THE PALLILOG

Stop us if you have heard this before: Texans need to find a way to protect Watson against Jags

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

No must win game looms for the Texans Sunday against Jacksonville. Unless you are gaga over the Titans after their season opening humiliation of the Browns in Cleveland, the AFC South does not look to have a team capable of pulling away and ripping off 12 wins. Maybe not even 10. Last season the Texans extricated themselves from an 0-3 mess of a start to win the division, so 0-2 wouldn't mean curtains. But if the Jaguars turn out to be decent with rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew and a rejuvenated defense, the Texans dropping a home division game to fall to 0-2 would be problematic. At eight and a half or nine points the Texans are the third biggest favorite in the NFL this week. Baltimore at home is -13 vs. Arizona, New England is a whopping 19 point road favorite at Miami.

Except for one awful decision and throw Deshaun Watson looked like a top 10 quarterback at New Orleans. Alas his career will be inevitably altered for the worse if the offensive line play doesn't improve and Watson doesn't speed up that imaginary clock in his head by half a tick.

Developmental prospect or not, if second round draft pick Max Scharping isn't very soon good enough to move right tackle Seantrel Henderson out of the starting lineup, the pick looks bad.

It really would be nice if Head Coach Bill O'Brien stops uttering pedantic and/or condescending nonsense. The Texans' secondary alignment on the Saints' last completion before the game winning field goal was simply indefensible. Billy Bluster's pearl of non-wisdom: "We made a call there that we thought was the best call for us." As opposed to coaches who make calls they think are the worst for them? The call was absurd! Safeties stationed as close to Mississippi as to the line of scrimmage? Two cornerbacks lined up as if covering skunks who'd just taken swims in a toxic waste pool? It's as if the Texans thought they were up by four and not one. You don't suppose…? Nah.

And Coach, about using a timeout and then immediately losing another one because of a challenge after the same play…

Astros drop three straight

In winning three in a row at Minute Maid Park after getting demolished 15-0 in the series opener, the Oakland A's administered the latest reminder that as great as the Astros are they are a lock for nothing when their postseason starts in three weeks. The A's have a better record than the Astros over the last three months. So do the Indians. Any team can beat any other team in a three out of five baseball series. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply wrong.

Thursday's 3-2 loss to the A's dropped the Astros to 0-47 on the season when trailing going to the ninth inning. As I've covered before, all teams lose almost all of their games when down after eight. Few actually lose every one of them.

It has worked out quite well that the Astros were forced to move to the American League in order for the owners to approve the sale of the franchise from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane's group. Latest example: Yordan Alvarez is pretty much a lock to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Everything else being equal, as amazing as he's been Alvarez would have little shot at the NL rookie honor. Not with the Mets' Peter Alonso entering the weekend with 47 homers and 109 runs batted in. In the end you get credit for what you did accomplish, not for what you might have accomplished if called up sooner.

Not even counting his winning World Series Most Valuable Player George Springer's "career year" to date was 2017. He played 140 games that season with 34 homers and 85 RBI. Through 109 games played this season: 34 homers and 85 RBI. If he hadn't missed a month with a hamstring injury Springer might be right there with Alex Bregman as top alternatives to Mike Trout for AL MVP. Springer's contract is up at the end of the season, but he can't become a free agent until after next season when he'll already be 31 years old. Would the Astros say "too much" or Springer say "not enough" to a suggestion of four years 80 mil?

Down week for colleges

Overall it's a dud of a college football schedule this weekend. Not one Top 25 matchup on the card. UH plus nine and a half vs. Washington State feels like the right side Friday night at NRG Stadium. Texas can seemingly name its score -32 vs. Rice at NRG Saturday.

Buzzer Beaters

1. The "Texas Kickoff" really shouldn't take place the third full weekend of the season. 2. It would be a downer if Carlos Correa only gets to play in a championship series this year while rehabbing with Round Rock during the Pacific Coast League Championship Series. 3. Look away triskaidekophobes! Greatest athletes to wear #13 (A-Rod is disqualified and an honorable mention for Billy Wagner): Bronze-Steve Nash Silver-Dan Marino Gold-Wilt Chamberlain

Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

So what does Bill O'Brien have in store for a Sunday encore in the clock management follies department? All's well that ends well for the Texans if another Billy Botch episode comes with another win. Get it and home games vs. the Panthers and Falcons make 4-1 a very legit possibility.

The Texans have a good shot to get the win in Los Angeles Sunday. They may have half the crowd rooting for them. The Chargers have the lamest homefield advantage in the NFL. L.A. has largely yawned at them since their move up the coast from San Diego. In their home opener the Chargers couldn't sell out the 27,000 seat soccer stadium serving as their temporary facility. Next season they move into the monument of wow and greed they'll share with the Rams. That place will hold about 70,000.

On the field it's a big game for the also 1-1 Chargers if they hope to hang with Kansas City in the AFC West race. The Chargers' three following games are at the joke Dolphins, then home vs. the not good Broncos and the Roethlisberger-less Steelers.

For the Texans, one major subplot is a constant. How porous will the offensive line be? Deshaun Watson has been sacked 10 times over the first two games. The Chargers have one of the NFL's better pass rushing duos in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. If the Texans can protect, opportunity knocks for big plays downfield with the Chargers down both of their starting safeties. Rookie All-Pro Derwin James is on injured reserve recovering from a broken foot, Adrian Phillips broke an arm last Sunday at Detroit.

Warm California sun

So if you were 300 strikeout man Gerrit Cole, what would you be thinking about re: 2020 and beyond? I mean after next month ideally helping the Astros win the World Series. And if you are the Astros what are you thinking?

In his two Astro seasons Cole has been tremendous. The ballclub is tremendous, and if Cole re-signs it that much more figures to stay tremendous for at least another couple of seasons. But Gerrit Cole is to become the most highly coveted free agent on the market. The low end of what he should be able to command is probably in the six years 150 million range. Heck, he could get seven years 250 million.

Next year the Astros payroll is set to soar into competitive balance tax territory. Meaning, in addition to the payroll itself, the Astros are looking at paying millions in penalties if they pay up to keep Cole. To counter that the Astros certainly could pivot and trade Zack Greinke. They basically will be open to giving away Josh Reddick and the 13 million he'll make in the final year of his contract.

Maybe Jim Crane and his partners say this is such a special era, we'll forego huge chunks of profits to keep this core together. That would be fantastic, but drawing a line on how far they'll go to keep Cole would not be miserly. Long term megadollar pitching contracts carry large risks. Cole turns 30 next season.

Cole grew up in Southern California. His wife too. It's where they live in the offseason. He went to high school under five miles from Angels Stadium and grew up an Angels fan. The Angels have a desperate need for starting pitching. Even with Cole though, the Angels can't essentially promise perennial contender status. But the Dodgers can, every bit as much as the Astros, and the Dodgers have much deeper pockets. If the Coles want to spend the rest of Gerrit's prime pitching years living year-round back home in SoCal, no one should take offense. Still, if the Astros’ bid is competitive when factoring in income tax rates, proven comfort level with the team, air conditioned comfort for home games…

Big weekend for Aggies

Better college football schedule this week after the garbage card of a week ago. The biggest game nationally is seventh ranked Notre Dame at number three Georgia. Big game for Texas A&M vs. Auburn at Kyle Field Saturday. The 17th ranked Aggies are three and a half point favorites over the eighth ranked team in the nation. A hard fought loss wouldn't be shameful, but would mean that with games yet to come vs. Alabama, at Georgia, and at LSU, the Ags would have to pull off at least one upset to finish better than 7-5. 75 million dollars to lure Jimbo Fisher were not spent to yield any 7-5 seasons.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Major Applewhite would have coached the Cougars to a 1-3 start much more economically for UH than Dana Holgorsen has. 2. The Tulane Green Wave wearing powder blue uniforms is just as dopey as the St. John's Red Storm and Duke Blue Devils wearing black. 3. Names that Houstonians should rule out for daughters: Bronze-Imelda Silver-Allison Gold-Alicia

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