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The Houston sports misery index: Here's who has it the worst

Being 1-5 with the Packers coming to town is pretty miserable. Composite photo by Jack Brame

Let's be honest. Houston sports embodied 2020 about as comprehensively as possible. At the moment, the longest tenured coach or GM for a major Houston sports franchise is Dusty Baker. He clocks in at about eight months, three weeks, and two days. Suffice it to say, there's been some turnover.

The bad news is that the prospects of Houston's big three teams don't look particularly rosy moving forward. The Texans are bad, the Rockets are rudderless, and the Astros are still universally reviled outside of Houston.

The good news is that they each vary in their level of despair. As such, here's how each team ranks in potential turnaround time:

#3: The Houston Texans

The Problem: The team is 1-5. Their defense is terrible. They have no first or second round draft picks this season. They have no full time head coach or gm. Jack Easterby still works there.

In a rare move, Texans owner Cal McNair showed that he might actually interested in owning a team that wins football games by firing Bill O'Brien earlier this month. Even if they hire universally prized Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, their offensive line in addition to their defense is still atrocious. There are holes all over the roster that need to be plugged and with no first or second round draft picks, finding a quality general manager may prove difficult.

The Upside: Deshaun Watson. That should be enough to keep a smile on Texans fans' faces. They're going to keep losing, but at least it will be fun and flashy. Watson also could serve as just enough of a lure to bring in a coach like Bieniemy. There are also contracts that could and should be moved by the trade deadline to amass as much draft capital as possible, as pointed out previously

#2: The Houston Rockets

The Problem: The Rockets are a top-heavy team with little depth and no center. They recently lost one of the best general mangers in the modern era of basketball and their head coach quit. They're up against the salary cap with few tradeable assets and no draft picks of note.

For the past 13 years, the Rockets have always had a shot simply because general manager Daryl Morey was in the building. That's no longer the case after Morey stepped down last week. He leaves behind a team with no head coach, and a roster configured for a small-ball experiment that imploded in the playoffs. With an owner that has been singing from the mountaintops about how much money he's lost during the pandemic, one has to wonder how much money he's willing to spend on a new coach. The Russell Westbrook/James Harden experiment ended with mixed results, but with all of their draft picks spoken for and a lack of attractive contracts, it looks like they'll be forced to try it again for at least another year.

The Upside: The Rockets decided to promote executive vice president Rafael Stone to GM. Stone served as Morey's main assistant in recent years, so hopefully their philosophy in the front office remains consistent. There's also been interest shown around the league in Westbrook. If he can be offloaded at all, that would be a step in the right direction.

#1 The Houston Astros

The Problem: In a cash strapped offseason, the Astros stand to lose outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick. Pitcher Justin Verlander and closer Roberto Osuna will be largely unavailable next season due to Tommy John surgeries. Their first and second round draft picks in the 2021 have been stripped by MLB as part of their punishment in the sign-stealing scandal. Pretty much everyone outside of Houston hates them.

You can pretty much say goodbye to the Astros entire starting outfield. George Springer has been criminally underpaid his entire career, Brantley proved his worth, and Reddick did the opposite. Verlander curiously announced Tommy John surgery at the end of the season, and there's no telling when Osuna will be back. It's hardly likely that the Astros will be spenders in general manager James Click's first full offseason at the helm based off of previous comments made to the media. Oh, and next year there will probably actually be boos coming from the stands.

The Upside: The Astros had no choice this season but to throw out a ton of young, unproven arms and it paid off surprisingly well. Framber Valdez has gone from rotation guy to potential day one starter in my opinion, and guys like Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes have steadied a bullpen that looked like it would be one of the team's biggest positional liabilities. Even if they don't keep all of them, they at least have some interesting trade chips now that have a decent resume to go off of. The outfield will be completely new, but it will be anchored by Kyle Tucker, who used 2020 as an impressive coming out party. And don't forget about Yordan Alvarez.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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