Pallilo Points

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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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