The Pallilog

Postseason advantage goes to Cowboys over Texans

Jason Garret and the Cowboys are a game away from the NFC title game. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Since the Texans entered the NFL, they have produced the less than grand total of three playoff wins.

Since the Texans entered the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have produced three playoff wins.

Advantage Cowboys, for the moment at least. While the Texans this weekend perhaps dream about receiving their AFC South championship rings, the Cowboys dream of upsetting the Rams Saturday in Los Angeles and reaching their first NFC Championship game since the 1995 season. Of course the Cowboys have a chance (they're seven point underdogs).

Stats can be more deceiving in the NFL than in the other major sports because teams only play 16 games. But…the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott was the NFL's leading rusher this season. Nothing deceiving about that, Elliott is outstanding. One guess as to which team ranked dead last in the NFL this season in yards allowed per carry. Kind of a leading question, so right you are! The Rams allowed 5.1 yards per carry.

Here's the stats can be deceiving part. In going 13-3, the Rams were ahead, a lot. When facing teams trying to come from behind against you, your defense is concerned even more than usual with defending the pass and preventing big plays. That can make a defense susceptible to some runs. To what extent that impacted the Rams stats? I haven't done a deep dive on that. But you know Elliott is going to be fed the ball a lot Saturday.

The Rams are rightful favorites, as are the Saints over the Eagles. But I put it at about 40% that next week at least one NFC East team is playing for a trip to Super Bowl LIII.

With most Texans thinking: How 'Bout NOT Them Cowboys.

Mediocre, thy name is Texans

In the Texans 17 seasons, they still have yet to legitimately contend for a significant title. Winning a four team Division five times in eight years is nice little achievement, though anyone proudly wearing a 2018 AFC South champion shirt these days: Weak!

Recovering from an 0-3 start to make the playoffs isn't a throwaway, but twice within a month the Colts slapped the Texans at NRG Stadium. In the end that defines the Texans' season more so than does an 11-5 record built largely off of a marshmallow schedule.

Hubbed by Deshaun Watson, who picked a lousy time for a lousy game throwing the ball, the Texans are in a good position going forward. It's not as if their offensive line can get worse. The o-line and the secondary need major work this offseason. But as opposed to last year, the Texans are equipped with their first round draft choice, and two second rounders, and are among the top 10 teams in salary cap space. Big problem: the Colts also have a one and two twos, and they are number one in cap space.

Texans' General Manager Brian Gaine better nail it over these next several months, or the Texans could face another era of mostly breathing Indy exhaust fumes.

Beard vs. the Freak

James Harden's run of 14 consecutive 30+ point games as been phenomenally impressive. NBA rules and style of play are different, but this James Harden is the best offensive player in Rockets' history, in what really is now an easy call over Hakeem Olajuwon (Moses Malone third). OK, best regular season offensive player in Rockets history.

Harden is right back in the thick of the Most Valuable Player award race. That Harden is definitely again the NBA MVP, no way, as Giannis Antetokounmpo forcefully demonstrated Wednesday night in his Bucks' win at Toyota Center. But if Harden gets it again, check the membership list of the club he'd join as a back-to-back MVP winner: Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Moses, Larry, Magic, Michael, Duncan, Nash, LeBron, Curry.

Antetokounmpo turned 24 years old just last month. The "Greek Freak" has carried the Bucks into the weekend with the NBA's best record (29-11). The guy still has no outside shot, sub-wretched 16 percent 3-point shooting this season, but he's still nearly as unguardable as Harden at 26.6 points per game on 58% field goal shooting. He's also averaging almost 13 rebounds per game, and six assists per. And is a versatile defensive force.

Spring fling

Just over a month to the Astros opening the doors at Spring Training. Caesar's this week posted the first bettable over/under 2019 win total numbers. The Astros have the highest number in MLB at 97 ½, 14 higher than second in the AL West (Angels). Last season the 103 win Stros cruised over their number which was 96 ½.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers have started in the same game seven times. The Patriots are 7-0. 2. The Chiefs this week hit the 25th anniversary of their last home playoff win. 0-6 since. 3. Top 3 picks in a draft of all current NBA players: Bronze-Joel Embiid Silver-Anthony Davis Gold-Giannis Antetokounmpo

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Houston Astros made a big splash earlier in the week by extending Alex Bregman. They are on the verge of another big deal, according to multiple reports.

Extending Verlander

Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros and ace pitcher Justin Verlander finalized a two-year, $66 million dollar extension. Even at age 36, Verlander remains one of the best in the game. He went 16-9 last year with a 2.52 ERA and 290 strikeouts. It was his first full season in Houston.

Verlander quickly endeared himself to Houston fans after the last minute trade from Detroit in 2017. He helped the team to its first World Series victory that year and has been a fan favorite ever since. The Astros window to win it again remains open, and Verlander apparently will be a big part of it.

If this deal is finalized, and the Astros can reach a longterm deal with impending free agent Gerrit Cole, the team should be set for the near future. Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa will be the next players in line for deals, but in locking up Jose Altuve, Bregman and now Verlander the team will remain in pretty good shape moving forward.

Verlander's deal - like Cole's - was set to expire at the end of this season.

Texans finally address a need

Oakland Raiders v Minnesota Vikings

Matt Kalil. Getty Images.

The Texans needed to add offensive line help this off-season, but the options were limited and overpriced. On Friday they added the kind of player they needed, former Viking and Panther tackle Matt Kalil. It is a low-risk, high-reward move.

Kalil was a Pro Bowl caliber tackle in Minnesota until injuries slowed him in 2016. He started every game for Carolina in 2017, but missed all of last season and the Panthers let him go.

If he is healthy, left tackle becomes less of a priority in the draft - the Texans won't have to reach for one. If not, it's a low-risk move. If he wins the starting job, great. If he does not, it likely means the Texans drafted a better player.

They have not done a lot in free agency, but adding Kalil is a potentially key move. Former Raider Donald Penn is also still a free agent and if the Texans can add him as well, they have at least placed significant band-aids on a gaping wound.

Adding Kalil on a short-term deal is a much better option than spending huge dollars on Trent Brown. The potential success rate is basically the same.

The Texans still have some concerns - another tackle remains critical, and cornerback is still a serious minus, but now they can address corner in the draft without being locked in to taking a tackle. If they can add Penn, then cornerback immediately becomes the No. 1 priority. They could also use a backup running back and another interior D lineman, but those can be addressed in the middle rounds.

In all, this is a great move by the Texans, whether it works out or not.

Ohio State next for Coogs

Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars will play their second round NCAA Tournament game Sunday against 11th-seeded Ohio State after Friday's easy win over Georgia State. The game will be played at 7:40 p.m.

The No. 3-seeded Cougars are 5.5-point favorites.

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