Game Time: Your Texans Playoff Rooting Manifesto, 2009 Edition...Yeah, You Heard Me!!
Among my college friends, I've always been that guy. (No not "doing stuff in his underwear" guy, I meant "stat geek, playoff calculation" guy.) Since the late `90's, any time that Notre Dame has still been in the mix for a BCS bowl or even the national title in early November (Yes, it DID happen. Once. In 2002. Now wipe that smirk off your face before I slap it off, Junior!!), I've been the guy who takes a look at the rest of the schedule and figures out the seemingly impossible permutation of events that need to occur to achieve the desired result. From there, I have the unique skill of boiling it down into an easy reference list of "who and what to root for and against." That's right, I can sift through a pile of win-loss minutiae and mold it into something semi-comprehensible. I would say that other than knowing exactly how long to microwave any Chef Boyardee product without reading the instructions, this is my most impressive skill.
Well, needless to say, thanks to the Charlie Weis Era it's been a while since I dusted off this particular talent. Fortunately, the Texans sit in a position where entering December, the playoffs are still a possibility (despite an ulcer-inducing month of November). Yeah, you heard me...the playoffs are a possibility!
I know many of you out there are skeptical. I know this because you email me. You call my show. You tweet. You leave the game with the Texans still only behind by one score against the Colts. You spend the month of December devouring Mel Kiper's Big Board for next April's draft. Well, if you're one of these people, then read no further. For ye of little faith, there's nothing for you to see here. Jump off the train right now, curse Matt Schaub, and go pop in some Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh highights.
Me, I'm heading to that place -- that place where we start to figure out who to root for and against the rest of the way so the Texans' will have more than one game this January. Who's comin' with me? Huh? (Yes, right now I am standing in the middle of an empty room in the Jerry Maguire "who's comin' with me?" crouch.)
All right then, for the twelve of you that hung around, let's start with what we know (NOTE: Records in parentheses are overall, division, and conference records, in that order):
1. It will take an act of Congress for the four division winners not to be New England (AFC East), Cincinnati (AFC North), Indianapolis (AFC South), and San Diego (AFC West).
The fact that the four division winners are this clear-cut may not make it any easier or harder for the Texans to make the playoffs, but at the very least it makes it easier to figure things out. These four teams have spots pretty well locked up, the only questions are:
(1) Will Indianapolis go undefeated? Or more to the point, do they even want to?
(2) Which of the other division winners will get a first-round bye?
The bottom line is that all of these teams have something to play for until the two first-round byes are sewn up, although Indianapolis (11-0, 4-0, 7-0) has essentially clinched the AFC South and is a couple weeks away from clinching home field throughout the playoffs. More on this in a little bit. It's actually relevant to the Texans, if you still believe in their playoff chances(and if you've made it this far, then by God, you believe!!).
As for the other teams:
Cincinnati (8-3, 6-0, 6-3) has a two-game lead over Pittsburgh with a sweep of the division and games remaining with Detroit and Kansas City. In other words, they'll go 10-6 in their sleep which will get it done in the AFC North.
San Diego (8-3, 5-1, 6-3) has a one-game lead over Denver, but is playing Super Bowl-caliber football, while the Broncos are 1-4 after starting 6-0. With games against Cleveland and Washington remaining along with manageable games at Dallas and Tennessee and home for Cincy, the Chargers are in good shape.
New England (7-4, 3-1, 5-3) has a two-game lead over the reeling Jets and Dolphins and play one game against a team over .500 the rest of the way, and that's 6-5 Jacksonville. They also play the Texans in Week 17. More on that momentarily.
So with those four teams firmly entrenched as playoff hosts, we move onto the second thing we know....
2. The AFC wild card picture is a virtual clusterfreak (keeping it clean today for all of you little Texamaniacs out there...).
For purposes of this exercise, I am going to establish 5-6 as the cut-off point because (a) if you're not 5-6 at this point, you're not getting into the playoffs, and (b) our PLAYOFF-BOUND HOUSTON TEXANS ARE 5-6!! YEEEEEE HAAAAHHHH!!!
Here are the contestants in the AFC Wild Card Beauty Contest, in order of what kind of shape they're in (subjective combo of records, remaining schedule, congeniality and swimsuit contests)...
Denver (7-4, 2-1, 5-3)
Jacksonville (6-5, 2-2, 5-2)
Baltimore (6-5, 3-2, 6-4)
Pittsburgh (6-5, 1-3, 4-4)
HOUSTON (5-6, 1-4, 4-5)
Tennessee (5-6, 2-3, 3-6)
NY Jets (5-6, 1-4, 4-5)
Miami (5-6, 3-2, 3-4)
So there's the list of suspects. My initial thought is that Bill Parcells always said you are what your record is, and over the course of an entire season, I agree, but looking at these teams, especially the 5-6 teams...well, does anyone think the Dolphins and Jets are nearly as dangerous as the Titans right now? (On the Texans, you know where I stand on this. The reason I type this manifesto? PLAYOFFS BABY!! PLAYOFFS!!!)
Okay, so now that we have the facts, what should we be rooting for and against each weekend within the context of the Texans making the playoffs? It would seem as simple as root for the Texans and against all of the other teams in the wild card mix, but we need to have priorities. What are they? Well, I'll tell ya, and in order of importance! Here goes...
1. ROOT FOR THE TEXANS to win all of their games.
2. ROOT AGAINST JACKSONVILLE regardless of who they're playing.
Why is this so important? It's pretty simple. If the Texans beat Jacksonville this weekend, then they'll have the same overall record (6-6), a season split head-to-head, and the same division record (2-4), assuming Indy takes care of them in Week 15 (no gimme as the Jags gave Indy everything they could handle in Week 1, 14-12, plus by Week 15 Indy may be folding the proverbial tents as they are already three games ahead of the next closest team in the AFC). So the next tiebreaker is conference record, and a Texans win Sunday would leave the Jags at 5-3 in the AFC and the Texans at 5-5.
This is a bigger killer than you'd think when there are potentially so many teams that could wind up at 9-7 for that last spot because the first process in the tiebreaker when there are three or more teams tied for the wild card is to whittle it down by division so that there is one potential remaining team from each division. In other words, if the wild card is a 9-7 mess of, say, four teams and two of them are the Texans and Jags, it doesn't matter how the Texans stack up against the other teams; they need to be beat the Jags in a tie-breaker just to stay in the consideration process.
If none of that makes sense, then just please trust me, the more Jacksonville loses, the better it is for the Texans. For informational purposes, here is Jacksonville's schedule: