JOEL BLANK

As playoffs loom, what would be considered a success for the Astros?

For Justin Verlander and the Astros, is anything less than a title considered a failure? Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Hey Astros! It don’t mean a thing, if you don't win that ring—just ask the Rockets.  Houston set a franchise record for regular season wins and was one of the two best teams in the league. They had an MVP candidate, great veteran leadership, significant contributions from their role players and incredible coaching. Sound familiar Astros fans? The two teams mirror each other in many ways, but the Astros want to make sure there is one big difference. Unlike the Rockets, who stumbled in the playoffs and fell short of their ultimate goal, the Astros want to repeat their historic championship run.

As much as we love the ‘Stros, there’s a feeling that if the team is unable to repeat as World Series champions, it will be a huge disappointment. There is no more room for moral victories or being a hamstring away from greatness, this is a championship team—a team that brings home the hardware for their city and epitomizes being "Houston Strong." The tougher the opponent, the harder the fight and this team has fought out of some pretty deep fox holes to achieve amazing results for the team, the city, and Astros fans everywhere.

This is in no way meant to take away from the incredible regular season or to minimize the records per se. Some of the things we saw over the last six months we had never seen before, as the team made us forget about the possibility of a championship hangover and had us glued to the games to see what incredible accomplishment would be achieved next.  They won more regular season games than ever before, gave up less runs than any American League team has surrendered in a non-strike year since the designated hitter was implemented and allowed fewer runs than all but two National League teams have given up since 1974.

The starting pitching was ridiculous with Justin Verlander in the running for the Cy Young Award and Charlie Morton and Gerritt Cole joining him in the 200 strikeout club. If not for an incredible year by the Boston Red Sox, the Astros would be heavy favorites to repeat as American League Champs and get back to their second straight World Series. The team they are opening up the postseason against may be their stiffest competition in the entire playoffs.

The Cleveland Indians have the only starting rotation that can come close to matching that of the Astros, and they have added former American League MVP Josh Donaldson to an already potent lineup that features two of the top 10 players in the league in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Houston has an advantage in the bullpen as well as their defense and depth, but don't be surprised if this series goes the full five games. If it does and the Tribe comes out on top, we all will be extremely disappointed. The real question becomes, will you consider the entire season a disappointment if they fall short against the Indians? What if they advance but get knocked off by the Red Sox or Yankees? Is a runner up finish in the World Series enough for you to deem the year a success? It's OK if you answered yes to any of those questions. It's part of being a fan of a winning team that has given you a title and a trophy and a new set of expectations. Let's hope this years team brings it all home again and lets us shoot for the moon next year too!

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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