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

 

Drew Brees and the Saints escaped with an ugly win. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Saints have effectively wrapped up the NFC South with their 25-14 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. Here's how I saw things:

The Good

-Michael Thomas got himself going this week after a subpar performance against the Cowboys last week. He finished with 11 catches for 98 yards. More of note was his record of most catches in first three seasons. He surpassed Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on his second catch, his 289th of his career. I hope people take notice and realize how great of a player he is.

-Taysom Hill once again proved his worth as just a football player. He blocked a punt the Saints recovered at the Tampa 30 yard line. It helped set up their first touchdown. Hill is listed as the third string quarterback, but plays running back, wide receiver, and special teams. He also drew a double team penalty on a kickoff.

-Drew Brees is known for his pinpoint accuracy throwing the ball. However, his athleticism is underrated. He notched his fourth rushing touchdown on a 4th and goal play in which he leapt over the line and extended the ball across the plane. The Saints took the lead early in the fourth quarter on that play.

The Bad

-Right before the half, Brees threw an interception that set up Tampa's second touchdown. When this team is rolling, they are the ones scoring before the half when they're getting the ball back after the half.

-They totaled just three rushing yards in the first half on nine attempts. The longest run was from fullback Zach Line at four yards. Another component of this team's success is predicated on the run game.

-Alvin Kamara was held in check. He was limited to 87 yards on 17 touches. His 76 yards on three kick returns were a help, but this team needs him to get going running and catching passes in order to operate at full capacity.

The Ugly

-This was the second game in a row that the Saints failed to score a touchdown in the first half. It could be a sign of teams catching up to them, or it could be a sign of a team that's feeling complacent. Either way, they need to get their offense going again to start games. 24 plays and 104 yards of offense that produced only three points in the first half.

-On their opening possession of the second half, Brees was stripped in the pocket and the Bucs recovered. The pressure came from the left. Missing starting left tackle Terron Armstead is becoming more and more of a glaring issue.

-Brees was limited to less than 270 yards passing, while they also totaled less than 130 yards rushing. Being held below their season averages on offense and still winning is the definition of winning ugly.

The Saints are now 11-2 and firmly in second place in the NFC. Now, they sit back and hope the Rams drop another game down the stretch. They own the tiebreaker over the Rams and need to finish with the same record to get homefield throughout the NFC playoffs. Saints fans will be Bears fans tonight, as well as Eagles, Cardinals, and 49er fans the rest of the season. This is what happens when you drop games you should've won.

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