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Texans play one of the most significant regular season games in their history

Deshaun Watson must protect the ball Sunday. Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The first day of winter dawns with little discontent about the Houston Texans these days. It obviously isn't an elite team. The Texans were awfully mediocre in managing to beat the awful Jets last week, but 10-4 is 10-4 is 10-4. So with the Patriots having dropped back-to-back games, the stars have aligned and the Texans play at Philadelphia Sunday in what is their biggest non-playoff game in franchise history. With a win, the Texans would be a home victory over the lousy Jaguars from securing the second seed in the AFC and the first round playoff bye that comes with it. That would mean one home win would stand between the Texans and the AFC Championship game.

The Patriots have clearly dropped a couple of notches and now lost their most explosive wide receiver via loser Josh Gordon's latest suspension. The Steelers are nothing special. The Chiefs and Chargers look like the AFC's two best teams, but the Chiefs lost loser Kareem Hunt and Andy Reid has a long track record of losing home playoff games (though never with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback) and the Chargers have one playoff win in the last decade. Opportunity knocks! Louder than ever for the Texans.

Problem is, the Texans probably don't beat the Eagles. The Super Bowl champs are unlikely to even make the playoffs, but at 7-7 after beating the Rams they are still alive and playing with the character one would expect of a champion. The Eagles have a strong defensive line and good pass rush. The Texans have a sieve of an offensive line in pass protection and a running game that has been lousy two games in a row. Deshaun Watson will need to be stellar including continuing to avoid turnovers. The Texans have committed zero turnovers in their last four games, none in seven of their last eight (three in the win at Washington the exception). That is stout.

If the Texans pull it off Sunday and then dispatch the Jags to finish 12-4, they're looking at a Divisional Round home game against the Patriots unless New England loses at home wild card weekend.

If they lose Sunday, given the Patriots have should-be layup home games vs. the Bills and Jets, the Texans are looking at the third seed and having to beat the Colts, Ravens, or Titans in the Wild Card round to earn a game at New England.

That's the difference between a likelihood and a long shot at going deeper in the postseason than the Texans ever have.

Rockets hamstrung

It had been a good nine day stretch for the Rockets as they won five in a row. It didn't mean the ship had been totally righted. Now the ship is back closer to sunk with the latest indicator that Chris Paul's four year $160 million dollar contract is going to work out very poorly. His latest hamstring injury will sideline Paul for several weeks. CP hasn't been all that good a player this season, but the Rockets do not have anyone remotely worthy of soaking up his minutes. James Harden's offensive dominance will enable the Rockets to still win some games, but their shot at a high end Western Conference finish is pretty much gone.

Hot stove

The Astros added one and lost one this week. The addition is a much bigger plus than the subtraction is a minus. Lefty hitting left fielder Michael Brantley is a great fit. Off 2018 Brantley becomes the best contact hitter in the Astro lineup. Yes, better than Alex Bregman and Jose Altuv - -at putting bat to ball. Two years $32 million reflects the market, and the fact that MLB teams (the Astros very much among them) are swimming in cash. Coming off winning the World Series, the Astros had record shattering revenues this year. They also had a team record payroll, and the Brantley addition gets them back up to the $160 million neighborhood for 2019.

Reliever Joe Smith tearing an Achilles tendon working out that likely sidelines him until after the All Star break is a blow, but a minor one as the Astros have plentiful options to fill Smith's innings. If Smith misses half the season, that's four million he'll make while not throwing a pitch, the general neighborhood of what Lance McCullers will make while not pitching at all as he spends the year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

General Manager Jeff Luhnow probably doesn't add another gift under the tree before Christmas, but there is ample offseason shopping time left after Tuesday. Hitting prospect Kyle Tucker might turn out to be a stud. He could also turn out to be a bust. A.J. Reed anyone? If Tucker is a must include piece for Luhnow to close a deal for Marlins' catcher J.T. Realmuto or Indians' pitcher Trevor Bauer, include him.

Whatever happens, the Astros are going to be loaded again in 2019. Loaded enough to get past the Yankees and Red Sox for a second World Series appearance in three years? Should make for a very fun seven or eight months.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Paul at 4 seasons 160 million may go down as worse than Kelvin Cato's notorious extension in the 90s. 2. Merry Christmas unless not applicable 3. Best holiday season beverages: Bronze-Hot chocolate with cinnamon Silver-Wassail! Gold-Egg Nog (must have nutmeg)

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Paying a kicker 17 million dollars? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien engineered questionable moves during the off-season that already have come back to bite the Texans in the butt. Fans have yet to see the Texans on the right track, at least on television for now. Here are the top three, or bottom three, contracts that have Houston raising eyebrows, shrugging shoulders, and shaking heads.

Randall Cobb: 3 years, $27 million

The 30-year-old wide receiver has been quiet so far this 0-2 season with seven catches for 82 yards. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is favoring "12 and 21" schemes which render Cobb the third option behind Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. This could change now with Fuller nursing a hamstring injury sustained against the Ravens. To be fair, with no preseason games or extended practice, Cobb has not had time to build chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. So let's mark him, "bad contract," but jury still deliberating.

David Johnson: 3 years, $39 million

Johnson has carried the ball 22 times for 111 yards. Normally, these would be acceptable, even commendable stats. However, Johnson carries the burden of being involved in the trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. BTW, Hopkins in tearing it up in Arizona with 22 receptions for 219 yards. Also, more evidence condemning Johnson's contract, the Texans could have made a run at Leonard Fournette (17 carries for 108 yards) or Adrian Peterson (21 carries for 134 yards), both chewing up more turf for less money.

Whitney Mercilus: 4 years, $54 million

Here's another 30-year-old who was being paid big and producing little. He was MIA against the Ravens with no tackles and no sacks, despite being on the field for 70 percent of the Ravens snaps. Mercilus was able to squeeze the Texans for huge money last year when he picked up the workload of injured J.J. Watt.


Honorable Mention

Ka'imi Fairbairn: 4 years, $17,650,000

Fairbairn is the third highest-paid kicker in the NFL. Fairbairn had a rough start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, missing an extra point and a deep 51-yard field goal attempt. Meanwhile, up in Dallas, Greg 'The Leg' Zuerlein is being paid half of what Fairbairn makes, but knocking them down from the logo, including a last-second, game-winning field goal to beat the Falcons. Former Texans kicker Randy Bullock is enjoying greater success in Cincinnati for considerably fewer dollars, too. Fun fact: Fairbairn is paid more than most Texans secondary defenders.


But really, the worst, and most regrettable Texans contract of all might be Bill O'Brien's deal- 4 years, $20 million.

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