Texans' Bye Brings Unofficial Start To AFC Bubble Watch
A week from tonight, Peyton Manning will look to repeat his 400-yard passing performance from week one when the Texans have their rematch with Indianapolis on Monday Night Football. For its part, Houston would be fine with another 400-yard Manning performance, if it would include a repeat of the Sept. 12 blowout win.
Indeed, the Texans' offense has been dominant enough at times to appear capable of carrying the team to the playoffs by itself. But making the postseason also depends on the performance of other teams in the conference.
With the Texans on hiatus, Sunday offered Texans fans a chance to look at those around them, and to see who they'll battle with for playoff spots with the season coming into focus. Here are a few observations:
1. The AFC South is a three-team race. While a win over the Colts -- a team Houston matches up well with -- would move the Texans to 5-2 and send the Colts to 4-3 (and give Houston the tiebreaker), there remains the matter of the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are 13-4 since their bizarre 0-6 start to 2009, and dominated an Eagles' team on Sunday that had appeared one of the league's best. The Titans are 5-2, and firmly in the picture for the division and AFC wild card slots.
2. Ten wins will likely be needed to make the AFC playoffs. Last year, nine wins did the trick for New York and almost did for the Texans. That doesn't appear to be the case in 2010. Of the AFC's six slots, four will of course go to the division winners. Among non-division leading teams -- of which only two will make the postseason -- the Patriots are 5-1, the Ravens 5-2, and the Colts and Texans 4-2. Nine wins appears unlikely to cut it.
3. The AFC West is inconsequential to the Texans. At this point, cheer for any of those teams against other AFC squads. With the Chargers at 2-5, if they make the playoffs, it would have more to do with a collapse from Kansas City than a strong record from San Diego. Only one team will make the playoffs from that division.
4. Tiebreakers look favorable for Houston. Only one team in the entire AFC is undefeated within the conference -- the top tiebreaker used for Wild Card seeding. That would be the Texans, who were fortunate to lay their eggs against NFC opponents Dallas and New York. Houston is also unbeaten against the AFC South and appears likely to have one of the league's toughest strength of schedule marks (another tiebreaker used).
5. Record-wise, eight teams appear serious playoff contenders -- the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Texans, Colts, Titans and Chiefs. All are 4-2 or better. Only six can get in. As explained earlier, the Chiefs are inconsequential because one (and only one) AFC West team will advance, by default. So any losses to those other six (besides the Texans) are welcome news.
6. The Texans only have three "gimme" games remaining. Those are the two against Jacksonville, and one at Denver. That only gets them to seven wins. The other seven games -- at Indianapolis, home/away with Tennessee, at Philadelphia, home to San Diego, at New York Jets, and home to Baltimore -- are relative tossups, based on records and a talent allowance to the Chargers. So, even if Houston takes care of business against lesser opponents, they need to win at least three of those seven to make it to 10-6.
Impossible? Of course not. But, it does underscore the difficulty Houston will have -- particularly with its awful pass defense -- of getting to the 11- or 12-win plateau that would make them an automatic playoff team.
The Texans are firmly on the bubble. Now that we know which teams are there with them, the cheering against the rest of the bubble should be underway.