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
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.