Titans 35, Texans 14

With meaningless loss to Titans out of the way, it's time for the Texans to look ahead to Buffalo and the playoffs

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About a half hour before the Texans took the field, their game on Sunday against the Titans was rendered meaningless. For the record, the Texans lost 35-14 to finish 10-6 in what was a glorified preseason game.

The Texans rested Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Laremy Tunsil and Bradley Roby, among others. As the game wore on, the Texans sat even more players. Basically, anyone who might be important in the playoffs. And Jonathan Joseph.

They will face the 10-6 Buffalo Bills, the No. 5 seed, next week at NRG Stadium. The Texans were locked into the four spot when Kansas City beat the Chargers earlier in the day. Tennessee claims the sixth spot and will play New England next week.


The good news

This was a solid season for the Texans. There were some bad losses, but good wins as well, including victories over Kansas City, New England, and clutch division wins over Indianapolis and Tennessee to wrap up the AFC South. They rested key players in Week 17, so they should be healthy for the Bills. If they get past Buffalo, a likely trip to Baltimore awaits against the juggernaut that is the Ravens. The season would most likely end there, although there is a solid chance New England loses in Round 1 to Tennessee, which would send the Texans to Kansas City, where they have already won this season. If the Pats can lose at home to the Dolphins, they can certainly lose to the Titans.

First things first, however. The Texans have to beat the Bills. Let's take a look at the matchup.

How will it play out?

Buffalo has the same record as the Texans, but they feasted on much easier prey. Their best win was probably at Dallas; maybe Pittsburgh. They did play Baltimore and New England close but did not beat a team with a winning record.

The Texans clearly faced better competition. However, if the Texans team that failed to show up against Denver and Carolina - and for that matter offensively against Tampa - they can lose to anyone. And with their playoff history under O'Brien (1-3 with the only win over a third string QB against Oakland), no one would be shocked if that is what happens. But all things being equal, this is a good matchup for the Texans.

IF they play to their strengths...

The Bills strength is their defense. Entering Week 17, only two teams had allowed fewer yards. They were 12th in the league against the run, third against the pass.

For the Texans to have success, they will need to avoid attacking the Bills corners. They will need to run the ball effectively, use misdirection and counters, and throw the ball to the tight ends and running backs to open up the deep passing game. Watson will also need to run the ball effectively himself.

However, we have seen the Texans struggle and try to force the ball to Hopkins against teams with good secondaries, so it will need to be a good Bill O'Brien game plan on offense, which is always dicey. The Bills allowed the second fewest points in the league, and they tend to ugly up games. The Texans won a game like that early in the season against Jacksonville; they lost one against Carolina. If the Texans don't mix it up on offense, the Bills will shorten the game, and that is advantage Buffalo.

The other side of the ball

The Texans defense was been a mess most of the season, but they will get J.J. Watt back. His impact could be critical.

For the Bills, Josh Allen had a decent season passing the football, completing 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His running is a dangerous weapon as well, especially against a Texans defense that struggles against mobile quarterbacks. Allen had 510 yards rushing and averaged 4.7 per carry. So the Bills will try to run with Allen and his backs, and throw to the wideouts. The Texans will need to stuff the run and slow John Brown and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley at WR. The good news is the Bills do not have a dynamic tight end or high quality pass catcher out of the backfield. Those have been issues for the Texans defense all season. Roby will likely cover Brown, and if he can shut him down and Watt improves the run defense, the Texans should be fine.

The bottom line

The Texans defense should be able to keep the Bills under control, as Buffalo is in the bottom half of the league in points scored. The key to the game will be if Bill O'Brien's offense shows up. Watson has not played a good game since the New England win. He will have to be much better than he was down the stretch. O'Brien's play calling will be a big factor as well. If the Texans offense brings its A game, Houston should advance. If the bad offense shows up and Buffalo can ugly up the game? The Bills could easily leave Houston with a victory.

Regardless, the Texans are in the postseason. A deep run seems unlikely, but at least they are in the tournament.

It all starts next week against Buffalo, in what is a very interesting matchup.

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Houston is back in the win column

McCullers Jr. spins a gem as Astros get a much-needed win over Giants

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

After getting swept by the A's in Oakland to end a road trip with a five-game losing streak, the Astros returned to Houston to try and get back on track. To do so, they'd need a win against the Giants on Monday night. Here is a quick recap of the series opener:

Final Score: Astros 6, Giants 4.

Record: 7-9, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 6.10 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Logan Webb (1-1, 2.81 ERA).

Houston builds up an early lead

The early goings of Monday's game went very similar to the last time Lance McCullers Jr. took the mound. He would have a terrific first three innings while his offense gave him an early lead. The first run came in the bottom of the second, with Yuli Gurriel reaching base on a one-out double, moving to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on an RBI-single by Carlos Correa.

Correa would take part in a four-run inning in the third, as Houston would score two on a two-RBI ground-rule double by Michael Brantley, another on an error, then Correa's second RBI of the night, a groundout to bring in a run and make it 5-0. Unlike the last start in Arizona, where the roof opened and McCullers Jr. fell apart in the fourth, he was able to make quick work of his opponent for a 1-2-3 frame. As he kept recording scoreless innings, Martin Maldonado added another run to the lead with a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, making it 6-0.

McCullers Jr. takes a no-hitter into the seventh

While the Astros were building their lead, McCullers Jr. was spinning a gem on the mound. He allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings, which came on a hit-by-pitch. He entered the seventh with a no-hitter in progress, but the Giants would get their first hit of the night to end the no-hit bid.

Regardless, the start was precisely what McCullers Jr. needed to restore his confidence after the disastrous inning he had in his last appearance. He would go on to complete the seventh inning before Houston would go to the bullpen with the large lead in the eighth. His final line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K 0 HR, 1 HPB.

Houston gets back in the win column despite more struggles by Josh James

Josh James entered out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth but allowed the first run of the night for San Francisco via a solo home run with one out to make it 6-1. He would complete the inning and then return for the top of the ninth. He would have another rocky inning, issuing a leadoff walk before a single and double would make it a four-run game at 6-2, still with no outs in the inning and runners on second and third, prompting another call to the bullpen.

Dusty Baker would bring in his current closer, Ryan Pressly, to try and finish the game, now in a save situation. Pressly would retire the first two batters he faced before allowing a two-RBI single to make it 6-4, but would eventually get the final out to get Houston the much-needed win. With the victory, the Astros moved back into second place in the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Tuesday at 8:10 PM Central. The Giants, working with a fluid rotation, have not yet fully decided on their starter, while the Astros will get another start from Brandon Bielak (2-0, 0.87 ERA) who will look to repeat the success of his five-inning, no-run start in Arizona last week.

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