CHARLIE PALLILO

Don't look now, but the Texans and O'Brien are in the mix for big things

Deshaun Watson has helped Bill O'Brien and the Texans. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Aside from the passing of founder and owner Bob McNair, the good times have just kept on rolling for the Texans. They should make it nine wins in a row Sunday, though Cleveland is no longer the gimme it has been for years.

Provided the Texans handle their business, Sunday’s next most significant outcome is Minnesota at New England. In a couple of weeks the Patriots play at Pittsburgh. It’s unlikely the Pats lose both, but not impossible. If they lose both the Texans have a tremendous shot at securing a playoff bye as a top two finisher in the AFC. The Steelers already have three losses and a tie (and a chance to lose to the Chargers Sunday). The Steelers have a probable loss at New Orleans yet to come. If the Texans finish 12-4 they are a near certainty to finish as at least the number three AFC seed.

So how does Bill O’Brien, NFL Coach of the Year candidate strike you? Back in preseason, certainly in mid-September, it would have struck you as ridiculous and/or hilarious. If the vote were today O’Brien would probably finish behind Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears were 5-11 last season, Nagy has them 8-3 in his first season on the job. O’Brien last season captained the titanic Texans to 4-12. Add this season’s 0-3 start to that, and the fat contact extension he was gifted in the offseason looked even more absurd. This should have been a “prove it” season for O’Brien, his fifth in the gig. He is proving it.

O’Brien has always been a commanding personality, sometimes to the point of Billy Bluster mode. Results are results so he must be given his due. The most critical component of O’Brien becoming a better coach was the drafting of Deshaun Watson, but so what? Even with the Texans’ powder puff schedule and some big breaks going their way, eight straight wins shouldn’t be scoffed away.

Have the Texans evolved into a powerhouse team? There is no strong evidence saying yes. But they are positioning themselves to get a real shot at proving themselves bonafide contenders and perhaps legit upper echelon They could also wind up exposed as the beneficiaries of their easy schedule. If that turns out to be the case, at least they’ll be better positioned going forward than at any prior point in franchise history.

The not so good

Then, there are the Rockets.

Heading into the weekend here’s the full list of teams the Rockets are ahead of in the Western Conference: Phoenix.  

If the Rockets Friday night lose to the (10-11) Spurs for the second time this season, that would be loss number 12 already. The Rockets’ 12th loss last season didn’t happen until January 15th. All they need to match last season’s 65 win brilliance is a 56-6 finish! Snowballs have much better chances in hell.

As the Mavericks beat the tar out of the Rockets Wednesday night, about all Rockets’ backers had to fall back on was, well, Chris Paul was out. Last season when Paul, James Harden, Clint Capela all played the Rockets went an amazing 44-3. This season’s Rockets have already lost three games when their version of a Big 3 all played. Paul missing a chunk of the schedule is par for the course. No reason to think he’ll get more durable in his mid-30s. That Mike D’Antoni had Paul averaging his most minutes per game in four years was not smart, but you can grasp D’Antoni’s dilemma given the punchline of a bench Daryl Morey has him coaching. The Rocket bench is abominably bad. Over his decade-plus on the job Daryl Morey has been a very good General Manager, but this past offseason he was Dismal Daryl. From Carmelo Anthony on down the line.

Saturday night the Rockets are home Saturday for the bumbling Bulls. That is an extremely unenticing matchup. Owner Tilman Fertitta sure won’t be there. Much more excitement at the University of Houston as the Cougars host Oregon in the grand opening game of the Fertitta Center. The Cougars will never be a big deal citywide, but to grow their niche a sparkling 7100 seat arena with Kelvin Sampson coaching a good team gives UH as good a shot as it can ask.

Oregon’s leading scorer is 7’2” freshman Bol Bol. Yes, Bol Bol. Son of the late 7’7” Manute.  

Still waiting

It’s been mostly quiet on the baseball free agency front. The winter meetings should accelerate things when they open in Las Vegas a week from Sunday.

Buzzer Beaters

1. How ‘bout them Cowboys? The Rams say thanks.  2. Don’t know that Texas can score enough points to beat Oklahoma a second time, but UT plus the points is the sensible pick. 3. One addition, one addition only for the Astros among the rumored available: Bronze-Goldschmidt  Silver-Realmuto Gold-Kluber

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome