THE PALLILOG

Will Watt's return help the Texans rise above just being AFC South champs?

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So do the Texans deliver and beat the Buffalo Bills Saturday in their Wild Card weekend matchup to earn a shot at Baltimore or Kansas City, or do they lose another home playoff game and continue to be a division winning team irrelevant to the contending tier of NFL franchises? It's not a coincidence that the Texans without fail have opened all of their postseasons in the Saturday afternoon time slot.

How tingly with anticipation have you been this week? "Not very if at all" would put you in a large majority. If the Texans are ever to truly matter in the NFL, unless they finally secure a bye one of these years, winning a wild card game is a necessary step. The only way to win one is to be in one, so they get credit for that much. Hey, at least the Texans have managed to win three playoff games since coming into existence. Granted two came over mediocre Bengals squads, the third over a Raiders team quarterbacked by a stiff in his only ever NFL start. The Bills last won a playoff game December 30, 1995. That's amazing futility.

This is definitely not a game the Texans clearly should win. The Bills won 10 games just like the Texans, though Buffalo's only win over a playoff team was beating the Titans when Tennessee was still spinning its wheels with Marcus Mariota at QB. The Texans beat three playoff teams: Chiefs, Patriots, Ryan Tannehill QB-ed Titans.

The Texans have the more potent offense though the gap is diminished if the ever-delicate Will Fuller is a non-factor. The Bills definitely have the much better defense. That gap is diminished if J.J. Watt's return, even in a presumed limited role, provides a boost to the Texans otherwise generally effete pass rush. It projects as a lower scoring game. That lends itself to one big play, or lucky bounce, or bad call being a bigger difference maker in the outcome.

As a second year QB a year ago Deshaun Watson was terrible in his playoff debut. The Texans hope the same for Bills' second year QB Josh Allen.

Head Coach Bill O'Brien's postseason performance has basically been awful. The lone win over the Connor Cook-lead Raiders. Last year's humiliating home loss to the Colts joined a 30-0 home shellacking by the Chiefs in Texans' ignominy. Unless blown out, a loss to the Bills would not be shameful unto itself. But where the Texans are as a franchise, should they lose, their latest cute little AFC South Champion banner should be draped upside down.

Clock is ticking on Watt

J.J. Watt as Football Lazarus. What can be reasonably hoped for/expected out of the greatest player in Texans' history? Watt last played October 27th. As opposed to when recovering from his knee and back injuries, while rehabbing is torn pectoral muscle Watt has been able to do conditioning work. Still, that's not the same as playing full contact football. The Texans this season had one of the weakest pass rushes in the NFL. Watt can't fix that singlehandedly, but if he can generate pressure over 20 to 25 snaps it would be a big boost to the Texans' cause. Before he went down with the torn pec, in eight games played Watt had only four sacks. He did however top the NFL in hits on the quarterback. If Watt is right he brings superior athleticism to his position, which would come in handy dealing with Bills quarterback Josh Allen, one of the best running QBs in the NFL

Watt moves around on the line of scrimmage but more than anywhere else he lines up at left defensive end. That is opposite the offense's right tackle. Bills starting RT Ty Ensekhe missed five straight games before returning Sunday and aggravating an ankle injury. If Ensekhe can't go, Watt gets after rookie Cody Ford.

In March Watt turns 31. The clock is ticking on his chances at making a substantial contribution with the Texans at a championship level above winning the AFC South.

Busy schedule

ESPN has the Rockets-76ers game Friday night at Toyota Center, tipping about an hour after ESPN2 has the Houston Cougars in their AAC opener vs. Central Florida. Then Saturday, ESPN has Texans-Bills.

Not much happening on the baseball front

All's been quiet on the Astros front. They've added no talent to the roster for 2020, and await Major League Baseball's lowering the boom from the Brandon Taubman and Astros-as-cheaters investigations. Their biggest loss was Gerrit Cole to the Yankees. Second biggest, Will Harris taking the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach (and 24 million dollars over three years) to sign with the Washington Nationals. That's better for the Astros than if Harris had joined the A's.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Picking the Bills to win. Show me otherwise Texans. Please. 2. If Tre'Davious White largely shuts down DeAndre Hopkins, uh oh. 3. Best NFL broadcast teams this weekend: Bronze-Buck/Aikman Fox Silver-Nantz/Romo CBS Gold-Michaels/Collinsworth NBC

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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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