Just three short weeks ago, after yet another heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, most Houstonians would have rightfully written off the Texans’ playoff chances. One quarterback change and one healthy-ish Jadeveon Clowney later, and Bill O’Brien’s boys are somehow back in this thing. Sitting at 5-5 and miraculously trailing the thickest pack of AFC contenders by only one game, the Texans have an opportunity to make a late season charge into the postseason. The first step to completing that comeback, of course, is winning this weekend.
Should the Texans win on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals would still hold a half game lead at 6-4-1 over Houston at 6-5, but closing that gap and securing the all-important tie breaker is imperative if the Texans want to sneak into the playoffs. Here is what needs to happen around the rest of the AFC this weekend for Houston’s playoff hopes to remain alive.
KC @ OAK (OAK victory)
The Raiders somehow managed to win their first game of the season against a legitimate playoff contender last night, which only helps the aspirations of every other contending team in the AFC. The Chiefs can’t afford to drop games like this one with a bunch of teams hot on their heels, yet they did. Consider this a gift.
CLE @ ATL (ATL victory)
The Falcons are a below average team that's in the playoff hunt themselves at the top of a below average division. However, if they can steal a home victory over the Browns – which is not guaranteed with Josh Gordon making his return this week – it will go a long way in helping the Texans play January football. A loss here would put the Browns at 6-5, which theoretically ties Houston if they beat the Bengals, but the Texans’ head-to-head tiebreaker over Cleveland would trump everything in the event of a tie in win/loss records. Either way, Cleveland has to lose this weekend.
TEN @ PHI (PHI victory)
The Titans are too far behind to have any real chance at the playoffs, so we are just rooting against them based on principle.
DET @ NE (NE victory)
Conversely, the Patriots are too far ahead to realistically drop out of playoff contention, so we are rooting for them as a tribute for giving the Texans Ryan Mallett, Bill O’Brien, and Mike Vrabel.
JAX @ IND (IND victory)
Technically we are rooting for the Jaguars to win this one, but we all know it probably isn’t going to happen. I won’t even pretend to be interested in this game.
STL @ SD (STL victory)
San Diego has slipped in recent weeks, while St. Louis has elevated their play with a big win over Denver. A road win for the Rams here isn’t entirely out of the question, and that is just what the Texans need to leap frog over the Chargers in playoff seeding. If San Diego loses, their overall record would fall to 6-5, which ties Houston, provided they beat Cincinnati. Because the Chargers and Texans do not face each other this season, conference record becomes the tie breaker in this scenario. With Houston at 5-2 and San Diego at 5-4 in the AFC, the Texans would leap frog over the Chargers if San Diego takes a loss this Sunday.
MIA @ DEN (DEN victory)
Denver is far enough ahead of the pack that from here on out that the Texans will likely be rooting for them to take down the rest of the AFC’s middle class, starting with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. If the Dolphins lose, which isn’t out of the question against a team as good as the Broncos, Miami's overall record would fall to 6-5 and their conference record falls to 5-3. Houston’s hypothetical 5-2 conference record would barely give them the edge in this scenario, allowing them to pass Miami in seeding. Pray for Peyton Manning to do Peyton Manning things on Sunday.
NYJ @ BUF (NYJ victory)
The Jets are realistically out of playoff contention, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t throw the Texans a bone with a big road win over the Bills. To further even the odds, the Bills do not even get a true "home game" this weekend, as the venue has been moved to Detroit on Monday night in the wake of the massive snowstorm blanketing the Buffalo area this week. The Jets are not a very good team, but if the Raiders can beat the Chiefs, Gang Green sure as hell can pull off a win against the Bills in Detroit. Make it happen, Rex.
BAL @ NO (NO victory)
The Saints have had an extremely disappointing season so far, but this is a team that magically plays better at home compared to the road. The Ravens are a relatively average football team that has benefited a lot from playing against a terrible NFC South this season. Sitting at 3-5 in conference record, a loss to the Saints would put Baltimore at 6-5 overall and thus behind the Texans in the conference record tie reaker. If the "good" Saints show up this Sunday, Houston’s road to the playoffs gets a lot easier.
In short, if the Texans beat the Bengals, the Falcons beat the Browns, the Rams beat the Chargers, the Broncos beat the Dolphins, the Jets beat the Bills, and the Saints beat the Ravens, your Houston Texans will be just one half game out of the sixth seed in the AFC with over a month left to play. This is doable, y’all. Very, very doable.
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