AFC playoff picture tightening up midseason

Andrew Luck and the Colts have a big game this week. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Texans have a bye so a look at the rest of the NFL with an emphasis on the AFC is on deck. 

1. It seems likely the Texans will head out of the bye with a lead of two games in the AFC South. The Titans play host to the Patriots and the Jaguars play the Colts on Sunday. Indianapolis and Jacksonville's winner will be 4-5 and if Tennessee loses they will be 4-5. With an easier schedule than most and all their division games being at home it would seem the Texans would have to shoot themselves in the foot to not make the playoffs. 

2. The Chargers at 6-2 complicate the AFC playoff picture to a great degree. Either they or the Chiefs will win the AFC West and the other will end up seeded fifth and going on the road. That will be a tough out for the team who is seeded fourth in the AFC. Pittsburgh is on a roll right now and by virtue of their tie instead of a loss, they have a slight advantage over the Texans in the eventual final AFC standings. The likelihood the Texans play the loser of the AFC West seems fairly high at this point. The idea of hosting either the Chiefs or Chargers is exciting, but a daunting task should the standings shake out that way. 

3. Cincinnati enters their second half of the season in very interesting waters. They're healthy at running back again but A.J. Green is set to miss time. Tyler Boyd has been excellent this year but how will he handle the top receiver spot? Andy Dalton is playing much better than his recent seasons and the Bengals defense is playing good enough to keep them in the hunt. They are likely the favorites to be seeded sixth but they could easily be in a fight with the rest of the pack if they hit a rough patch. First up out of their bye is a showdown with the Saints and then a divisional match with the Ravens. 

4. Miami is 2-2 with Brock Osweiler starting and they need him to play better to stick in the AFC hunt. They still have both games against the Bills left but their schedule is pretty tough. If Osweiler falters and Ryan Tannehill isn't yet ready the Dolphins may be sunk. The Ravens, Titans, and winners in this weekend's Indianapolis and Jacksonville game will be nipping at their heels. They are all, of course, trying to catch the Bengals. 

5. The NFC picture lacks clarity compared to the AFC. Nine teams are .500 or better and Green Bay is 3-4-1 which could help them in a tiebreaker situation. Atlanta is streaking right now. The Seahawks have played better after a rough start. The defending Super Bowl champions loom in the middle of the pack in a division that isn't dominated by the current leader Washington. It's shaping up to be a fun race. 

6. It is likely the Texans will come out of their bye with just two of their remaining opponents owning winning records. Washington and the Eagles seem poised to be those teams. With the poor opponent records, the Texans likely won't be seen as legitimate contenders with only a couple of opportunities to impress pundits. If there was a playoff committee assembling the eight best NFL teams the would likely leave the Texans out. Thankfully there's not. Still plenty of time to get healthy and then hopefully show off the true potential of this Texans team. 

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Now my job: Texans out-Patriot the Patriots

Texans take down the Pats. Photo by Getty Images.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right two times a day. All the clichés about it being better to be lucky than good can apply here with the Texans 27-20 win over the Patriots. In a matchup that broke a record for the oldest combined age for opposing head coaches, 141 years old, Romeo Crennel beat his former boss Bill Belichick. There were other narratives at work here, as well as a few things (good and awful) that the coaching staff did.

First thing I saw that I liked was the spread and no-huddle on offense. If you've been following this series of articles, you know I've been on this train quite a while now. This allows Deshaun Watson to find the matchup he likes, exposes the defense because they can't sub, takes advantage of Texans' speed at receiver, and creates a tempo most defenses can't keep up with. Not to mention the spread is the offense Watson operated in at Clemson. 28/37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns of production from Watson was enough for me to say they need to have this as their M.O. moving forward.

Tim Kelly called a great game. He used the short, quick pass game in lieu of the run game. This also helped since Laremy Tunsil was out and Roderick Johnson had to play at left tackle. This offensive line is not very good at run blocking. Hence, why Watson was again the team's leading rusher with only 36 yards. Almost all of those were on scrambles. By going spread and no-huddle, Watson can take advantage of man and zone coverages to extend plays or scramble because most teams won't spy him. Even when they do, he makes them look silly.

Not everything was on the up and up. The defense continued to look like booty juice. Cam Newton threw for 365 yards and Damiere FREAKIN Byrd torched them for 132 of those yards! When I heard the quote from Crennel that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is getting the most out of his guys, I found it laughable. To double down on that, Weaver was quoted as saying, "This narrative that's being painted like my guys aren't disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly and to put it bluntly, is bull---t!" Sorry guys, but you're both wrong. This defense can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag if you gave them knives. The worst part about it is that the offense's best chance at success sets the defense up for failure. Their hurry up scheme leaves little time for this porous defense to catch its wind. If they could get some turnovers or just off the damn field and get stops, it would help the offense.

With six games left, their three games outside the AFC South (Bengals, Lions, Bears) are all winnable. The two matchups against the Colts and the season finale against the Titans will prove to be their biggest tests. However, this is the same team that has four one possession losses. 3-7 could look a lot different if the offense stepped up against the Browns, or the defense made stops against the Steelers, Vikings, or Titans. Let's hope they can build off this win and salvage whatever they can of this season.

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