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What Now? I'll Tell You What Now...

While the first half of the 2011 season has had its shares of ups and downs, when compared to seasons past, I'd say its been pretty relaxing.  Sure, there was the gut-wrenching loss to Oakland, the fourth quarter meltdown against New Orleans, and the completely uninspiring outing at Baltimore, but there has been nothing as brutal as the Q-Tip or Rosencopter.  I mean, the Oakland loss doesn't even have a nickname.

The team sits here at the midway point with a 5-3 record, a 3-0 record in the division, and alone at the top of the AFC South.  Regardless of how you feel about the first half performance, I'd have to imagine that most of us would have happily accepted that outcome were it offered in August.

Now as we dive into the deep end of the season, let's take a moment to see what lies ahead.

It's hard to argue that the most difficult part of the Texans' schedule is behind them.  While they definitely did not come out unscathed, the scathing they suffered was in no way debilitating.

Looking forward, the schedule unfolds as follows:

  • vs Cleveland:  While many will argue that the Browns are a team on the rise, I will argue that they have not yet risen.  Some will say that they have a top defense, but Football Outsiders rates them as simply "middle of the road".  Offensively, they've really not done much, but I think the stat that is most telling is that their three victories have come against teams that are a combined 2-20 for the season.  Texans win.
  • @ Tampa Bay:  Tampa Bay is like the girl that isn't really hot, but under proper circumstances and in the right light, she can be pretty attractive.  Then at other times, she's just ugly.  The discussion around Josh Freeman is kind of the anti-Matt Schaub argument -- he's great in the fourth quarter, but mediocre during the rest of the game.  Tampa Bay is the type of team that can beat anyone, but they really need everything to go right, so I'm also going to mark this down as a win.
  • @ Jacksonville:  Despite what Jags fans might wish/hope/dream about when nobody's looking, I don't feel that the Duane Brown non-punch is going to be able to fire the team up enough to make a difference.  Even if they are super fired up, I find it hard to believe that motivation alone can turn Blaine Gabbert into a viable quarterback in a mere four weeks.  The Texans will be coming off a bye, and this is pretty much the worst case scenario as far as getting Andre Johnson back is concerned.  Let's chalk this up as another win.
  • vs Atlanta:  Truth be told, I feel the Texans should win this game.  Atlanta is wildly inconsistent and Matt Ryan is overrated as a quarterback.  Still, they're the type of team that can lift themselves up for certain games. I feel like between this game and the next two, the Texans will likely drop one.  It will probably be the type of game that will cause the fan base to panic and call for heads, but Atlanta has a very good defense and has beaten other solid teams this year, so I'm afraid this might be that one that makes us all angry.  Loss.
  • @ Cincinnati:  Despite their record, I have a hard time buying into the Bengals' hype.  Yes, they are 5-2 and yes, they have a good defense, but aside from Buffalo (who is still a tough team to figure), their wins have come against Cleveland, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Seattle.  Hardly the fab four of football there.  Andy Dalton may turn out to be a good quarterback in time, but for now, I think he's getting too much love.  Ultimately, though, "any given Sunday" aside, I refuse to believe that the Texans will lose to a team this season that has also lost to the Broncos.
  • vs Carolina:  I'm as surprised as anyone that Cam Newton is playing well this season. I mean, I have a hard time believing that anyone who has been kicked off of the University of Florida football team (I know... I know... he "transferred") could turn into a serviceable NFL quarterback.  Frankly, I'm surprised he can tie his shoes in the morning.  Still, I will give him credit, as he has played quite well.  Yet, despite what ESPN might tell you, teams cannot with by quarterback play alone.  If not for the matadors that make up the Colts' defense, the Panthers would be bringing up the rear in Football Outsiders' defensive metrics.  Chalk up another "W", boys.
  • @ Indianapolis:  Do I really have to say anything here?  Even on the off chance that Peyton Manning is back, as a team, they still suck.  Win.
  • vs Tennessee:  If previous predictions are true (which they undoubtedly are (not)), the Texans will be sitting at 11-4 here.  If they still have something to play for, I believe they will beat the Titans.  I have a feeling that the wheels are about to fall off of the Titans' season (or at least yanked off by Chris Johnson).  That means there's a good chance that Jake Locker will be leading the charge into Houston this week. If the Texans have nothing to play for, though, he might be leading them into battle against Matt Leinart and company.  I'm an optimistic fellow, so I'm going to mark this down as the most satisfying loss in Texans history.

So there you have it.  The Texans will finish this season at 11-5 and propel themselves into the first postseason berth in team history.  Enjoy!