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Sponsored Post: What Role Will the Texans Have For The Playoff Stretch?

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Because Marshall Faulk and GMC asked, let us call our shot and answer that query as it pertains to your Houston Texans.

Swinging the Mallett!
Swinging the Mallett!
Bob Levey

For Week 10, Marshall Faulk wants to know:

To be GMC Professional Grade, you need to be driven. Assessing the second half of the season, how do you see your team playing coming down the stretch, in terms of the playoffs? What role does your team play in this final stretch? Is it spoiler, hunter, or contender? What do they need to do if they have a chance to get into the playoffs?


CONTENDER

This season, the Texans are not a contender.  A true contender in Week 10 is typically leading their division.  If a team is not leading their own division, they generally need to be threatening to overtake the current leader or be in a strong position for a wild card spot in the playoffs.  In the AFC South, the division leading Colts are: 6-3 overall, 3-0 in the division, and 5-2 in the AFC.  They are already 1-0 in head-to-head competition against Houston and have the luxury facing them in Week 15 in the comfort of Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Texans have never beaten the Colts.

The Colts' remaining schedule:

WEEK DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME (CST) NETWORK
11 16-Nov NE @ IND Lucas Oil Stadium 7:30 PM NBC
12 23-Nov JAX @ IND Lucas Oil Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
13 30-Nov WAS @ IND Lucas Oil Stadium 12:00 PM FOX
14 7-Dec IND @ CLE FirstEnergy Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
15 14-Dec HOU @ IND Lucas Oil Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
16 21-Dec IND @ DAL AT&T Stadium 3:25 PM CBS
17 28-Dec IND @ TEN LP Field 12:00 PM CBS

I would be surprised if Indianapolis lost more than two games to finish the regular season.  They may lose to the Patriots and Cowboys, but they should be able to handle the rest of their schedule barring any injuries or another team rising up to create an upset.  That would project the Colts to finish 11-5, and THAT is the definition of a contender.

There's an outside chance that with O'Brien naming Ryan Mallett as the starting quarterback coming out of the bye week that Houston could turn things around, but that's a long-shot.  Read on to see what else needs to happen for the Texans to become playoff contenders.

SPOILER

In order to be a spoiler, there have to be teams on the schedule who are "hunters" clawing for a playoff position.  When looking at the Texans' remaining schedule, they might have the opportunity to spoil either the Browns, Ravens or Bengals as the postseason picture firms up.

The 5-4 Ravens have lost three division games, and the 5-3 Browns have lost two division games, but the AFC North is tightly packed with all four teams in position to surge forward to take over in the second half of the regular season:

TEAM RECORD DIV CONF
Bengals 5-2-1 2-0 4-2
Steelers 6-3 2-2 5-2
Browns 5-3 1-2 3-3
Ravens 5-4 2-3 2-4

The Bengals started the season strong, but have lost to good teams while feasting on weaker teams.  They still have to face Denver and Pittsburgh (twice) to finish the season, so we'll see if they can hold on to close the season strong enough to win the division title.  They certainly have the edge being 2-0 in the division and 4-2 in the AFC.

The Steelers are rolling strong with a quarterback who has thrown for 1,127 yards and 14 touchdowns in his last three games, and the tougher stretch of the schedule is now behind Pittsburgh, other than the Bengals (twice).  We have seen this before, and the threat is real that this team will pull ahead when it counts.

The Browns face the Colts, Ravens, and the Bengals (twice) to finish out their season.  They already lost to Baltimore and split with Pittsburgh.  They gave Jacksonville their only win this year (24-6), so it's hard to understand where they are as a team.  History suggests that they will fizzle and sink to the bottom of the division as pressure mounts toward the postseason, but they are well in the hunt for now.  The Texans could spoil things for the Browns when they face them in Cleveland in Week 11 of the NFL season.

If their momentum continues, the Steelers could pull ahead to win the AFC North, and that would have the Ravens and Bengals in a race for a wild card spot.  That would possibly have the Texans in position to spoil the Bengals in Week 12, or the Ravens in Week 16.

Bonus Spoiler: If the Texans can somehow shore-up things at QB, OL, and the defensive secondary, I'd LOVE to see them get their first franchise win against the Colts in Indianapolis, affecting Indy's seed position for the playoffs.  In a perfect fantasy, the Colts implode the rest of the way, while the Texans ride J.J. Watt to a division title.

Now, back to reality...

HUNTER

To be considered a hunter, the Texans would have to be positioning to take over the division or earn a wild card spot.  They are 4-5 after nine games, so let's look at the remaining schedule:

WEEK DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME (CST) NETWORK
11 16-Nov HOU @ CLE FirstEnergy Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
12 23-Nov CIN @ HOU NRG Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
13 30-Nov TEN @ HOU NRG Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
14 7-Dec HOU @ JAX EverBank Field 12:00 PM CBS
15 14-Dec HOU @ IND Lucas Oil Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
16 21-Dec BAL @ HOU NRG Stadium 12:00 PM CBS
17 28-Dec JAX @ HOU NRG Stadium 12:00 PM CBS

If they don't perform better, the Texans will probably lose to the Bengals, Ravens, and Colts.  They should be able to beat the Titans agai  and sweep the Jaguars.  The 5-3 Browns look like a "coin-flip," depending on how Houston comes out of this bye week.  So if nothing changes, the Texans are likely looking to finish 7-9 or 6-10.  That would not be good enough for a wild card berth.

This is the current picture in the AFC, according to NFL.com:

Seed 1: Patriots (7-2)

Seed 2: Broncos (6-2)

Seed 3: Bengals (5-2-1)

Seed 4: Colts (6-3)

Seed 5: Steelers (6-3)

Seed 6: Chiefs (5-3)

In The Hunt:

Browns (5-3)

Bills (5-3)

Dolphins (5-3)

Chargers (5-4)

Texans to the Playoffs?

Faulk: "What do they need to do if they have a chance to get into the playoffs?"

QB

THANKFULLY, things are changing for the Texans at quarterback.  This might make things better, or it could make things worse.  It's a massive unknown scenario to start Ryan Mallett behind an offensive line that has struggled greatly in pass-protection all year.

Mallett is a Monster QB

Mallett is a Monster QB

The Texans get a stronger-armed, taller signal-caller who was in a very similar offensive system behind Tom Brady for his first three seasons in the NFL.  He isn't as mobile as Ryan Fitzpatrick, but mobility hasn't helped Fitz win games, and I'm far more interested in an NFL quarterback being able to read a defense and throw the ball.  If Mallett can recognize a blitz, audible improved protection, identify open receivers, hit them in stride, stretch the field, and not turn the ball over or take unnecessary sacks, it will be a massive improvement for an offense ranked 28th in the league in average passing yards per game.

Houston is ranked 5th in rushing, so they just need a spark in the passing game to right this ship on offense.  The Texans are also ranked #1 in the league with 21 takeaways through nine games, so there is great opportunity for an offense to capitalize if Mallett can do the job.

I urge you to read Brett Kollmann's article on Ryan Mallett to see how he "could" help turn Houston's season from being "2015 NFL Draft Jockeys" into playoff contenders.  If by some chance Mallett does become an above average quarterback for the Texans,  they can focus on other areas of the roster during free agency and the next draft.

Injuries

Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing returning from injury would help to bolster a defense that ranks 27th in the league for average yards allowed per game.  They also need Johnathan Joseph to clear concussion protocol, and hope that Kareem Jackson is back sooner than later from his MCL sprain.

Discipline & Performance

False start penalties by the offensive line at home are really soul-crushing, drive-killing mistakes that need to be eliminated.  The pass-protection needs to improve greatly, including the running backs picking up the blitz.  Arian Foster, who is usually very good in pass-protection, whiffed horribly in the last game, resulting in a sack.

The defense is failing miserably at tackling overall, and they are giving up far too many big plays with poor coverage.  It would be great if D.J. Swearinger would learn to help over the top in coverage and how to form-tackle.

*****

If the Texans are going to turn the corner for the last seven games of the regular season, these are the things that need to happen coming out of the bye week.

So what say you, BRB?  What role do the Texans play in this final stretch, and what needs to change for them to get to the playoffs?  Vote and then talk about it below.

Join the #GMCPlaybook discussion at sbnation.com/sponsored-gmc-playbook and on Twitter by following @thisisgmc & @marshallfaulk.