CODY STOOTS: 3 HEADLINES, 2 QUESTIONS, 1 BET

Texans post-bye schedule might not be so soft after all

Keke Coutee could make an impact if healthy. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the Texans getting back to work I figured the three headlines should be a look at the progress the next three opponents made. It looks a little bit more difficult than this time last week. 

Washington Controls NFC East

Despite being outgained 501-286 Washington defeated the Buccaneers 16-3. Tampa Bay owns the dubious honor of having the most yards ever when only scoring three points. I can't say it was because Washington was really good though. Three of the four Buccaneers turnovers were deep in Washington territory with the other one leading to an easy field goal for the Redkskins. They're now 6-3 and own a sizable lead in the NFC East. 

Washington has been dealing with a ton of injuries and the weak Tampa Bay defense didn't do a lot to challenge an offensive line that has plenty of backups now starting. Alex Smith was only sacked three times but managed just 178 yards passing. Adrian Peterson and the other backs got going along with Smith to rush for over 100 yards. This offense isn't dangerous by any means. They average 20 points a game and have scored over 24 points just once. Washington hasn't scored more than 20 in a month. 

This is a game if the Texans offense gels coming out of the bye, they should handle Washington easily. They're not capable of coming back from a big deficit and aren't talented enough to win a shootout. If the Texans play their typical close game and make it ugly Washington has more than enough on defense to win the game. The Redskins are in the middle of one of the more unique runs in NFL history. There has yet to be a lead change in any of Washington's games.

Titans and Vrabel down Patriots

Tennessee worked the New England Patriots on their way to a 34-10 shellacking of the defending AFC champions. Tom Brady never got going. James White was bottled up. Rob Gronkowski was hurt. The Titans leaned on former Patriots back Dion Lewis early and he and a seemingly healthy Marcus Mariota helped the Titans score on their first three drives. Running back Derrick Henry and wideout Corey Davis each had huge days against an unusually leaky Patriots defense. It was one of the most shocking results of the NFL season. 

The Titans are much better than the version the Texans saw, and lost to, early in the season. They're healthier on the offensive line and Mariota has put together three impressive games managing the offense and leaning on a suddenly solid rushing attack. Mike Vrabel is feeling himself and coaching up a team short on talent and becoming a headache. He called a trick play the Patriots failed to execute and joked after the game he wanted to see if they could do it better than New England. 

When Tennessee heads to Houston it will be Monday Night Football. Tennessee is undefeated in the AFC South but will take on the Colts next week before the contest with the Texans. That matchup is a toss-up with the Colts dismantling of the Jaguars on Sunday. The Monday Night Football game could very well be a determining factor in who wins the AFC South. 

That's why he was picked first

Three touchdown passes and a 151.3 quarterback rating by Baker Mayfield helped the Browns break the Falcons win streak. While Mayfield was feeling it through the air nobody was feeling it quite like Nick Chubb. He rushed for 176 yards in the victory with a 92-yard scamper really putting things out of reach for Atlanta. Cleveland forced a fumble coming out of halftime and quickly turned it into points. 

This Cleveland team is now one win away from matching the win total of the three previous seasons combined. They have plenty of talented players on defense and now their offense seems to be grooving with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley being shown the door. This is something to monitor for Texans fans in the coming weeks. Cleveland has a bye and road trip to their fellow Ohio mates Cincinnati before they come to Texas. It seems likely Baker Mayfield's swagger will be alive and well as he returns to his home state in three weeks. 

Did the bye week get the Texans healthy?

There are plenty of eyes on the injury report this week as the Texans finished up the Denver game with lots of key players ailing heading into their break. Cornerback Aaron Colvin had returned to practice after an ankle injury in week four sidelined him. Practicing before the bye should mean he is set to return either for this game or almost certainly the Tennessee game. Johnathan Joseph was a limited participant before he missed the Denver game and seemed optimistic he would be ready after the break. Andre Hal was close to getting back after playing in his lone game before a shoulder injury sidelined him. I would expect those three defensive backs to play in Washington and Tennessee at the very latest. 

Zach Cunningham was out with a knee injury and didn't practice at all before the game in Denver. His injury is a bit more of a question so his status will need to be monitored this week ahead of Washington, though they could use him. Keke Coutee is the player which interests me the most coming back from the bye week. Coutee could really help open up this offense and take some of the pressure off Demaryius Thomas as he still picks up the intricacies of the offense. Coutee's been dealing with a hamstring injury that has only had him play in four games including preseason. He was present for the first four games of the Texans current winning streak. It would be close to a month since he last played if Coutee plays this weekend. 

O'Brien's post-bye balling

Bill O'Brien in his career has a 16-17 record after his team's bye week. On the surface, that isn't great. But let's take a closer look. Last season was a disaster after the break in the schedule. Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a near-win in Seattle in the last ever game played by the Seahawks Legion of Boom. Then, disaster struck. Watson tore his ACL, Tom Savage took over, and the team went into the tank winning just one game the rest of the year. Now, let's take out last year's 1-9 record after the bye. 

O'Brien coached three different starting quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum) to a 5-2 record in 2014, his first year on the job. O'Brien again coached three different starting quarterbacks (T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden) to a winning record, this time a 6-2 mark. 2016 wasn't as impressive with just a 4-4 mark. A three-game losing streak happened after a win over the Jaguars but O'Brien steered them out of a tailspin. The Texans won three of their final four games, including two AFC South games to earn the tiebreaker win over Tennessee before the season finale. 

It's trending the wrong way, sure, but if O'Brien captures some of his early success after the bye, the Texans will be sitting pretty heading into the playoffs. 

I bet the Texans get Keke Coutee back this weekend and it leads to a noticeable change in the offense. Coutee has been impressive in short stints and he has had a few near huge plays this season. He was so close to being a regular contributor before the injury robbed him of the chance. He's the only true slot presence on the team. With the rushing attack seeming to be back on track, and Thomas hopefully better in tune with the offense, Coutee is poised to really show what he's capable of in the NFL. 

Saints 36, Bears 25

Saints vs Bears: Good, bad and ugly

New Orleans Saints official Twitter account

The Saints went into Soldier Field and took on the Bears minus several key players. Despite being shorthanded, they easily handled the Bears 36-25. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Michael Thomas did Michael Thomas things (nine catches for 131 yards). But it was Latavius Murray filling in for Alvin Kamara who did the heavy lifting. He ran for 113 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He added five catches for another 31 yards. Murray looked like the 2015 Pro Bowl version of himself.

-The defense was awesome! The Bears went two full quarters between getting a 1st down (2nd to 4th). Not to mention a safety, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt, two sacks, allowed 17 yards rushing and gave up only 10 points. I know Mitchell Trubisky just returned from a shoulder injury and the Bears offense hasn't gotten more than 300 yards of offense in any game this year, but this was impressive.

-Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk got some praise from the announcers for his play. Not only did he do a good job on Khalil Mack, but they wondered why he hasn't been to a Pro Bowl. Ramczyk has consistently handled himself well against some of the best pass rushers in the league and should see his first Pro Bowl this year.

The Bad

-Right after recovering a fumble and going up 9-0, the special teams gave up a 102-yard kickoff return. Momentum swings like this can deflate one team and ignite another. Far too often the Saints shoot themselves in the foot like this. When they're playing well, they don't give up easy scores after they've scored.

-Kicker Will Lutz had made 35 straight field goals on the road with his first attempt against the Bears. It set a new NFL record. Unfortunately, he missed his next two. One went wide right, the other fell short. It didn't cost the Saints the game, but here's to hoping Lutz gets his mojo back.

-Too many cheap yards given up when the game was already decided. I know when you're up by three or four touchdowns, attention seems to fade. They gave up a final score when Allen Robinson juked rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson out his shoes and caught a skinny post for a touchdown. Icing on the cupcake was the Bears' tight end Adam Shaheen caught the two-point conversion over Eli Apple.

The Ugly

-J.T. Gray and Patrick Robinson both left the game in the first quarter. With P.J. Williams serving a two-game suspension, the defense needs defensive backs to stay healthy. The defense has been playing very well over the last month or so. The next couple games could test that. More icing on the cupcake: Apple went down with what looked to be a pretty bad leg injury with under a minute left.

-34 seconds before halftime, the Saints force a punt. Deonte Harris returned it 67 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back because of a holding penalty on Zach Line. I thought the league was going to go easy on ticky tack holding calls? Obviously not as this one took points off the board.

-With 4:33 left in the game and it's clearly over with the Saints up 36-10, Gardner-Johnson stopped Tarik Cohen for a six yard loss after catching a pass. He and Apple proceeded to make height-mocking gestures to Cohen. They weren't flagged, but it was pretty dumb. Two guys who haven't done a damn thing in this league making fun of a guy who made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team last season is beyond dumb and really pissed me off!

No Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook? And this team won on the road again? Time to stop doubting those who are non-believers. This is arguably the best team in football right now. Most of the credit goes to defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and the defense. They've collectively rallied and turned themselves into the best defensive unit over the last five plus games. Head coach Sean Payton has called plays masterfully. They made Teddy Bridgewater the highest paid backup in the league for a reason. Teddy Two-Gloves is now 5-0 as a starter this year. Brees is trying to come back next week against the Cardinals. I say let him chill until they play the Falcons after the bye week...unless he's healthy. This team will be a real problem once they're all fully healthy down the stretch. The rest of the league is on notice.

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