The Pallilog

Resilient but inconsistent Texans could hang another AFC South banner - or fall apart completely

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Give the 9-5 Texans their due. They're no super team and they're not a superbly coached team, but it is a resilient team. Off the Broncos debacle, taking down a previously hot Titans team in Tennessee was strong. It has the Texans now at least 90 percent likely to win their division for a sixth time in nine years. Four times in six years under Head Coach Bill O'Brien.

I poke fun at the "cute little AFC South Division Champ" banners they keep winning. They have rung increasingly hollow during the O'Brien era with embarrassing home playoff losses to the Chiefs and Colts and the lone win over a Raider squad down to its third string quarterback. Still, four division crowns in six years is proof positive that the football operation, and O'Brien don't stink.

The Texans have beaten the Chiefs, the Patriots, and the Titans. And have lost, at home, to the Panthers and Broncos. A ceiling of mediocre to pretty good at some point should not be accepted as the top end achievement. There seems a very simple standard for judging this Texans season a success. Without a home playoff win Wild Card weekend it's not a successful season. Getting smashed at Baltimore again in the Divisional Round wouldn't make them "losers," but it sure would make them posers not real contenders. Winning AFC South titles means nothing towards real contention.

The only way the Texans can miss the postseason is by losing at Tampa, having the Titans beat the Saints Sunday, then have the Titans come here and win the season finale. That is no impossibility. Maddeningly inconsistent teams can lose to anybody, anywhere.

Bucs on a roll

The Buccaneers have won four in a row to get to 7-7. Grade the streak on a curve. They've beaten the Falcons, Jaguars, Colts, and Lions. Combined record for those four: 19-36-1. The Bucs have two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. In a huge break for the Texans they're both out with hamstring injuries.

Bucs' quarterback Jameis Winston has had an interesting season. After an inept start he has come on like gangbusters. Winston is 427 passing yards over the last two games from posting just the 12th 5000 yard season in NFL history. Six quarterbacks have done it once, Drew Brees has done it five times. The past two games Winston aired it out for 456 and 458 yards, becoming the first QB ever to go 450+ in consecutive games. Surprising (yes?) that Marino, Moon, Manning, somebody hadn't done it previously.

Only NFL MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson has thrown more touchdown passes this season (33 to 30), no one is within five interceptions of the 24 Winston has thrown. The last quarterback to throw even 22 picks in a season was Eli Manning in 2013. If the Ravens clinch the top AFC playoff seed this weekend, Jackson certainly sits out the regular season finale. That would give Winston a chance to wind up leading the NFL in both TD passes and INTs. Name the last guy to do that? Answer below in Buzzer Beaters.

Quirky stat pairing: On their 14 opening drives this season the Texans have mustered a pitiful total of three points. Jameis Winston has thrown an interception on five of the Bucs' 14 opening drives.

Rockets with a big one

What a wild ride of a Rockets' win at the Clippers Thursday night. Early in the third quarter they were down 16. A 40-12 eruption put them up 12 in the fourth. The Clips then countered with a 24-6 run for a six point lead, before the Rockets closed with a finishing 14-5 kick to win 122-117. Russell Westbrook was a human tornado tearing through the Clippers for a season high 40 points. Interest in the Rockets is down, interest in the NBA is significantly down, but the Rockets are again very good. They passed the one third of the regular season completed milepost at 19-9, though their defense is still not of championship caliber. The Rockets have taken a page from the Texans' book of inconsistency. In the eight games before the Clippers, the Rockets faced seven bad teams and a really good Toronto team. They beat the Raptors in Canada, yet lost home games to the Kings and Pistons after their blown 22 point lead fiasco at San Antonio. Exasperating for die hard Rocket fans, but it's much better to have a team that has some confounding losses but shows a clear ability to beat elite teams than to be able to beat the scrubs but look like second class citizens versus the elite.

Buzzer Beaters


1. Brees led the NFL in 2012 with 43 TD passes and 19 INTs. 2. I have five musts for the 10 greatest NFL wide receivers of all-time list disclosed Friday night: Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Cris Carter. 3. Worst places to get sent for a bowl game: Bronze-Mobile Silver-Montgomery Gold-Boise

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The NBA is doing it right with their restart inside the Orlando Bubble at the Disney resort. A centralized location for the 22 teams picked to finish out the regular season and vie for the playoffs. A nice twist of a play-in for the eighth and final spot in each conference adds some intrigue. With teams not having to travel as extensively as they would under normal circumstances, this could have a positive effect on players and teams by them being more rested between games.

When I say it could benefit players and teams, I'm specifically talking about the Rockets. Head coach Mike D'Antoni typically employs a tight rotation when it comes playoff time. He's notorious for only playing a strict seven or eight man rotation. This usually overworks his starters who play close to 40 minutes per game or more. Meanwhile, guys that have gotten a decent amount of minutes are relegated to being cheerleaders with jerseys on. Given the current conditions, is small-ball sustainable in the bubble?

Yes: the extra rest will help

As previously stated, I believe the rest will help. James Harden and Russell Westbrook aren't spring chickens. Neither is P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon. All four of these guys are keys to the Rockets being able to make a run. Given the lack of travel allowing for extra rest, I think the older guys who've played significant minutes and have overcome injuries will be better rested. Better rest and time to heal should give them a boost.

No: can't win being out-rebounded

In their impressive win over the East leading Bucks in their second game of the restart, the Rockets were out-rebounded by 29! Now the possession gap was tightened via the 23 turnovers they got from the Bucks, including several down the stretch. But you can't expect to be consistently out-rebounded and win.The last NBA champion to be out-rebounded by their opponents was the '12-'13 Miami Heat team who were loaded. This team isn't suprememly talented like that team was so I doubt they can overcome shortcomings on talent alone.

Yes: threes are more than twos

Three is greater than two. That is a fact that can't be debated. The fact that the Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the league isn't debatable either. Their shooting percentage on those threes (34.9%) ranks them 22nd in the league. But when you shoot roughly 45 a game and make about 16 of them yielding 48 points off threes, it makes the risk worth the reward. Not to mention long distance shots often give way to long rebounds which can help a team that doesn't play a regular player taller than 6'9.

No: defense is too inconsistent

The inconsistency at which this Rockets team plays defense could be their downfall. The way they played down the stretch against the Bucks is the way you'd hope they play all game. They stepped up when it counted in that game, but don't play that way consistently enough to be considered a real threat. When you score 118.7 a game, but give up 114.9 a game, you will always be in close games. Add the rebounding desparity, and that's a recipe for too many close games which they could end up losing if they aren't shooting well. When you can't get stops, you can't win. It's that simple.

Overall, this team has a shot to do sometihng special, but will need lots of things to go right for them. Do I think they have a shot at a title? Yes. Do I think the road will be tough? Yes. All it takes is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Being the best team in a best of seven series four times in a row is more daunting than it sounds. The confines of the NBA bubble make it a little more advantageous to the Rockets' style of play. But will their deficiencies impede their progress? That remains to be seen. Until then, let's enjoy the ride.

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