JOHN GRANATO

Hate to say I told you so. No I don't. The Texans are good. Damn good

Deshaun Watson and the Texans are channeling an Oilers team that won 11 in a row. Matt Patterson/Houston Texans

A month ago the Texans were at the halfway point of the season. They had won five straight games. I wrote on this very website that they would breeze through the rest of the schedule unbeaten and be the top seed in the AFC. They are four games away from that.

To get there of course the Texans will have to win out but they will also need the Chiefs to lose twice. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. They’ve got the Ravens this week followed by the Chargers, at the Seahawks and home for the Raiders. The Ravens have the league’s best defense and a weapon no one else has in Lamar Jackson. The Chargers have been playing as well as anyone and the Seahawks are playing well and own arguably the best home field advantage. The Raiders are the Raiders but that’s a rivalry game and you never know.

The Patriots have to lose once. They go to Miami this week where they historically struggle late in the year and they have to go to Pittsburgh next week. That’s never easy. If they haven’t lost by then they won’t. Their last two are at home against the Jets and Bills. Two gimmies.

I’ve heard over and over how the Texans are in the second tier of AFC hierarchy. There’s the Chiefs and the Patriots then the Texans, Chargers and Steelers.

Why is that? Why is a team that’s got the longest win streak in the league thought to be a second tier team?

The answer keeps coming back one thing: Bill O’Brien.

I suppose that’s fair.

In his four-plus seasons with the Texans it’s tough to pinpoint a signature win. The Raiders playoff victory rings a little hollow. Connor Cook was their starter. It was the first time in NFL history that a quarterback made his first career start in the playoffs. It showed.

O’Brien lost his other two playoff games.

In 2015 the Texans went into Cincinnati and beat an 8-0 Bengals team on Monday Night Football. It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates put up 10 points but that was enough to beat the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton. The Bengals went on to win 12 games that year but lost in their only playoff game as they are wont to do.

In 2016 the Texans beat the Chiefs in the second week of the season. The Chiefs went on to win 12 games that year but lost their only playoff game to the Steelers.

Last year the Texans put up 57 on the Titans who went on to the second round of the playoffs but they were still the Titans, not exactly NFL royalty.

This year’s win over Dallas is looking better and better. The Cowboys are 7-5 now, leading the NFC East and it’s always good to beat those people. At the time it didn’t look like either team would be considered very good at any point this season. Times have changed.

The Saints had a 10 game win streak that ended against those Cowboys last Thursday. It’s cliche but on any given Sunday (or Thursday) you can lose in the NFL so to win nine in a row is something of an accomplishment. And like it or not Bill O’Brien is the guy who got you there.

Whether it’s his postgame demeanor, his conservative late game play calling, his clock management, his flag gaffes or the hole in his chin, there’s a reason that Bill O’Brien has not won this city over.

He won me over a couple of weeks ago with this quote.

“I think Thanksgiving is awesome. It’s football. It’s turkey. It’s stuffing. It’s a couple of Coors Lights and watch some football.”

That’s a man I can trust.

But will we be saying that about him this postseason? We’ll get a preview of what that’ll be like this last month. The Colts’ backs are against the wall after that disaster in Jacksonville last week. This Sunday’s game will not be easy. The Jets are the Jets. The Texans should win that one. But then they’ve got to go to Philly who may be playing for their playoff lives. Now that will be a signature win, maybe O’Brien’s biggest ever. If things play out right, it could mean a Texans playoff bye, the organization’s first.

That would be huge.

Of course it could all fall apart. They could lose these last four and finish right where almost everyone thought they would: 9-7.

That’s not going to happen. Bill O’Brien and this team have turned a corner. They’re better than you want to give them credit for. They’re as good as any team in the AFC. That’s right. They’re as good as the Chiefs. They can beat them.

There are two reasons why. They can get after the quarterback and make a young guy look bad (see Baker Mayfield last week) and they have number 4. While DeShaun hasn’t been other worldly like I thought he’d be coming into this season, he’s been pretty darned good. And he saves his best for the biggest games.

This team has turned a corner. It’s about time this fanbase did. You younger readers won’t remember the 11 straight Oilers wins to close out the 1993 season. This city was on fire. All everyone could talk about was that Oilers team. Of course they disappointed us all with a loss to Joe Montana and the Chiefs but it was still one helluva ride.

This one; not so much. I’ve never seen the stadium emptier than at the start of the Monday night game against the Titans. I know it was a work and school day but that was a huge game. The stadium filled up but this isn’t the Rockets. People should be in their seats for the start of  Texans games.

We only get two, maybe three calls a show about the Texans. Maybe.

Come on people. Where’s the excitement for a nine game win streak?

We’re not known for being a great sports town but I’ve always said that this city will get behind a team if we think it’s got a chance to win it all. We have for the Rockets and Astros.

Time to get behind this Texans team. It can go where no Houston pro football team has gone before: The Super Bowl.

That’s right. I said it.  

If not it’s still a great building block season, kind of like the ‘15 Astros. They got to the postseason but just weren’t ready to win it yet. That would be fine. It gave them that experience they took advantage of two years later.

It feels like there’s been that kind of culture change with these Texans. Games they would have lost in the past they are winning now and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Remember: all’s well that ends well and these games have been ending well.

And this team looks like it’s built to last. With Brian Gaine calling the draft shots now it just feels different. They actually found three third round draft picks who can play; Justin Reid, Martinas Rankins and Jordan Akins. In years past they cut their third rounders before the season started. Let’s see what he can do with first and second round picks.

All in all this is turning into a great season. Let’s put the 0-3 start behind us. I know that’s still a wound that won’t heal for a lot of fans.

Get over it people. This team is 9-3.

Let’s start acting like it.



 

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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