For their final game of the regular season, the Texans travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans. Last week, Houston secured the AFC South and clinched the fourth seed in the playoffs with a win and a Titans loss to the Jaguars. With an impending match-up that holds no bearing over seeding or playoff berth, Houston has chosen to rest a handful of their starters, including Jadeveon Clowney and Lamar Miller. With so little riding on this divisional contest, it would be wise for Bill O’Brien to sit everyone dealing with injuries (read: all of those players still listed as questionable). That being said, let’s preview some of the things to watch for this weekend anyway.
1. Tennessee boasts a brutal running back tandem, and Houston is sporting an injury-plagued defensive line. The Titans’ run game, led by DeMarco Murray and second-round pick Derrick Henry has been explosive this year. Houston has to control the run to come away with a win, and that starts with their defensive line. Ordinarily, that task would fall to Houston’s defensive monster Clowney, who has been explosive beyond measure in the wake of J.J. Watt’s injury (please, please someone get these two healthy and on the field together, for the good of humanity). However, with Clowney sidelined, along with John Simon and potentially Brian Cushing, this responsibility is likely to fall on a depleted defensive line. This group of Tennessee running backs would be a challenge for a completely healthy Texans’ defense, so the Titans will likely get the better of a unit that is missing several key players. But Houston has secured their playoff berth, and it’s better to lose to the Titans (gross) and keep the starters healthy for the postseason.
2. Houston’s exceptional secondary is poised to make Sunday absolutely miserable for Titans’ backup quarterback Matt Cassel. Housed in the NFL’s number one defense, Houston’s defensive backs are having an exceptional season. Despite injuries to Kevin Johnson, Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, the unit has provided solid coverage all year. Cornerback A.J. Bouye is having a breakout season, and safety Quintin Demps has forced a turnover in four of his last five games. This weekend, the disruptive secondary will take on a struggling Titans’ aerial attack that is without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Instead, Cassel will suit up to lead the Tennessee offense, likely providing plenty of opportunities for Houston’s defensive backs to capitalize on mistakes. This match-up leans heavily in favor of the Texans.
3. Houston’s offensive line will get another chance to prove that they can protect the quarterback. Tom Savage has held up well under pressure these past two weeks, but the offensive line has to do a better job. Defenders have exploited the weak areas of Houston’s offensive front (cough, Jeff Allen), and shoring up the line is a must if the Texans want to survive the first round of playoffs. A game against the struggling Titans’ defense with no impact on the postseason could allow Houston to try something new (maybe some shifts in the starting lineup?). Improvements to the offensive line could also allow running back Lamar Miller to show what he is really capable of when he returns next week. There is plenty at stake down the stretch, and Houston has been given the opportunity to switch things up. Hopefully they can use this game to figure out a more impactful strategy for the line.
4. Can the Texans get their offense back on track? Last week, backup running back Alfred Blue carried the ball 21 times for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. The rest of Houston’s offense struggled to get going, with neither a receiver nor a tight end eclipsing 50 yards or finding the end zone. Houston has to find a way to build and maintain momentum in their offense if they want any chance at success in the playoffs. Getting DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller more involved will be hugely important, and the Titans’ mediocre defense should give Houston a shot at finding their rhythm before they head into the postseason.
What could have been a hugely tense and important game for a division title is instead a tilt that sees Houston resting many of its starters in preparation for a postseason push. With playoff seeding already determined for the AFC, the Texans and Titans will be battling for pride alone. Who do you think comes away with a win, Texans’ fans? Are there any other things you are looking forward to? You can discuss the game, make predictions, or discuss the playoffs in the comments section below.