RANKING THE EXPERIENCES

When it comes to playoff atmosphere, one Houston team stands out

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Over the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to attend multiple playoff games for all 3 of Houston's major sports teams. My attendance at the Texans playoff game this past Saturday completed that big 3 circuit and inspired me to write this little piece ranking the playoff atmospheres for all 3 teams.

Third Place – Texans

Given the supposed reign as sports kings of this town I was struck by the lack of intensity at NRG on Saturday. I am not talking about the players, though their lackluster performance certainly contributed to the feeling in the stadium later in the game. Overall the stadium just lacked the buzz I have felt at Astros and Rockets playoff games. Maybe it is because the Texans weren't largely perceived as championship contenders unlike the other two teams. However, I would think the seemingly rabid appetite for football in Houston would have countered that. Quite honestly this playoff game felt no different than the regular season game against the Dolphins I attended this year. The loudest I heard the stadium is when they played "I've got friends in low places" over the PA when the Texans were down 21-0. I'm definitely not one of those "you aren't fan enough" kind of guys but it was surprising to feel the level of disinterest in the stadium from kick-off on Saturday.

2nd Place – Rockets

The Rocket have always struggled getting people in their seats for tip-off, or for most of the first quarter for that matter. This was no different in the playoffs. The big screen operator had to put those not wearing their free t-shirt on camera to publicly shame them to join the crowd of red (or whatever color the shirt was that night). However despite the struggle to get fans to arrive on time and wear the desired color, once butts were in the seats Toyota Center got loud. The intensity on the court, especially when 3 pointers were falling, translated seamlessly to the crowd. Despite the (stupidly) long duration of the NBA playoffs the zeal of the fans never seemed to wane. Even at second round games against Utah last season fans were engaged and making themselves heard. Overall Toyota Center has an underrated playoff atmosphere.

1st Place – Astros

Minute Maid in the playoffs is still the loudest stadium I have ever been in, including college and professional football games. People generally show up on time and the tension before the first pitch is palpable. Every hit or strikeout elicits explosive fan reactions. Additionally, I found the crowd on their feet far more than I ever have at football games. Baseball gets the rap of taking too long and being boring, but playoff baseball is an entirely different animal. I can confidently say the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life is when Alex Bregman hit the game winning double in Game 5 of the World Series (this includes the crack of thunder that blasted me from a lightning strike about 100 feet away). I thought my eardrums had burst. A playoff game at Minute Maid makes the playoff games I have experienced at NRG seem like they were rec-league competitions.

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The Houston Astros made a big splash earlier in the week by extending Alex Bregman. They are on the verge of another big deal, according to multiple reports.

Extending Verlander

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The Astros and ace pitcher Justin Verlander finalized a two-year, $66 million dollar extension. Even at age 36, Verlander remains one of the best in the game. He went 16-9 last year with a 2.52 ERA and 290 strikeouts. It was his first full season in Houston.

Verlander quickly endeared himself to Houston fans after the last minute trade from Detroit in 2017. He helped the team to its first World Series victory that year and has been a fan favorite ever since. The Astros window to win it again remains open, and Verlander apparently will be a big part of it.

If this deal is finalized, and the Astros can reach a longterm deal with impending free agent Gerrit Cole, the team should be set for the near future. Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa will be the next players in line for deals, but in locking up Jose Altuve, Bregman and now Verlander the team will remain in pretty good shape moving forward.

Verlander's deal - like Cole's - was set to expire at the end of this season.

Texans finally address a need

Oakland Raiders v Minnesota Vikings

Matt Kalil. Getty Images.

The Texans needed to add offensive line help this off-season, but the options were limited and overpriced. On Friday they added the kind of player they needed, former Viking and Panther tackle Matt Kalil. It is a low-risk, high-reward move.

Kalil was a Pro Bowl caliber tackle in Minnesota until injuries slowed him in 2016. He started every game for Carolina in 2017, but missed all of last season and the Panthers let him go.

If he is healthy, left tackle becomes less of a priority in the draft - the Texans won't have to reach for one. If not, it's a low-risk move. If he wins the starting job, great. If he does not, it likely means the Texans drafted a better player.

They have not done a lot in free agency, but adding Kalil is a potentially key move. Former Raider Donald Penn is also still a free agent and if the Texans can add him as well, they have at least placed significant band-aids on a gaping wound.

Adding Kalil on a short-term deal is a much better option than spending huge dollars on Trent Brown. The potential success rate is basically the same.

The Texans still have some concerns - another tackle remains critical, and cornerback is still a serious minus, but now they can address corner in the draft without being locked in to taking a tackle. If they can add Penn, then cornerback immediately becomes the No. 1 priority. They could also use a backup running back and another interior D lineman, but those can be addressed in the middle rounds.

In all, this is a great move by the Texans, whether it works out or not.

Ohio State next for Coogs

Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars will play their second round NCAA Tournament game Sunday against 11th-seeded Ohio State after Friday's easy win over Georgia State. The game will be played at 7:40 p.m.

The No. 3-seeded Cougars are 5.5-point favorites.

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