CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans' next few opponents provide opportunity; Bregman on a tear for Astros

J.J. Watt made an impact in his return. Jadeveon Clowney did not. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Texans-Titans game in Nashville Sunday is basically a pick ‘em. The Titans are off making the playoffs but no one thinks they have a special squad, especially if Marcus Mariota remains a mediocrity of a quarterback. The Texans have no shot at making the playoffs if Deshaun Watson is a mediocrity of a quarterback, which is what he was at the Patriots. He is not consistently accurate as a thrower and is prone to some dubious choices. The need is Watson doing enough spectacular things to carry more days than not. But that offensive line he’s behind, yuck. Four new starters represent an upgrade over last year’s talent cesspool but by NFL standards it remains a weak unit, especially at tackle. Julie’n Davenport looked in over his head against Deacon Jones. Wait. I mean against Trey Flowers. Martinas Rankin isn’t developed yet, but will have to OJT it with Seantrel Henderson lost to a broken ankle. At least that’s not like trying to replace a Jonathan Ogden or Anthony Munoz.

After generally being a non-entity in the first half at New England J.J. Watt showed flashes in the second, but no one should be holding his or her breath on a return to superhero level dominance. If Watt doesn’t sack Mariota, Tuesday will mark the two year anniversary of his last sack.

At least Watt flashed something. Jadaveon Clowney was close to a zero, clearly not up to off speed coming of knee surgery. For a guy dreaming of a contract extension in the league of what fellow 2014 draft class defenders Khalil Mack (90 million dollars guaranteed) and Aaron Donald got (87 mil guaranteed) Clowney better ramp it up substantially.

A 1-1 split of season opening road games at 2017 playoff teams and the Texans are fine. Should the Texans lose and Jacksonville beats New England in Florida Sunday, the Texans will already be in trouble re: chasing an AFC South title.

Each of the Texans’ next five opponents also lost their season openers: Titans, Giants, Colts, Cowboys, Bills.

Best record doesn't always matter

The Red Sox have clearly been the best team in baseball this year. That’s over the run of the 162 game regular season. Boston will have homefield advantage for all playoff series it plays. But with 3 rounds of playoffs to survive in order to win the World Series, the best team of the season usually doesn’t win the Series.  Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, only five times in 23 years has the team with the best regular season record in the majors gone on to win the World Series.

The Astros were phenomenal last season, but the Indians (102) and Dodgers (104) won more regular season games than did the Astros (101). The Astros are cruising toward clinching their playoff spot, though the A’s deserve truckloads of credit for keeping a little suspense in the American League West race. But most of the sand has slipped through the hour hour glass. Up four in the loss column going into the weekend the Astros would have to falter to wind up in the Wild Card game.

Bregman stock is booming

Alex Bregman is brash and borderline cocky, yet somehow remains grounded at the same time. It’s a helluva package because Bregman is entitled to thinking every waking moment right now: “I AM AWESOME!”

With 16 games to spare Bregman made reality the statistical combo platter I suggested a few weeks ago as within reach for him. 50 doubles, 30 homers, 100 runs batted in, and 100 runs scored. He’s the first third baseman ever to hit the 50 double 30 homer daily double.

It’s a bit early to load up on Alex Bregman Hall of Fame stock. This could turn out to be the best season he ever has. But Bregman’s season is about as awesome as the campaign Chipper Jones put up in 1999 as the Atlanta Braves third baseman. Chipper was a stud and then some, his unbelievable second half in ‘99 distanced him from Jeff Bagwell to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Chipper Jones went into the Hall this summer.

Bregman’s season would fit very well on a Hall of Fame resume. Not as great as, say, Mike Schmidt or George Brett’s best. But it’s so good, that at 24 years old, Bregman is now a plausible blip on the Hall radar. Fewer third basemen have been elected to the Hall than players of any other position. Several who are in never had a season as tremendous as Alex Bregman’s 2018.

Buzzer Beaters

1. In the last 18 games that count Bill O’Brien is 4-14. One win for every year of his contract extension.  2. Texas! USC! Meh. TCU-Ohio St. is much bigger and more interesting, though not predicted to be as close. 3. Best NFL helmets: Bronze-Raiders  Silver-Rams Gold-Bengals

 

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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