THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

What has to happen for the Texans to get a top 2 seed in the AFC

Deshaun Watson and the Texans need to win out and hope for help. Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Four games remain this season and the Texans are on a nine game winning streak. They currently hold the third spot in the AFC and can lock up the division with a win at home against the Colts on Sunday and a Titans loss to the Jaguars. While those are both plausible scenarios nothing is guaranteed. Even if it doesn’t happen this weekend, it’s highly likely that they win the division in the end. But if they really want make this the most improbable season, they can earn the top overall seed by winning all four remaining games. Which is also a plausible scenario.

Houston’s remaining games are the Colts, at the Jets, at the Eagles, and at home in Week 17 against the Jaguars. The Colts just got blanked against the Jacksonville and you better believe Bill O’Brien is watching that film closely to see how he can limit Andrew Luck and his potent passing attack. The Jets are still the Jets, but the Eagles might be the biggest challenge. The Super Bowl Champions are not what they were last year, but they still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs and a home game against the Texans is a game they will get up for. The Jaguars defense may have awoken this past weekend but offensively they don’t have much; they managed only six points in their shutout of the Colts.

The Texans defense has been making big, timely plays and will have to continue that trend. They will also need to keep the running game going. Controlling the clock and wearing down opposing defenses is a sure fire way to win out. All of their remaining opponents are at .500 or below, giving the Texans plenty of film to showcase weaknesses. So far, Bill O’Brien has game planned and coached well enough to exploit their last nine opponents. Four more would surely earn him coach of the year.

They still need some help to get to the top. The Patriots currently sit in the second spot with a matching record and already hold a head to head victory over Houston. They will need to lose a game for the Texans to leap-frog them. Their schedule is a little light with games against all three of their divisional opponents remaining. If you know anything about the AFC East, the Patriots have dominated all of them in the Brady/Belichick era.

The best chance Houston has is New England’s Week 15 road game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are barely holding on to the lead in the AFC North and will need every win they can get to hold off Baltimore. A Patriots loss would help Houston’s case for at least a playoff bye week.

They also need the top seeded Chiefs to lose a divisional game or earn two losses in the final four games. They have the toughest remaining schedule between these three teams. They are at home against the Ravens this week and the Chargers the next. Baltimore is on a three game winning streak and has a solid defense so a win is no guarantee. The Chargers are only one game behind them in the AFC West and a win would make sure they have a shot to win the division at the end of the season. They finish their tough three-game stretch on the road against the Seahawks, who are fighting for the last Wild Card spot. Seattle is one of the toughest places to win on the road and Russell Wilson is showing why he’s a high caliber quarterback. They finish the season at home against a Raiders team whose only motivation might be to lose and secure the first overall pick in the draft. I’ll mark that a win for Kansas City.

The Chiefs were able to win their first game without running back Kareem Hunt, but that was against the aforementioned Raiders. It will be different when they roll into the next three games with only back-ups leading the ground game. Houston’s best chance comes once again in Week 15 when the Chargers come to Arrowhead. If Phillip Rivers can lead his team to victory the top seed will be visible from NRG Stadium.

The Texans can secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning their last four games and getting help from the Patriots and Chiefs. One loss is needed by the Patriots and the Chiefs need to lose a divisional game or two games overall. Week 15 will be crucial, as the Chargers visit the Chiefs Thursday night and the Patriots go to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon. The Texans play on Saturday that week so fans in Houston can watch each game closely and will the Chargers, Texans, and Steelers to victory.


 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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