Texans have chance to be #1 seed but still need help

After Pittsburgh's loss to yet another Harbaugh-led team (the brothers are 3-0 against him this year), the Texans have a puncher's chance at winning the conference's top seed. Despite losing Mario, Andre, Arian, Schaub, Manning, Brisiel, and Wade for multiple games each, the Texans could still wind up with home field advantage throughout the playoffs, even after last Sunday's dreadful we're-in-the-playoffs hangover loss to Cam's Cats.

The Texans benefited from the Jetlag Special, as both the Steelers and the Ravens could not overcome the apparent disadvantage of having to travel cross-country (East coast NFL teams are 8-13 this year when playing on the West coast). Someone forgot to start the clock on Tebow Time, however, and the Pats moved into the driver's seat with their win at Denver. This puts our Texans in as the #3 seed at the moment, but don't pay any attention to "if the season ended today" arguments. Unless this is the 1981 baseball season, midseason standings don't count. It's far more important to look at the remaining games to predict where our home team will be playing their second playoff game.

The scenarios are much simplified now. If the Pats win out, they're the #1 seed by virtue of being the only team with 13 wins. If they don't and we do, we win the following tiebreakers:

1. All tiebreakers involving the Pats (H2H as well as 3-way tie with AFC North) - conference record (we have 2 conference losses; all other teams would have 3+)
2. H2H tiebreaker with the Steelers - H2H win on Oct 2

We would lose a H2H tiebreaker to the Ravens because they beat us (this would come up if all teams win out; the Ravens get the 2 seed that way over us [having already won the division tiebreak over Pittsburgh])

Looking at the remaining schedules, there are losable divisional games for both the Texans and Ravens. But the Pats?

Team Week 16 Week 17
Texans @ Ind Ten
Patriots Mia Buf
Ravens Cle @ Cin
Steelers StL @ Cle

Two home games against 5-9 teams, including one that just got a new head coach? Hard to get excited about the Pats losing even one of those, much less both.

The Ravens could lose to the Bengals. But the Steelers aren't likely to lose to the Browns without a healthy McCoy, who might be shut down for the season after that hit by Harrison.

So what is likely to happen? Well, there's two ways to look at it. One is with numbers, and the other is with storylines.

The Numbers Argument

I'm not going to try to claim this argument is mine, since I don't have a 10,000 game simulator handy. But Sports Club Stats does - and they do a nice job of predicting the outcomes of future games (Football Outsiders does as well, but they are slower running their updates and they don't predict 1st round opponents). He weights the outcomes of future games on team records + home field advantage.

SCS says we have a 48% chance of getting a bye in the first round, and a 51% chance of winding up with the #3 seed and a wildcard home game. The chances of the Tebow Tebows passing us now? Practically nonexistent: just a .787% chance.

Basically, SCS's simulator believes that we have a pretty decent shot at getting a bye. I think that's a little bit high because he's predicting winners based on records plus home field.

The Storyline Argument

I like predicting NFL winners based on the storylines. Since I'm such a numbers guy in most of what I do (job, school, and unfortunately, personal life at times), I find it interesting to try to tell a story based on emotions, momentum, and occasionally, The Football Gods. I once won a pick-em pool (picking winners of every NFL game) one year basing my picks solely on storylines.

The storyline argument is simple, and you all probably know it: much of how we view sports is through storylines; i.e. Tebow being magical, the Packers pursuing perfection, etc. But the storyline that's told can change based on who wins the game. Take a look at The General's grades after wins and compare them to losses. Following the Bengals game, he gave the Texans mostly good grades - but only because they won. Most stories that even discussed the first half lauded the Texans for overcoming a slow start, not ripped them for sucking in the first half. It's because the ultimate outcome determined which storyline to follow - and that was Yates being heroic and Wade making a halftime adjustment. After last week's loss, writers have dusted off the L storylines, but the W lines will be right back if we look good against the Colts. Your job is to simply look for both storylines and try to figure out which is the real one and which is the trashed script.

Last week's game provides a meaningful example:

1. Why the Texans beat the Panthers - With their sights set on nabbing home field advantage and a first round bye, the Texans will continue to ride the steady TJ Yates to the tune of 2 TDs and an unfortunate but ultimately insignificant Rookie-mistake pick. The menacing defense, buoyed by the NFL's loudest home crowd, will take "next man up" to the next level without Wade calling the D and will harass yet another rookie QB as the Texans become the first team in the AFC to reach 11 wins.

2. Why the Texans will lose to the Panthers - The Texans talk as if the defense won't skip a beat without Wade Phillips, but the distractions kept piling up over the season and now that the team has clinched, the adrenaline rush that forced their focus is gone. Yates will make rookie mistakes, while Cam Newton will continue to exhibit why he would have been the scrambling QB storyline of the year were it not for God-fearing Timmy Tebow. The crowd, so praised during the Falcons game, is still full of transplant fickle Houstonians who have a half-generation loyalty to a mostly-losing franchise and thus can easily be taken out of the game and even made prone to boos with a slow start, so it's not as much an advantage as perceived. Combine all that with the fact that the Texans have averaged just 19 points a game on offense post-Lisfranc injury, and this is a team that's ripe for a disappointing let down home loss.

Hindsight's 20/20, of course.

One thing about the storyline argument - it's best to use it week-by-week; it doesn't work well over the course of a season. So saying "we're destined to win this year and that's why we keep overcoming injuries" is silly. The overly-used cliche is true: players think about the season one game at a time. Unless of course, they fall victim to a trap game (which is a common storyline scenario).

There's another thing, too - sometimes, the trashed storyline sneaks into the main plot, even if it doesn't wind up on the front pages. That's why it's fair to try to put %s on the storylines. As in, the "Texans have a good defense and an improving rookie QB" storyline was probably 20% of the game last week but the "Texans suffer letdown/Cam is Good" storyline was probably 80%. Hence, Texans lose.

Ideally, you'd look at the storyline argument for both weeks to try to figure out whether the Pats or the Ravens will lose either of their two games and to see if we can win our last two. But since storylines are so dependent on the previous week's game, it's a little tricky but I'll try anyways.

Let's start by examining the storylines for this week's games.

Texans @ Colts

Why Colts win: Dan Orlovsky is sooo much better than Curtis Painter, you have to wonder what they were thinking letting Painter play as long as he did. The offense has picked back up with OOBO (out-of-bounds Orlovsky) and the defense is still engineered from the Peyton days to do one thing well - protect a lead. If they can get up early, they can pull off another upset.
Why Texans win:
Now that they've realized neither the team nor ROW Yates is invincible, they'll settle down and play solid fundamental football. They're right back where they need to be - underrespected. Plus the Colts will be coming off their only season high and due for their own letdown game.
Prediction: "
Texans win" 80% true

Pats v Dolphins

Why Pats win: With home field advantage now set to go through Foxboro, the Pats just have to take care of business against two divisional foes. If there's anybody that can stop a team from getting excited about the big picture and focus on this week, it's Belichick.
Why Dolphins win:
After finally slaying the Tebeast in Denver last week, could the Pats suffer a letdown against the Dolphins, whose players rally around their new head coach?
"Pats win" 70% true

Ravens v Browns

Why Ravens win: After a tough loss to the Chargers, the Ravens are going to be angry. The Browns will pay.
Why Browns win:
They won't. If the Ravens lose again, it'll be to the Bengals.
"Ravens win" 90% true

Steelers v Rams

Why Steelers win: After a tough loss to the 49ers, the Steelers are going to be angry. The Rams will pay.
Why Rams win:
They won't. If the Steelers lose again, it'll be to the Browns. But they won't lose that one either.
"Steelers win" 90% true

In order to complete this argument, we need to look at Week 17 as well. I'm not going to go through the detailed storylines for each of the games (maybe next week), but if I had to guess %'s for each game (assuming that the above goes as predicted), I'd go as follows:

Texans win 50% vs Titans
Pats win 80% vs Bills
Ravens win 60% @ Bengals
Steelers win 80% @ Browns

Now we can do the math. Nearly all scenarios (as in 96%, according to SCS) where the Texans get a bye require them to go 2-0. Chances of that happening? Well that's the chances of a W vs the Colts (80%) and a win vs the Titans (50%). Multiply the two together to get the chances of both happening and you get 40% (80% * 50% = 40%).

Since the Ravens own the H2H tiebreak over us and the Pats have a game up on us, you next have to factor in that either the Ravens or the Pats have to lose a game for us to get a bye. To do this, take the chances that both teams win out and subtract that from 1. Chances of a Ravens winning out? 90% * 60% = 54%. Chances of Pats winning out? 70% * 80% = 56%. Chances of both happening? 54% * 56% = 30%. So the chances of the either of them having one loss is thus 1.0 -30% = 70%.

Multiply 70% * 40% and you get, in my estimates, the chances the Texans get a bye: 28%

But hey, what do I know? The year after I won the pick'em pool using storylines, I finished dead last. I think the bottom line is that the Texans' chances of getting a bye lie somewhere between possible (28%, me) and maybe (48%, SCS). They need the Ravens or Pats to lose a game, somewhere. And they need to take care of their own business. If they do that, I'll see you in Reliant for the Divisional round.

(By the way, I find it slightly ironic that I managed to make my storyline argument a numbers analysis after all).

Who will we play in the playoffs?

If we don't wind up with a bye, though, aren't you curious who we're likely to be seeded against in the wildcard round? I mentioned this in passing earlier, but Sports Club Stats does a nice job with that as well. They have us at the following %s for each potential first round opponent:

Team Chances they play the Texans
Jets 26.5%
Cincinnati 9.8%
San Diego
Tennessee 4.9%
Oakland 3.9%

All other teams have a less than 1% chance of playing us. The above %s don't add to 100% because SCS thinks we have a 48% chance of getting a first round bye.

That's all I've got today folks. Hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to poke holes or disagree.

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