Deshaun Watson's tall task and why did Mercilus get that deal?

Same old time, same old result? Texans look to avoid playoff disappointment

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3 Headlines, 2 Questions, and 1 Bet ahead of the Texans playoff game with the Bills.

Week 17 should have been for the two seed

The Texans will look back at two games in the 2019 season that really have to stick with them as disappointments with far-reaching meaning behind those losses. By virtue of two poor weekends, at home no less, the Texans played week 17 with near nothing on the line. They should have been playing for the two seed. The Patriots loss would have opened up that door for Houston, but alas, two bad home losses.

The Panthers game early in the season is the hardest one to explain. Carolina was in week two of the Kyle Allen experiment and the Texans turned him over a ton but couldn't capitalize when they got the ball. Just one of Allen's three fumbles turned into points. The Texans defense did their job there and then totally no-showed later in the season against Denver. Drew Lock smoked them and that was the other disappointing home loss of the year.

Those two losses led the Texans back to their regular spot, the first game of Wild Card weekend.

Deshaun Watson has to be better on Saturday

This year is a slight disappointment for Deshaun Watson in my eyes. There were far too many slow starts and he didn't take a jump that many, myself included, expected him to take. Somehow with a better team, including a much improved offensive line, Watson didn't replicate his successful 2018 campaign.

Now stats aren't everything, but some of these games it felt like Watson was overthinking and taking too long to make a decision. That's not all on him, the offense sometimes has been in the way. He feels a lot like the quarterback that finished 2018. Not saying that's a terrible thing, but there were higher expectations.

Watson played terrible in the playoff game last year. He has a much better, and healthier, offense this time around. He's also facing a much better defense than a year ago too. Now would be the perfect time to see the next level of Deshaun Watson.

The new deal for Mercilus makes little sense

I like Whitney Mercilus the guy. He has always been fantastic to deal with from a media standpoint. He is ingrained in Houston with his foundation and loves the city. I would sign Whitney Mercilus the person to a lifetime non-football contract to represent the Houston Texans if I was the owner. But, you eventually have to get on the field.

I can't figure out why Whitney Mercilus got the massive new deal he got. I find it very hard to believe he would have found that much money in free agency. The deal makes him the 11th highest paid outside linebacker in total contract value and the eighth highest in practical guarantees. With the exception of Von Miller and Melvin Ingram, Mercilus is older than all those players too.

The best example of Mercilus' value would be the two Smiths signed by the Packers this offseason, Preston and Za'Darius. They each got similar deals with roughly 30 percent of their salary guaranteed. Mercilus checks in with over 50 percent guarnateed and he didn't come close to the production in the two years before this that either Smith did, nor did he come close to their production this year.

The only way to drastically improve the Texans in the offseason is with money. I understand they have a second round pick and should have a few third-round compensation picks but that's a lot to ask a rookie to improve this team. Houston was going to need to spend money outside of extensions and the cash is going quickly. When you think about a new deal for Laremy Tunsil and Deshaun Watson, the desire to have D.J. Reader back, and decision on Will Fuller's deal which would be nine million dollars more if he played with just his fifth year option the money is going quick.

It seems like the first major misstep by the Bill O'Brien led front office.

What if the Texans win? How would they do it?

If the Texans win they are likely headed to Baltimore the scene of the biggest beat down they suffered in 2019. To avoid playing the Ravens, the Texans would need the Titans to defeat the Patriots in New England. That seems unlikely. Even then, a trip to Kansas City in January is no easy task. When you think about how tough it is to beat a team twice in a season, facing Baltimore off two weeks rest seems a bit more attractive.

A win would really go a long way in steadying the situation around Bill O'Brien as the coach, and likely shot caller in the front office, going forward. It would be the first win for O'Brien in the playoffs over a regular starting quarterback. It would be the best team he has defeated in the playoffs as well. You can also make a sound argument this is the best defense and should his offense light them up, it would be a landmark victory for O'Brien's resume.

The Texans will need a Josh Allen mistake and when they force it, they have to turn it into points. Allen will make mistakes, either fumbles or interceptions, so the Texans will need to feast on the opportunities they get from the Bills young quarterback. They'll need to run the ball well to loosen up the pass defense and Deshaun Watson has to play much better than he has the past month.

What if the Texans lose? How would they blow it?

If the Texans lose there will be plenty of fans and media members hoping for a new coach. A lot of people will want Bill O'Brien and his staff fired. I won't be one of them and I don't believe that will happen. Despite the fact teams almost never regret firing a head coach, I believe O'Brien is back next season. But, what would have to change?

O'Brien would have to get rid of some pieces of his staff I would guess. The defense handled itself decently this season but I could see the organization moving on from Romeo Crennel just to get a fresh set of eyes on the defense. I could also see offense getting improved with more/other minds being in the building. Longtime O'Brien friend Doug Marrone would be an addition that makes a ton of sense with his knowledge of the AFC South.

For the Texans to lose, it wouldn't take much. Josh Allen just would have to hit a few big plays, the Bills would have to slow down Deshaun Watson, and force maybe one turnover. I am concerned about Allen's ability to hit a big play and the way one busted play could easily be six points. There has been some iffy play from the cornerbacks this season and John Brown on the outside with Cole Beasley on the inside seems like a matchup nightmare for the Texans.

I bet the Bills know exactly what is going on with J.J. Watt

Bill O'Brien explained they would continue to evaluate J.J. Watt's potential return this week. He mentioned they have to speak with Watt about how he is feeling and O'Brien said he feels as if he can trust Watt to be honest about where he is with his injury.

The Texans can't hide too much. I expect Buffalo to have a very accurate idea of what Watt will be from a health standpoint on Saturday. Why do I believe that? Well, at least a handful of the Texans staffers were hired by Brian Gaine who is back in Buffalo. It would make sense Gaine would be able to find out what Watt's status is for Saturday regardless of what is publicly said.

Yes, feels very Mission Impossible/John Grisham but humans who owe other humans things talk to them about stuff they shouldn't. That's human nature.

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This year, the Astros are favored to win the World Series. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

When the umpire yells "play ball!" on Thursday for Astros opening day, three players- a full third of their batting order - will be missing from their opening day lineup from last year when, oh yeah, they won the World Series. Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley are on the injured list and Yuli Gurriel effectively was told good luck in your future endeavors. Other notables from last year no longer with the Astros: Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Aledmys Diaz, Christian Vasquez, and Jake Odorizzi.

That's on top of the Astros in recent years saying goodbye to All-Stars Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Charlie Morton. Don't underestimate Morton's contribution when he pitched for the Astros in 2017-18. He went 29-10 and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, that's all.

And while the team keeps on winning at a historic pace, all these injuries and departures are going to catch up to the Astros one of these years.

But this ain't the year. The Astros demolished baseball last year, winning their division by 16 games and roaring through the postseason going 11-2, including sweeps of the Mariners and Yankees.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Astros as the (+600) preseason betting favorite to repeat as World Series champs in 2023, followed by the New York Yankees (+650), Los Angeles Dodgers (+750), New York Mets (+750), Atlanta Braves (+1000) and San Diego Padres (+1000).

It's a different scene from 2022 when the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and even the Toronto Blue Jays all were preseason favorites over the Astros to win the World Series. In other words, Mattress Mack will load up on the Astros again this season and hopefully visit the pay window again. He just may not get the gross national product, all-time payout he got last year. Poor guy. Mack's already put down $1.9 million on the Astros, a commitment that's likely to increase as the Astros plow through the season.

The over/under wins total for the Astros is 95.5. That's a good number for an FM radio station, but the Astros should blow by that total in mid-September. The Astros won 106 games last year, and at least 100 wins in four of the last five full seasons. I wonder if Mack has room in his car for next time he drives to Louisiana to make a bet. I call shotgun!

While Altuve and Brantley sit on the wounded list Thursday, and Gurriel is wearing a Miami Marlins uniform, one thing will be the same as Opening Day last year. Framber Valdez, the Astros' quality start machine, will be on the mound against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. The game will start at 6:08 p.m., airing on ESPN. Get there early to watch the Astros unfurl another World Series banner. Remember that AT&T SportsNet gets benched when ESPN does an Astros game. Bummer. Blummer. ESPN also has the April 16 game against the Rangers and the April 30 rematch with the Phillies.

How did Valdez perform Opening Day 2022? As it would turn out all season, typical Valdez: 6.2 innings, no runs, only two unproductive hits, one walk, six K's and he got the W. Final score:, Astros 3, Los Angeles Angels 1. Valdez started, got the win, Pressly pitched the ninth, got the save. Sound familiar? Lather, rinse, repeat. The opposing pitcher that game - some under-publicized fellow named Shohei Ohtani. It wasn't Ohtani's day. While he pitched ok, surrendering four hits and one run over 4.1 innings, he took the loss. Ohtani also went 0-4 at the plate.

The Astros won Game 2 of that series, 13-6, behind Odorizzi and a battalion of relievers. The Angels exacted revenge in Game 3, a 2-0 shutout with Noah Syndergaard starting. Verlander, despite giving up only one run over five innings, absorbed the loss.

Of course games will look different this season with no infield shift, bigger bases and a pitch timer. The only thing that will look the same - the standings. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will salivate when they don't hit screamers through the infield only to be thrown out by second basemen playing short right field. Altuve's fractured thumb should heal in time for the future Hall of Famer to return in early June. Brantley could be back in May. Lance McCullers is anybody's guess, but time heals all wounds, including elbows.

The Astros are riding a dynasty-level of success, you know the numbers, six consecutive postseason appearances (only team in MLB history to win a postseason series six straight seasons), six ALCS appearances in a row, four World Series appearances, two championships.

There's no reason to stop now.

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