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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McCullers Jr. had nine strikeouts over four

McCullers Jr. looks sharp in tune-up before Rangers overpower Houston's bullpen

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite watching their chance to clinch their playoff spot on the field slip away in the walk-off loss on Friday, the Astros benefited from a loss by the Angels later in the night, securing their playoff berth. That meant they could play conservatively in the final two games of the season against the Rangers in Arlington. Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's matchup:

Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 1.

Record: 29-30, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jimmy Herget (1-0, 3.20 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brandon Bielak (3-3, 6.75 ERA).

McCullers Jr. looks playoff-ready 

With nothing substantial to play for, the Astros did not expect to ask Lance McCullers Jr. to go deep into Saturday's game, instead giving him a few innings for a tune-up before assuming whatever role he would play in the post-season. He looked impressive, a promising sign after his injury stint and struggles on the road at points this season.

He finished four innings, during which he racked up a season-high nine strikeouts while giving up no runs on just two hits, both singles, and two walks. His final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 61 P.

Both teams trade runs as  they go to their bullpens

Meanwhile, neither team was getting much going at the plate in the early goings, keeping it a scoreless game through the first five. Brandon Bielak took over for McCullers Jr. starting in the fifth but would allow the first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth as the Rangers would get three singles to take a 1-0 lead.

After Kyle Gibson held the Astros at bay for six innings, Houston would get on the board against Texas' bullpen, getting a leadoff double by Aledmyz Diaz in the top of the seventh. Diaz moved to third on a sac bunt, then scored on a sac fly by Jack Mayfield, making it 1-1.

Rangers blow it open in the seventh

The tie didn't last long, as Bielak would put two on base in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a three-run homer to make it a 4-1 Rangers lead. Andre Scrubb was next out of Houston's bullpen and allowed a solo home run on his first pitch. Scrubb would complete the inning, but not before allowing another run on three singles to push Texas' lead to 6-1.

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth and tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Houston would not make the unlikely comeback in the top of the ninth, with the Rangers taking the game 6-1.

Up Next: The last game of the Astros' 2020 regular season will be Sunday at 2:05 PM Central, as are most other games on the MLB slate on the league's final regular-season day. Houston's starter is TBD as they will continue to preserve their arms for the best-of-three first round that starts on Tuesday, while Texas will send Jordan Lyles (1-6, 7.08 ERA) to the mound.

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