Falcon Points

What the Houston O'Briens need to do to close the gap in the AFC

Getty Images

If you watched Sunday's Super Bowl (and let's face it; of course you did) you heard more than one reference to the Chiefs trailing the Houston O'Briens 24-0 before rallying on their way to a title. They also trailed Tennessee by 10 and San Francisco by 10 before rolling to a 31-20 victory and Kansas City's first Super Bowl title in 50 years.

Now that the season is officially over, it's time for an honest assessment of where Houston fits in the landscape of the NFL and AFC in particular. And one man - Bill O'Brien - will dictate whether or not the team makes up ground.

What Vegas says

As usual, early Vegas Super Bowl odds go up right after the prior year's game ends.

Here are the 2021 Super Bowl odds according to William Hill:


TEAMODDS
San Francisco 49ers 7/1
Baltimore Ravens 7/1
Kansas City Chiefs 7/1
New Orleans Saints 10/1
New England Patriots12/1
Green Bay Packers 15/1
Philadelphia Eagles 15/1
Seattle Seahawks 18/1
Dallas Cowboys 20/1
Tennessee Titans 25/1
Minnesota Vikings 25/1
Houston Texans 25/1
Pittsburgh Steelers 25/1
Los Angeles Rams 25/1
Chicago Bears30/1
Buffalo Bills30/1
Atlanta Falcons30/1
Los Angeles Chargers30/1
Las Vegas Raiders30/1
Indianapolis Colts40/1
Cleveland Browns40/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers50/1
Denver Broncos50/1
Detroit Lions60/1
New York Jets60/1
Jacksonville Jaguars60/1
Carolina Panthers60/1
New York Giants60/1
Arizona Cardinals75/1
Miami Dolphins 100/1
Washington Redskins 100/1
Cincinnati Bengals 125/1

While the O'Briens are 25-1, they are basically co-fourth choices in the AFC with Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Teams regarded with better chances? The Chiefs (7-1), Ravens (7-1) and Patriots (12-1).

The Chiefs and Ravens were the dominant teams in the AFC in 2019-20 and deserve to be favored. The Titans made it a step deeper in the playoffs than did Houston, and the Steelers almost made the playoffs without Ben Roethlisberger, who will be back next season (presumably). So where Houston sits makes sense. Keep in mind, this is before off-season moves. The Chiefs will have to do some maneuvering to keep everyone. The Ravens might not be able to keep Lamar Jackson healthy for a full season again. The Patriots could easily be back but might also move on from Tom Brady and start over. The O'Briens? It remains to be seen.

Moves to be made

The Colts (40-1) could be a threat if they get a veteran quarterback. But all of these odds are more based on last year's results than what these teams will look like heading into camp. The gap between Houston and Kansas City as of today is significant. A 24-0 lead aside, there has to be a lot of moves made. And the Chiefs need to regress, both of which are entirely plausible.

The real question is what does O'Brien the GM do in the off-season? We know he is not going to bring in fresh voices on the coaching staff. And we know he will overpay his pets (Nick Martin and Whitney Mercilus) and give away anyone who he does not like (Jadeveon Clowney). So if your coaching is not going to improve, and you have limited draft capital, the team has one way to improve - free agency.

First things first

Houston has plenty of cap room, but some big deals that need to be made with players already on the roster will impact that. They need to extend Laremy Tunsil, and Deshaun Watson is due for a raise as well. They could hold off until next season, but going into the 2021 off-season with both players eligible to hit free agency would be a disaster. So they need to get at least Tunsil locked up now.

D.J. Reader will get paid by somebody. It will be interesting to see whether or not the team values him the same way it did Mercilus and Martin. Carlos Hyde had a big year, and he is a free agent as well. Bradley Roby is another potential free agent. He played well when healthy, but was he really good enough to be a No. 1 corner? That's what it will cost to keep him.

Without him, they have Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves and Lonnie Johnson under contract. They need a legitimate No. 1, which should be available in free agency. But the price will be steep.

They also need help in the pass rush, which won't be cheap either. And if Reader leaves? They need to replace him as well. All that will just keep them where they are, not necessarily make them better.

And that's the real issue. How can they get better? It's all up to O'Brien the GM to close the gap. Because O'Brien's coaching staff isn't getting any better, and the draft is not going to help.

It will be hard just to keep the Texans where they are, much less improve. But there is a gap that has to be closed if they are going to compete with the Chiefs and Ravens, among others.

As of now, Vegas has them a long way off. And now that O'Brien is in charge of everything, it's on him to gain the ground, what he does in free agency will be the determining factor.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Houston's magic number stays at 2

Astros drop series finale to Mariners after rough start by Greinke

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With their magic number at 2 to secure their spot in the 2020 MLB postseason, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park in Seattle for this three-game series' finale and rubber game. Here are the highlights from the game:

Final Score: Mariners 3, Astros 2.

Record: 28-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Nick Margevicius (2-3, 4.57 ERA)

Losing pitcher: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

Greinke unable to complete five innings

While the Astros were being held scoreless, the Mariners were putting up runs on Zack Greinke. They took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles followed by an RBI-double with one out. Greinke would stop the damage there, then looked to settle in over the next few frames.

He allowed just one baserunner in the second through fourth innings, a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth. Then, in the fifth, the Mariners would knock him out of the game by getting a one-out single that would come around to score on a two-out RBI-double, followed by an RBI-single to extend the lead to 3-0. Greinke faced one more batter, allowing a single before Dusty Baker would take the ball and move to the bullpen. His final line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 92 P.

Astros try a late rally, come up short

On the other end, the Astros were unable to break through against Nick Margevicius, getting just one hit and two walks through the first four innings. They had a chance to get on the board in the top of the fifth, starting the inning with back-to-back singles before a walk loaded the bases with one out to turn the lineup over. They'd come up empty, though, with George Springer striking out before a long flyball to center by Jose Altuve to end the inning.

After finishing the fifth for Greinke, Andre Scrubb returned for a scoreless sixth, working around a one-out walk. Still 3-0, Blake Taylor took over on the mound in the bottom of the seventh, erasing a leadoff single and two-out walk to keep Seattle from extending their lead. Houston had another chance to score in the top of the eighth, getting two runners in scoring position, but again would strand them.

Cy Sneed was the next reliever out for the Astros, working around a two-out walk to send the game on to the ninth. The Astros would avoid the shutout, getting a two-RBI single by pinch-hitting Josh Reddick in the top of the ninth to make it a one-run game at 3-2. That's as close as they'd come, though, as the Mariners would eventually get the final out to take the series and keep the Astros' magic number stagnant at 2.


Up Next: There is one series left in the regular season for Houston, and it awaits them in Arlington with a four-game series against the Rangers, who are well eliminated from playoff contention. The first of the four games will start at 7:05 PM Central on Thursday with a pitching matchup of Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53 ERA) for Texas and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33 ERA) for the Astros.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome