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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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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