The Pallilog

On Texans-Colts, college football in Texas and more

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The Texans winning the AFC South at 11-5 has already certified 2018 as a good season. But they have to beat the Colts for the season to be considered any better than good. The division title rings hollow if the Texans lose at home to the Colts for the second time in less than a month.

Both teams rose from the near-NFL dead to get here. The Texans going 11-2 after their 0-3 start, the Colts an even more amazing 9-1 finish to climb from a 1-5 ditch. The Colts appear to be the slightly better and more balanced team right now, but it's the same team that lost 6-0 at Jacksonville the week before winning at NRG Stadium.

Within one game past performance, trends, and any other data can mean absolutely nothing. The Texans sure hope so on this: Deshaun Watson was the most sacked (62 times) quarterback in the NFL this season, and also the most sacked per pass attempt among full-time starters. Andrew Luck threw 134 more passes than Watson this season, and was sacked just 18 times. The Texans did sack Luck four times in the first meeting, but the Colts were minus injured left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Luck did throw for 464 yards and four touchdowns.

Luck should edge out J.J. Watt for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Both have had marvelous return seasons, but Luck is more critical to his team's success. He lit up the Texans' secondary to the extent that if his two games vs. the Texans were extrapolated over a 16 game schedule Luck and not Patrick Mahomes would be the rightful Most Valuable Player winner. Unless Watt or Jadeveon Clowney has a superstar level game there's not much reason to believe Luck won't be prolific again, unless Texans Destroyer T.Y. Hilton is significantly hindered by his gimpy ankle.

For the Texans, Keke Coutee could be a serious wild card. Coutee's seemingly porcelain hamstring is cleared to play, will it hold up in his first game since November? Coutee could make some hay working underneath as the Colts' defense rightfully focuses on DeAndre Hopkins. In last month's loss to the Colts Hopkins posted a season low 36 receiving yards on just four catches. Remember, in the game at Indy Coutee debuted with 11 receptions. If the Texans' running game remains as inept as it's been the past four weeks, someone other than Watson or Hopkins needs to produce.

Bowled over

Other than the playoff semifinal games, other than for preening purposes and coach bonuses, college football bowl results mean very little. Teams play for the first time in several weeks, motivation levels vary, and increasing numbers of players are opting to skip the bowl game and the injury risk that comes with playing,

That said, for the two flagship college programs in Texas the needles are pointing up in 2019. Though Darrell Royal is spinning in his grave if Longhorns consider a 10-4 season means "We're baaaaack!"

While the Horns took it to fifth ranked Georgia, the Aggies blew out an overmatched North Carolina State team. So when the final AP rankings come out after Monday's Alabama-Clemson championship game, for just the second time this millennium Texas and Texas A&M; will both finish in the Top 25. 2012 is the only season before this one it's happened. How amazingly lame is that?

Jimbo Fisher's 9-4 debut season in Aggieland goes down as good but not better than that, and certainly not the results that will be deemed acceptable over the life of Fisher's 10 year $75 million dollar contract. Among the Aggies' road games in 2019: at Clemson, at Georgia, and at LSU. A&M; must break through and win at least one of those (and not blow any home games) for Fisher to really have the program on the come.

Right now, Tom Herman's upcoming third season at UT in would have Texas favored in every game on its schedule. That includes LSU in Austin, and post-Kyler Murray Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

The undefeated

While UH football tries to buy status by lavishing Dana Holgorsen with a five year $20 million dollar deal, it's Cougar basketball doing the great things. 14-0 for Kelvin Sampson's squad heading into Sunday's home game vs. Penny Hardaway's Memphis Tigers before a test of a road stop at Temple on Wednesday. It's not the Final Four people dream of, but the Cougars are among the final four undefeated teams among the 353 who started the season in D1 college hoops (Michigan, Virginia, Nevada).

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden is on an utterly awesome offensive roll. Rules different, but Kobe Bryant was not this good. 2. 65 degrees and mostly sunny, so of course the Texans will have the roof closed. $50 million dollar boondoggle. 3. If exactly one Wild Card road team wins this weekend: Bronze-Chargers Silver-Seahawks Gold-Colts.

Slow to make big moves hasn't equaled a drop in potential for Texans

Texans are better despite slow free agency

The Texans are better today than when the season ended. It isn't a huge improvement, and there is room for far more improvement, but they're better.

Despite some people's frustration with the Texans not making moves they really haven't missed out on much, the draft is where they will truly improve, and people aren't remembering how good, or bad, they were last season.

Tyrann Mathieu is not $20 million better than Tashaun Gipson. I don't even believe Mathieu was the right type of safety for the Texans. He was a mismatch problem on bigger players, specifically tight ends where Gipson thrives. Mathieu was the third best safety on the team last season not playing as well as Kareem Jackson when he was at safety or the total body of Justin Reid who impressed in his rookie season. While the leadership aspect can't be denied, the Texans praised repeatedly the locker room personality Mathieu brought, the team doesn't lack for leaders.

Gipson has had more success in recent years statistically than Mathieu and plays a different style. You'll notice far less tackles and no sacks to Gipson's stat line. He will be asked to cover more than Mathieu was and his success in recent seasons shows he can do that well. He hasn't had to clean up a lot of messes in the Jaguars secondary, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye held their own, his experience playing deep will hopefully help handle the lack of top talent at cornerback for the Texans.

Speaking of cornerback, if that is where Kareem Jackson was going to play for the Texans in 2019 then there is no loss whatsoever in seeing him leave. He was not good as a corner last year after a really solid start to the year as a safety. Bradley Roby is more physically gifted and took a prove-it deal to try to hit the market with more buzz than this year. I would have preferred Jackson sticking around as a safety but alas the Texans didn't seem to see his value there.

Wholesale changes on the offensive line did almost nothing to improve it last season so I am not sure why some fans and media have desired that again. Yes, they shouldn't have been outbid on Roger Saffold (Titans) by a division rival who has invested greatly in their offensive line. No, Trent Brown (Raiders) and his bloated contract wasn't the answer at left tackle. Matt Paradis is coming off a broken leg at the center spot though he would have been an upgrade at center.

It is clear help on the line is coming via the draft, a deep one along the line might I add. With three picks in the top two rounds there will be opportunities to find players to push Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, and Julién Davenport and it isn't out of the question. Seantrell Henderson despite his new contract is pushed by a rookie as well. This is a fine plan as only Nick Martin was a top round pick of any of the Texans current offensive linemen.

Also, this team won 11 games last season. Don't let a disappointing playoff performance skew how this team played. Deshaun Watson is going to improve and that is the most important thing about this team. He won't take as many hits as he did last season with draft investment and improvement of players on the roster. The rookie tight ends have a year of seasoning under their belt. D'Onta Foreman and Keke Coutee should be healthy and eventually Will Fuller will return. The defense returns or has replaced key figures.

Acting like this is a team that had to spend money just because they had cap space isn't a smart way to look at this team. Typically a team sucks when they have this much cap space, the Texans didn't fall into that category. Is there still room for improvement? No doubt. There's also room to find multiple bargains, be a destination for a trade post-draft, and pay Clowney. Relax, this is a long offseason. The Texans are better today than last week.

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