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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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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