THE PALLILOG

How the Houston Texans can reach the postseason beyond winning out

Houston Texans Nico Collins, CJ Stroud
Texans playoff scenarios revealed. Composite Getty Image.

If in August the Texans or any Texans’ fan were offered a proposition of win the final two regular season games in order to make the playoffs, only a fool or the most lunatic fringy optimists would have passed. Here we are. Blowout losses within their last three games to the Jets and Browns rub some of the shine off of the Texans’ 8-7 record, but get past the Titans Sunday and beat the Colts next Sunday and playoffs it is. No matter how the Texans finish this has been a season of excellent progress.

That progress is rooted to the arrival and good health of C.J. Stroud, who cleared concussion protocol on Thursday. Without him the last two games the Texans’ offense has been mostly inept, though at least Cleveland has a top tier defense. They were able to overcome often odorous offense to win at Tennessee in large part because the defense snuffed Derrick Henry who mustered a laughable nine yards rushing on 16 carries. His last two times playing at NRG Stadium Henry ran, ran, and ran some more. In 2020 (actually January 3, 2021) he finished off a 2027 yard season with a 34 carry 250 yard tour de force. He missed the 2021 game injured then last season resumed wrecking ball status with 34 carries for 219 yards. Henry turns 30 next Thursday. He’s not the same back and is not running behind the same offensive line. Henry needs 28 yards for his fifth career 1000 yard season. He’ll probably get those, but shouldn’t smear the Texans into the NRG turf as in games past. Henry’s career can be compared very reasonably to that of the legendary Earl Campbell with the Oilers. Each only had three monster seasons. In Henry’s he totaled 5105 yards on 1030 carries (4.96 yards per carry). The “Tyler Rose” rumbled for 5081 yards on 1043 carries (4.87 yards per carry).

There are multiple scenarios in which the Texans can split their remaining two games and make the postseason at 9-8, regardless of which of the two games they win. The ideal 9-8 outcome would have the Texans lose to the Titans then bounce back to win at Indianapolis while the Jaguars cap an epic collapse by losing this week to the 2-13 Panthers and next week to the Titans. That would leave Jacksonville dead at 8-9. Unlikely but not impossible given the way the Jags have played in losing four in a row. Add in a Colts loss to the Raiders this weekend and Presto! The Texans would be 9-8 AFC South Champions. Winning the division outright is the only way they can win it. The Jaguars win a three-way tiebreaker and own the tiebreaker over the Texans. Even should they win at Indy the Texans lose a tiebreaker to the Colts via conference record.

Maldy is moving on

So it turns out no good team wanted the catching genius of Martin Maldonado. Including the Astros. He settled this week for a one-year four million dollar contract with the Chicago White Sox, with a vesting option for 2025 based upon his 2024 playing time. That’s a one million dollar pay cut. Unless ego got in the way, Maldy should have preferred four mil to stay with the ‘Stros as Yainer Diaz’s backup. Except the Astros opted to pay six million per season in their two year deal with Victor Caratini. In the NFL the term “The Room” is sometimes ascribed to a position group, i.e. the Texans have a good “quarterback room” with C.J. Stroud, Davis Mills, and Case Keenum. The White Sox “catcher room” is now chock full of former Astros. Maldonado joins Korey Lee and Max Stassi on the White Sox’ backstop depth chart.

College Football Playoff

Aggie fans probably wouldn’t find it so enjoyable but wouldn’t it be something if over the next three months and change the University of Texas wins the College Football Playoff and then the University of Houston wins the NCAA Basketball Championship. The Longhorns have the talent edge over Washington in their New Year’s Night semifinal Sugar Bowl matchup. However, Huskies’ quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is more dynamic than UT’s Quinn Ewers. Plus there is the variable of uncertainty when teams haven’t played a game in a month. This is the last time that will ever happen with next season’s tripling of the playoff bracket from four teams to 12.

On the hoops side, barring a highly unlikely upset loss to Penn Saturday, Kelvin Sampson’s third ranked UH squad will roll into 2024 and the start of Big 12 conference play undefeated at 13-0. The league opener is against West Virginia which may be the worst team in the Big 12. After that, not that anyone should be unaware, but it will be acutely obvious that the Cougars are no longer in the American Athletic Conference. Last season within league play they faced zero ranked opponents. Seven games loom (five of them on the road) against Big 12 teams presently ranked in the top 21, including two each vs. Kansas and Texas. Should be fantastic. The Coogs are one of three unbeatens remaining in Division One along with James Madison and Mississippi.

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Will robot umps improve baseball? Composite Getty Images.

Major League Baseball could test robot umpires as part of a challenge system in spring training next year, which could lead to regular-season use in 2026.

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in the minor leagues since 2019 but is still working on the shape of the strike zone.

“I said at the owners meeting it is not likely that we would bring ABS to the big leagues without a spring training test. OK, so if it’s ’24 that leaves me ’25 as the year to do your spring training test if we can get these issues resolved, which would make ’26 a viable possibility,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. "But is that going to be the year? I’m not going to be flat-footed on that issue.

“We have made material progress. I think that the technology is good to a 100th of an inch. The technology in terms of the path of the ball is pluperfect.”

Triple-A ballparks have used ABS this year for the second straight season, but there is little desire to call the strike zone as the cube defined in the rule book and MLB has experimented with modifications during minor league testing.

The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back. The top of the strike zone was increased to 53.5% of batter height this year from 51%, and the bottom remained at 27%.

"We do have technical issues surrounding the definition of the strike zone that still need to be worked out,” Manfred said.

After splitting having the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three during the first 2 1/2 months of the Triple-A season, MLB on June 25 switched to an all-challenge system in which a human umpire makes nearly all decisions.

Each team currently has three challenges in the Pacific Coast League and two in the International League. A team retains its challenge if successful, similar to the regulations for big league teams with video reviews.

“The challenge system is more likely or more supported, if you will, than the straight ABS system,” players' association head Tony Clark said earlier Tuesday at a separate session with the BBWAA. "There are those that have no interest in it at all. There are those that have concerns even with the challenge system as to how the strike zone itself is going to be considered, what that looks like, how consistent it is going to be, what happens in a world where Wi-Fi goes down in the ballpark or the tech acts up on any given night.

“We’re seeing those issues, albeit in minor league ballparks," Clark added. "We do not want to end up in a world where in a major league ballpark we end up with more questions than answers as to the integrity of that night’s game or the calls associated with it.”

Playing rules changes go before an 11-member competition committee that includes four players, an umpire and six team representatives. Ahead of the 2023 season, the committee adopted a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifts without support from players.

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