CODY STOOTS

The Friday Stoots 6-pack for Week 5

J.J. Watt will have a tough test this week. Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

1. Can my buddy Patrick Mahomes do it again or can he do it again? When it looked like Denver had him bottled up he unleashed "Showtime" Mahomes on them in short order leading a road comeback. The Jacksonville Jaguars come to town as the toughest test quarter-pole MVP has faced. This is a potential AFC playoff preview and Andy Reid will have to coach up his young quarterback to avoid the deadly pitfalls a Jaguars defense presents. If they can't slow Mahomes down the question will be, who can?

2. The Falcons and Steelers have to be near the top of the early season disappointment list and they square off with each other Sunday. One of these high-powered offenses is going to leave this game with one win. That seems crazy when both were easily thought of as playoff contenders and the Steelers Super Bowl contenders. The Falcons have excuses in injuries destroying their defense. The Steelers have fewer excuses, James Conner has filled in admirably for Le'Veon Bell and their defense returns a ton of the players that made them good last year. Both coaches should be staring down the hot seat if this early season dip continues. 

3. Stop me if you've heard this before but the Patriots are loaded again. Tom Brady looks deadset on fighting Father Time to the death and now the Patriots have a piece of the puzzle they've been missing, a hammer. Sony Michel is the first guy in a long time they can turn to over and over again and at any moment have him break a big one but hold up between the tackles. James White is as dangerous as ever. Josh Gordon is coming along nicely as well. Julian Edelman is back from suspension and they still have Chris Hogan and Gronk. The defense stinks, maybe one of the worst they've put on the field recently, but their offense is as good as ever. 

4. I know Ezekiel Elliot is the big target on the Cowboys. The Colts though just tore up the Texans defense with a few guys you've never heard of so I am a little worried about one Dallas player having a big day. Cole Beasley is the slot king of South Oklahoma and he's far better than any Colts receiver that isn't T.Y. Hilton. His craftiness and ability will be on full display Sunday night. So, while Elliot grabs attention don't forget about the short-game superstar Beasley. 

5. The AFC Defensive Player of the Month J.J. Watt and AFC Defensive Player of the Week Jadeveon Clowney have a tough task this week. Their toughest, actually. Watt spent a month eating up backup tackles who frankly aren't La'el Collins. Tyron Smith, despite recent bouts of injuries, is still a top tackle in the game. Where they will have to show up against the Texans award-winning duo is slowing down Watt and Clowney in the rush game. Both absolutely wreck the rushing attack of an offense and if Elliot can't get going the Cowboys will have no hope Sunday night. 

6. Sunday Night Football last year was an absolute nightmare for the Texans. Against the Chiefs, the team lost Whitney Mercilus for the year and J.J. Watt broke his leg, looking the most human he has ever looked. The big bright spot was, as usual in 2017, Deshaun Watson. It was a terribly slow start as the whole franchise was in shock during the first half. Watson warmed up in the second half. He tossed four touchdowns and made the final score look respectable. It was underwhelming to see what the offense did with a lead last week. They should've put the Colts away. Hopefully, the Texans don't need second-half heroics from Watson on this year's Sunday night affair. It would be great to see the offense get a lead, really get a team down, and bury them. No better opponent than the Cowboys. 

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The future is bright for the Astros. Composite image by Jack Brame.

2020 has shown us lots of things. A few of the things it's shown us is that anything is possible, expect the unexpected, and do not be surprised at the outcome. Well, the Astros checked all three of those boxes in this pandemic season and post season. Anything was possible when they finished the 60 game season 29-31 and barely made the playoffs (yes, the new format helped, but they made it). We should've expected the unexpected when they were able to beat the Twins in the first round 2-0 after the A's ran away with the division this season. We for damn sure shouldn't have been surprised at the outcome of their ALCS series when they forced Tampa to a game seven after being down 3-0 because this team is experienced and scrappy. We are talking about the team that's made it to the ALCS four years running and won it all in 2017.

Sure, there are some high dollar guys that mean a lot to this team that they may lose (looking squarely at George Springer and Michael Brantley), but that's the end of it. They'll also be without Justin Verlander after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Some will say coming back from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven was good enough. They'll tell this team to accept its fate and fall into the background. They replaced their manager and general manager after the cheating scandal, no way they can move forward and succeed right? (insert your favorite GTFOH GIF)

Springer and Brantley could both leave as free agents

This team may not be thought of a contender moving forward, but I have faith in the talent that's still there. I believe Jim Crane knows who and what he can't live without moving forward, so I think he'll shell out the cash necessary to keep guys like Springer and Brantley...as long as it's within reason. Crane won't, and shouldn't, get into a bidding war with another team for either guy, but I think he will make a fair offer to both. Verlander being out in his last season under contract is a big blow. However, I think it can work to the team's advantage.

Let's say they're only able to bring back Springer OR Brantley, but Kyle Tucker takes that next step. Let's say Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez, and Jose Urquidy all take that next step while Lance McCullers continues his accent. What will the league say when Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman return to their previously dominant forms? All of this speaks to the continued era of the dominant Astros.

Even if they lose Brantley and/or Springer this offseason, I still think they have enough in place to keep the lineup competitive and threatening. The pitching staff has enough firepower to put some fear into opposing lineups. If they continue to make the right moves and develop the talent they have in-house, this team won't fall off or take a dip. Instead, they'll continue to be a force if they hold true to the talent they have, and acquire the complimentary talent they need to accent the players they have now. The pitching staff will be in good hands. McCullers, Framber, and Urquidy are guys I feel that can carry the load. Meanwhile, Forrest Whitley is waiting in the wings. Kyle Tucker is poised for the next step in the lineup, and Captain Correa clearly established himself as a leader this post season.

The future is bright for Astros fans. If ownership and the front office pony up the money to keep some guys, it'll be even better.

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