them out of competition in the second quarter, the team has toughed it out and played at a far higher level than anyone would expect.
This weekend marks probably the best chance the Texans have to see one of their primary competitors for a first-round bye get knocked off for the remainder of the season, as all three have road games against their best remaining opponents (maybe not Baltimore). We'll review last week after the jump, and then move on to this week.
Texans @ Bengals - Texans Win and Clinch AFC South with TEN Loss (+++++++!!!!)
Colts @ Ravens - Ravens (-)
Patriots @ Redskins - Patriots (-)
Browns @ Steelers - Steelers (-)
The record for the week is the best yet for the Rooting Guide at 3-4, though really it's something like infinity-4 because no matter what happens for the remainder of the regular season, the Houston Texans will be playing a home playoff game. Also, with a Texans win, they can clinch the #3 seed, as they'll have a 3 game lead (at minimum) over the AFC West.
But just like the players, we're happy but can't be satisfied. There are bigger fish to fry this season.
Carolina Panthers (4-9) @ Houston Texans (10-3) - Texans
Next Man Up extends to the coaching staff, as Wade Phillips will miss the game while recovering from surgery. Reliant should be louder than it's ever been, and hopefully the D can rattle Cam Newton early and often.
The Chargers have been historically good under Norv Turner in December. We'll see. SD is possibly the toughest remaining opponent on the Ravens' schedule unless the Bengals toughen back up, and regardless of what else happens, the Ravens will have to lose a game for the Texans to have a shot at locking up home field advantage.
New England Patriots (10-3) @ Tebow Tebows (Tebow-Tebow) - Tebow
Tebow tebow tebow, tebow. Tebow!
We'll learn a lot about the condition of Ben Roethlisberger's ankle this week as the Steelers take on the 49ers in San Francisco.
Digging Deeper into the Tiebreakers
An interesting tidbit that may serve as a silver lining, should the Texans somehow falter this week: If all four 10-3 AFC teams finish 12-4, provided the Texans lose to Carolina, the Texans will enter the playoffs as the #1 seed. This is because the Ravens and Patriots have 3 AFC games remaining, while the Texans have an NFC matchup yet to play. That would put the Texans' conference record 1 game better than the Patriots and the Ravens.
We don't care about the Steelers in this situation because the Ravens' head-to-head advantage over them knocks them out of the divisional race.
If the teams all finish 13-3, though, the tiebreakers fall all the way to Strength of Victory before resolution. Again, I'll exclude the Steelers because they don't get to this point if they finish with the same record as the Ravens.
The Texans, Ravens, and Patriots have the following common opponents this year: Steelers, Colts.
The Texans and Patriots have the following common opponents (in addition to the above): Miami, Oakland.
The Texans and Ravens have the following common opponents (in addition to the above): Cincinnati, Cleveland, Titans, Jaguars.
Of those common opponents, Cleveland and Cincinnati have yet to play their remaining games against the Ravens, but the Ravens get double the benefit of any further wins by either team if the Ravens sweep their division. Therefore, except for when they are playing the Ravens, we should root against the Browns and the Bengals, unless the Ravens implode and lose out.
Oakland defeated Houston and lost to the Patriots. Thus, any further Oakland success benefits the Patriots and harms the Texans. Therefore, root for the Raiders to lose out.
We want the Steelers to lose out anyways because they're competing for the division still, but given that the Ravens get twice the impact of any further Pittsburgh wins, unless the Ravens lose to the Browns, root for the Steelers to lose out, but if the Steelers-Browns game in Week 17 has no direct implications for playoff seeding, we're indifferent to the outcome.
Given that the Dolphins help the Texans' SoV by winning, root for the Dolphins to win out. Even if the Patriots beat the Dolphins next week, this will help a bit against the Ravens' SoV.
Root for the Colts and Jaguars to win out, except against the Texans, and the BE-SFs to lose out. Any win by the Jaguars counts double for SoV for the Texans, and if the Texans beat the Colts in Week 16 and the Titans in Week 17, so do they. The Titans have 3 consecutive AFC South games to close out the season, so since they have the highest probability of not being swept by the Texans in the division, we prefer the Colts and Jaguars over them in their remaining games. Jaguars > Colts > Titans.
As a rule, root for any other teams the Texans have beaten and against any other teams the Patriots/Steelers/Ravens have beaten or not yet played (except when they're playing the 10-3 team). Root for: Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers (assuming they lose to the Texans this weekend). Root against: Rams, Jets, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Chiefs, Eagles, Broncos, and Bills.