The “Any Given Sunday” adage is a metaphor of logical deception. Football is a game of strategy. It’s chess played with living, breathing pieces on a board that’s more battle than field. Each team devises a plan to defeat their opponent week in and week out. Those who bear witness calculate the odds and make predictions of who will win and who will lose.
The problem is, all the statistics, measurables and historical data are meaningless come game time.
Teams that should easily win based on available data often lose.
Teams that shouldn’t win do.
It’s said more games are lost than won, i.e., more teams defeat themselves than fall prey to their opponents. Case in point: Cincinnati’s kicking game.
In most of these cases, where a team shouldn’t win yet does, the odds often even out and ultimately the available data wins the day. But during every season, there are aberrations, winners that lose and losers that win.
The 2016 Arizona Cardinals were considered a Super Bowl favorite in the offseason, as were the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. None of those three teams even made the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson, arguably the greatest wideout in Detroit Lions’ history, retires. The Lions are suddenly a contender.
Houston Texans superstar J.J. Watt suffers a season-ending injury. At Week 15, Houston has the #1 defense in the NFL.
Andrew Luck comes back from injury. The Indianapolis Colts load up on veteran talent. The team skids to a third place in their division.
Houston, with a patchwork, dysfunctional offensive line, a revolving door of struggling passers, new faces at each skill position and a special teams unit that’s mediocre at best, wins the AFC South Division crown for the second year in a row.
None of it makes sense. But that’s why we love the NFL – the unpredictability of the game keeps us on the edge of our seats, waiting for the next bounce of the ball, the next ruling from the officials, and the latest gut-wrenching injury reports.
Houston has certainly taken its fan base on a roller coaster ride this season. From an undefeated preseason that seemingly showcased a Greatest Show On Turf offense, to losing Nick Martin, Brian Cushing (who thankfully came back), J.J. Watt, Derek Newton, Kevin Johnson, Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller, and many more to injury, to the trials of the All Field Goal Offense, to winning the division through the actions of a former draft pick now playing for another team.
While Houston seemed to get hosed in Mexico City against the Raiders, now it appears there’s a good chance the Texans will get another shot at the Silver and Black in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Without Derek Carr leading the way, Houston has an opportunity to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs for the third time (and once again, that door was opened by shutting another door on the Bengals – how much do the fans in Ohio hate Houston?).
In the midst of all this, there are a lot of people engaged in a raging debate on whether or not head coach Bill O’Brien should be tossed out after this year due to the offensive struggles.
The fact that this debate is even occurring legitimizes this column.
If the Texans were still outside the Red Zone, never having tasted the sweet turf closest to victory, no one would have expectations of winning it all. Fans, bloggers, and the like would all be happy with a nine-win season that got Houston into the postseason.
After 2012, all that changed. Many of the Texans’ faithful are no longer content with “good enough.” Those folks, myself included, have their sights set on a world championship. As the saying goes, the second place team is the first loser, and when you don’t even make it to the AFC Championship game, you’re losing to the losers…
The good news? On any given Sunday, with the insane randomness of this season, Houston can take any team sitting atop the power rankings. Sure, on paper, Houston’s bottom-ranked offense, wrong end of the scoring and turnover differentials, and injury-depleted roster offer no hope, but this team finds a way to win. Or it at least finds a way to take advantage when the opponent finds a way to lose.
Over the decades, so many powerhouse teams have lost in the end. More than once a team no one gave any respect won it all.
With the AFC South crown comes new hope, a new chance and if the gods of football randomness smile on H-Town, the ability to play at NRG Stadium on February 5th.
It’s unlikely, but so were the 1983 Oakland Raiders, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2008 New York Giants, and 2015 Denver Broncos. All those teams, and the 2016 Texans, have one thing in common: the ability to defy logic and get the win.
Strap on your helmets, tighten your seat belts, and hang on – the wild ride of the 2016 season ain’t over yet.