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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Houston gets the lopsided win

Valdez, Astros dominate the Angels in 10-0 rout in Anaheim

Framber Valdez was dominant against the Angels on Monday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a series win at home over the weekend, the Astros started their final regular-season road trip on Monday, squaring off against the Angels in Anaheim. They held the momentum firmly in their favor all night, dominating both sides of the game to start the series with a victory.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 0

Astros' Record: 89-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (11-5)

Losing Pitcher: Jaime Barria (2-4)

Siri leads off with a bang

With Jose Altuve being given the night off, Houston gave Jose Siri a shot at the leadoff spot, and he delivered to start the opener in Anaheim. He launched a missile to left field, 426 feet, to put the Astros in front 1-0 before the Angels could record an out. Later that same inning, they strung together three singles, the third being an RBI by Carlos Correa to double the lead.

Valdez goes seven shutout innings

That gave Framber Valdez a lead to work with as he stepped on the rubber in the bottom of the inning, and he didn't give it up as he would post a dominant start. He started with a 1-2-3 first, worked around a couple of singles in the second, then used a double play to face the minimum in the third.

He retired Los Angeles in order again in the fourth, stranded a two-out single in the fifth and a single and a walk in the sixth. He had his worst inning of the night in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single then loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks. He'd escape the jam, though, keeping the shutout alive and finalizing his impressive line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 98 P.

Astros take the opener in lopsided fashion

Houston tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, getting a one-out double by Correa to set up an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez, pushing the lead to 3-0. Things escalated from there, as another single put two on base for Martin Maldonado, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to make it a six-run lead.

Brooks Raley took over for Valdez in the bottom of the inning, and with a 1-2-3 inning, made it his eighth appearance in a row without allowing a run. The Astros didn't let up in the top of the ninth, getting two hits and a walk to load the bases before a grand slam by Gonzalez made it 10-0 and gave him 5 RBI in a two-inning span. Seth Martinez, called up by the Astros earlier in the day, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth and closed out the lopsided win to put Houston's magic number at 6.

Up Next: The second of this four-game set will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Tuesday. Jose Urquidy (7-3, 3.38 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, going opposite Packy Naughton (0-2, 4.32 ERA) for the Angels.

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