Charlie Pallilo: Rockets on record pace, NFL playoffs and more

Clint Capela and the Rockets are tearing it up. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets hit the court in Phoenix Friday night with a chance to be a 30-win team at the midpoint of their regular season schedule. Stout. In what does not require advanced calculus, that would have the Rockets on pace for a 60-22 record. For all the success the organization has had, no Rocket team has ever won 60 games in a season. That may seem a bit surprising considering the majority of NBA clubs have put up at least one 60 win campaign. The Rocket franchise standard has stood at the 58 wins the 1993-’94 team posted before going on to win the first of the two championships of the Clutch City Era. At Phoenix Friday night then at the Clippers Monday night, not particularly interesting. The Rockets’ two home games next week, verrrrrrry interesting. The vastly improved Timberwolves visit Toyota Center Thursday, then the Warriors are here Saturday to decide the Rockets-Champs season series.

Crunch time in the NFL

The NFL quarterfinals go down this weekend. If limited to watching just one of the four games, the obvious pick of at least a plurality around here would be Saints at Vikings. We have a bunch of Who Dat fans in the area and a solid number of Case Keenum supporters. In the Monday Night Football season opener, Sam Bradford played sensationally and the Vikings rolled the Saints in Minnesota. Alas, Bradford suffered the latest knee injury of his pro career plagued by them and he played in only one other game. One man’s misfortune is another opportunity and oh how Keenum has maximized that opportunity. Just a year ago Keenum was terrible as a Ram, now as a free agent-to-be he’s looking at probably $30 million plus guaranteed. With a strong postseason how could the Vikings let him go? Jacksonville and Arizona would seem two logical suiters; the Cardinals even more so if they hire Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as their head coach.

On paper the NFC games are both more competitive than their AFC counterparts. The Falcons turned in the most impressive performance of Wild Card weekend in taking down the Rams. Now the only NFC team to make both last season’s and this season’s playoffs tries to take out the NFC top seed in Philadelphia. The Eagles’ offense was downright post-Deshaun Watson Texan-esque (i.e. atrocious) the last couple of weeks of the regular season. Nick Foles is no Carson Wentz. So, for the first time in the 28 years of the 12 team NFL playoff format, a conference sixth seed is favored at the number one seed.

In the AFC even the most devoted Titans’ fans can’t be thinking they have a good shot to stun the Patriots in New England. hence the 13 ½ point spread in that game. In October the Steelers played host to the Jaguars. Pittsburgh was favored by 7 and lost 30-9. Blake Bortles passed for only 95 yards in the game, Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. Which one of those performances seems more repeatable? In the rematch the Steelers are favored by 7 ½. Major difference from October: Sunday’s high temperature forecast for Pittsburgh…18 degrees.

What is he thinking?

All should wish Kyle Allen good luck, but his decision this week to skip his last season of college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft sure seems odd on the surface. After being one of the multiple quarterbacks to transfer out of Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M program, Allen sat out 2016 and went into 2017 as UH’s starting QB. One week after completing 31 out of 33 passes in a thrashing of helpless Rice in the second game of the season, Allen threw two interceptions in a loss to Texas Tech. Major Applewhite switched QBs, and Allen basically was never seen again. Not exactly the stuff to have the pros drooling over drafting him. Allen graduated in December, so he’s well positioned to get on with life if the NFL doesn’t work out for him. It would seem that taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule and going to play somewhere in 2018 would have made sense, but hey, it was his choice to make. Perhaps Allen could sign with the Toronto Argonauts and spark a hot Ontario rivalry of ex-Aggie QBs if the Artist Formerly Known as Johnny Football winds up signing with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Did you know that former Ags Head Coach Mike Sherman signed on last month as Head Coach of the Montreal Alouettes. Gig ‘Em, Eh?

Ice, ice baby

A hockey note, promise I’ll be quick. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have the best record in the Western Conference. I don’t watch the NHL much in the regular season (the playoffs are the best postseason in pro sports), but that is amazing.

Buzzer beaters

1. It’s Mark Davis’s money, but Jon Gruden’s contract is absurd.    2. If I’m Jalen Hurts, think I’m leaning toward transferring.  3. Best bagels: Bronze-cinnamon raisin  Silver-garlic  Gold-everything

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Nick Caserio's history of drafting injury prone players has become a problem. Composite Getty Image.

Nick Caserio was hired to serve as the general manager (GM) of the Texans on January 7, 2021. Some saw it as another nod to the organization's obsession with the Patriots. Others saw it as the team finally getting their guy after pursuing him previously. They were even hit with a tampering charge while trying to talk to him about the job. Since he's been on the job, there have been highs and lows.

Recently, the news about Kenyon Green and Derek Stingley Jr put a stain on his tenure. Green was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR) and Stingley Jr is expected to be placed on IR, likely missing six to eight weeks, per Aaron Wilson. Both guys were Caserio's 2022 first rounders. Both guys are starting to look like busts and have fans a little more than just upset.

Green's case was curious because he was said to have needed surgery before he tore his labrum during the Saints preseason game. He had knee surgery this past offseason. There were knee injury concerns when he was coming out of A&M. Adding to his injuries, Green has played poorly. To make matters worse, the Chargers drafted fellow guard Zion Johnson two picks later. Johnson played all 17 games last season as a rookie at right guard and has moved to left guard this season. The pick used to draft Green was part of a trade back with the Eagles. They used the 13th overall pick to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a guy at a position this team could desperately use.

Stingley Jr was a highly touted recruit coming into LSU as a freshman. He played as well as any corner in the country that year. Oh, and they won a national title with arguably one of the best teams in college football history. His net two years in Baton Rouge were marred with injuries. Some believed his junior year was more him holding back to stay healthy for the draft. It worked because he was taken third overall, one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. Gardner went on to be an All Pro as a rookie. While he's surrounded by more talent on the Jets' defense, people will forever link them because Stingley Jr hasn't lived up to expectations. He missed six games last season and is set to miss at least that many this season. When he has played, he's looked okay. “Okay” isn't what you want from a guy drafted third overall ahead of the other guy who was widely considered better than him.

For the 2021 draft, Caserio was handcuffed. He had no first or second rounders, and made a few trades that lessened his draft pool from eight to five picks. Of the five guys drafted that year, only Nico Collins seems to be a player. The 2022 draft was more productive. Although Green and Stingley Jr were the headliners and haven't played up to the hype, the others are carrying the load. Jalen Pitre and Dameon PIerce alone make that draft class dope. This past draft was seen as the one to save the franchise so to speak. Getting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr got the team a franchise quarterback and edge rusher with picks two and three overall. The price paid to move back up to three was hefty and puts more scrutiny on Anderson Jr. They appear, so far, to have also found a couple other nice players. Tank Dell being the hidden gem of this class.

While people can't, and shouldn't, base Caserio's performance strictly off of the guys he's drafted, one must call it into question. The '21 draft was a wash. The '22 draft looks suspect, but has some redeeming qualities. The '23 draft will most likely be his saving grace. But should it? Former Texans GM Rick Smith nailed almost every first rounder he drafted. Even he was almost run out of town because folks didn't like what he did. Why should Caserio be any different? So what if he cleaned up the mess by the previous regime! That's what he was hired to do!

“Keep that same energy!” That phrase is used when people try to hold others to different standards. Where's that energy everyone had for Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak, David Culley, and Lovie Smith? When others weren't performing well, their heads were called for. I see some people holding Caserio accountable. For the most part, it appears as if he's getting a bit of a pass. I'll be interested to see if this continues should the team has another subpar season. If that pick they traded to the Cardinals is another top 10 pick and the Browns pick the Texans own isn't...if Green can't come back and/or Stingley Jr doesn't show any signs of being a lockdown corner...then what? Let's hope none of this comes to fruition. If it does, we'll have to revisit this conversation.

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