MATT HARAB

Here are two must-watch NFL games this weekend for fans of the Texans

Blake Bortles will be back on the field this week. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Momentum.  It is the most cliche word used in sports, but the win last night for the Texans has given this team a whole lot of it at the midway point of the season.  Momentum for the offensive line, the running game, DeShaun Watson, and most importantly Bill O’Brien, who half the people reading this probably wanted to fire after week 3.

And to beat Brock Osweiler, the man who magically left town back on March 9 last year. Yes it was just last year the Texans turned their entire franchise around by correcting a big mistake. Then just a few months later, they drafted the answer to the long standing problem at quarterback.  

The Texans have now set themselves up in fantastic position within the division.  A division that was thought to be controlled by another team. Speaking of the Jaguars, here are the two games you must pay attention to on Sunday:

Jaguars v Eagles (London game)

If you are an early bird, set an alarm.  You can watch and see what Doug Marrone means by “short leash” which is what he says is on Blake Bortles.  Houston has a 1 ½ game lead now on the Jaguars plus the victory from last week. Jacksonville was fighting in the locker room last week, they traded for a brand new running back because their starter is still hurt. The defense does not look even close to what they were last year.  They are as close to desperate for a win as you can get, even with a light schedule coming up for them. However the Eagles are coming off heartbreak after blowing a 17-point lead to Carolina last week. I expect a low scoring game with offenses struggling, however if the Eagles can give the Jags a loss, that would obviously be huge for Houston.  The Titans have a bye this weekend so, this is the one divisional game to watch.

Broncos at Chiefs

The Texans have two road games coming up. Next week they are in Denver, a team that suffered a weird off the field blow this week with Chad Kelly’s arrest and release.  The backup quarterback randomly walked into a house, sat on a couch and started mumbling incoherently on that couch. (I’ve had my fair share of fun in my life at parties, but I don’t even think a Von Miller halloween party could get me to the level this dude was apparently at.)

The Broncos gave the Chiefs a game the first time these two teams played at Mile High because they could run the ball and they could rush the passer.  In this game, watch the Broncos FRONT 4. Can they get to Patrick Mahomes again? I know the Texans offensive line was FANTASTIC last night, but they will have their hands full against the Broncos in two weeks.  If I am Bill O’Brien, that is the No. 1 thing I’m looking at - how can we stop this pass rush - because we know that DeShaun Watson needs protection to do what he did last night.

I would tell you to watch the Chargers and Patriots (5-win teams in the AFC as well as Houston) but Los Angeles has a bye week and the Patriots have the Bills.  Which is basically a bye week. So hey, sit back this Sunday knowing that Houston has climbed out of this 0-3 hole with grit, confidence and as DeShaun Watson said after the game last night, SWAGGER.  Houston has a lot to be proud of, but they also have two tough road games coming up. If I told you at the beginning of the season that the Texans would be 5-3 at the midway point, you would gladly take it.  Enjoy the weekend. Cheers.

 

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Verlander is 39 years old and thriving. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros’ slaughtering of the lambs tour has them in Seattle for the weekend. The Mariners are a big flop thus far stumbling along at 18-27, last in the American League West. They must be delighted to draw Justin Verlander on the mound against them in the series opener. JV has already beaten the M’s twice in 2022. He threw eight shutout innings at Seattle in his second start of the season.

Thus far in his return post-Tommy John surgery Verlander has been staggeringly magnificent. He’s 6-1 with a you-have-to-be-kidding-me 1.22 earned run average. Frame of reference: Martin Maldonado is an atrocious offensive player. If he continues at his current level of playing time and performance Maldonado will finish with one of the handful of worst offensive seasons in the history of the Major Leagues. Maldonado’s on base plus slugging percentage this season is an incredibly feeble .435. The collective OPS against Justin Verlander this season is .441. So Verlander essentially is making MLB lineups look like they have Martin Maldonado batting one through nine.

This is Verlander’s third full (fingers crossed) season of pitching as an Astro. The first two produced a near miss Cy Young runner-up finish to Blake Snell in 2018 and a narrow Cy Young win over Gerrit Cole in 2019. Verlander is the early leader on the course in 2022. He is poised to overtake Roger Clemens as the best Golden Oldie pitcher in Astros’ history. One could argue he already has.

Verlander is 39 years old and thriving. The “Rocket” turns 60 in August. I bet he could still touch at least the low-80s on the radar gun. Clemens’s Astros tenure was breathtaking. It began when he was 41 years old and covered two and two thirds seasons (he chose to start his 2006 season late). In his first Astro season (2004) Clemens won his seventh Cy Young Award after going 18-4 and turning 42 years old in August. The Rocket actually should not have won the National League Cy that year. Randy Johnson was clearly the best pitcher in the league, pitching 30 more innings than Roger with an earned run average 0.38 better. But, as one of many examples of doofy Baseball Writers’ Association voting, Johnson’s 16-14 record was held against him. His 16-14 was amazing! Johnson pitched for a laughingstock Diamondbacks’ squad that finished 51-111. A smarter electorate would have awarded “The Big Unit” his sixth Cy Young Award, which would have tied Clemens for most all-time. However…

Clemens was shafted out of two Cys he should have won. Pitching for the Red Sox in 1990 “The Rocket” went 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA. Bob Welch won 27 games for a dominant Oakland team that year, but he wasn’t even the best pitcher in his own team’s rotation (Dave Stewart was) much less best in the American League. Clemens put together his 1.93 ERA while pitching his home games in hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Welch came in at 2.95 while pitching his home games at the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. Still, blinded by the 27 wins, the voters went Welch by a comfortable margin. Welch over Clemens in 1990 is one of the lamest votes ever.

2005 wasn’t nearly as blatantly ridiculous, though Clemens’s second season in Houston was even more Astronomically good than was ’04. He was a living pitching God. In mid-August Clemens’ ERA was 1.32. One-point-three-two! It was dark comedy that season how pitiful the Astros’ offense was providing run support when Clemens was on the mound. Hence he won only 13 games despite finishing with a National League best 1.87 ERA, more than a half run better than teammate Andy Pettitte’s runner-up 2.39. Chris Carpenter won the 2005 NL Cy. He had a heckuva year for the Cardinals. He was not the best pitcher in the league. Clemens actually finished third, also behind Dontrelle Willis who would have been a better choice than Carpenter though not quite as good as Roger.

Vintage “old age” Astro pitching seasons have to include a mention of Nolan Ryan. Like 2019, 1987 was a season of juiced baseballs, home run numbers shot through the roof. So while a 2.76 ERA isn’t eye-popping, Ryan won the NL ERA title with it. Nolan was 40 through the ’87 season. Ryan’s record in ’87: 8 wins, 16 losses. Talk about non-support. Ryan finished fifth in the Cy Young voting with reliever Steve Bedrosian another dubious winner. The guy who probably should have won in ’87, or at least the guy with the highest wins above replacement (WAR) total? Bob Welch! Then with the Dodgers.

Verlander hopes to pitch well into his 40s a la Ryan and Clemens. He is 68 wins shy of 300 for his career. Logic says he doesn’t get there, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch against him.

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