As we head into the home stretch of the 2019 NFL season, the playoff teams are emerging. A handful of teams are well and truly done for the year. Another group are nearing the point of no return. After Week 13, we turn our attention to one more playoff team, and what the wildcard situation looks like.
AFC: Houston Texans
The Season So Far
The Houston Texans looked like one of the top teams early on this season, losing a close game to the New Orleans Saints in the opener. They managed to string a few wins together, landing at 5-3 by the halfway point of the season. They managed to hang 53 points on the Atlanta Falcons and followed it up with an impressive win over the Kansas City Chiefs, establishing themselves as a true contender.
However, a loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7 seemed to be a chink in the armour. Further jeopardising their season was a 34-point loss to the Ravens, suggesting the Texans weren’t in the same tier as some other teams. Yet after getting revenge on the Colts to reclaim top spot in the division, and then dispatching the New England Patriots, Houston are a threat once more. Although they are two games back from the Ravens and Patriots, the Texans have the tiebreaker over both the Chiefs and Patriots if it comes down to it, keeping them a chance at the #2 and #3 seeds.
How They Could Win It All
The deep play ability of the Texans’ aerial Offense is its greatest strength. In their rout of the Falcons, Wide Receivers Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins couldn’t be stopped, even with extra men in coverage. This has continued to be their modus operande, and has allowed the run game to have space in the box. Of course, with Quarterback Deshaun Watson making plays with his arm and legs, Houston are one of the more dynamic and imposing Offenses in the league, when everything is working properly.
The Texans’ Defence is also more than capable of contributing to winning games. Despite losing standout Defensive End JJ Watt, Houston have managed to slow most teams down with other playmakers. At different points Whitney Mercilus, Bradley Roby, Bernardrick McKinney, Gareon Conley and Johnathan Joseph have all had big games to control games. They don’t have a signature strength on Defence, but have an underrated secondary that regularly makes plays and gets stops.
The Achilles’ Heel
Although they handled the Chiefs and Patriots, Houston should still be worried about their losses to the Colts, Saints and Ravens. They have been incredibly inconsistent, yet to win more than two successive games. Despite putting themselves in strong positions in most games, the Texans haven’t been able to consistently close out tight matchups. In January, as the competition gets tougher, the Texans are vulnerable to losing to anyone.
Moreover, the Texans are also lacking consistency in their identity. In some games, they have a run-first mindset, taking deep shots as they appear. In others, they are pass-heavy and go with an aerial blitz that isn’t always effective. The Defence, as stated above, also doesn’t have one particular unit to lean on from week to week. Without figuring this out, and therefore knowing who will carry them home in those tighter contests, Houston will struggle to win when the going gets tough.
With the Buffalo Bills all but assured of the 5th seed, there were three teams fighting for the last spot. However, it is now a four-horse race between the Colts, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Titans. None have a clear upper hand, and there is only a game between them.
The Titans have the hot hand currently, coming off a 3-game winning streak, while the Raiders have lost back to back games. The Steelers have perhaps the friendliest schedule remaining, but with 4 games to go there is no room for error. The Titans have everything in their hands, with a game against the Raiders and two against the Texans to come. Winning all three confirms their postseason spot, but losing more than one could be enough to eliminate them.
Conversely, the NFC has a much neater wildcard race. Assuming the Green Bay Packers remain in control of the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings are trying to stay above the Los Angeles Rams. After losing to the Seattle Seahawks, the Vikings fell to dangerous territory. They had a chance to keep up with the other NFC teams, but are now only have one game above the Rams. They should win at least two of their remaining games, if not three to keep themselves alive. Winning all four will give them the division win, and force Green Bay into the wildcard spot.
On the other hand, the Rams do not control their own destiny after dropping too many games. Although they appear to have somewhat righted the ship with their win against the Arizona Cardinals, they still have a steep hill to climb. With three divisional games remaining, including one each against the San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals, the Rams need to get an upset to make the playoffs. Even with a good chance at victory over the Dallas Cowboys, going just 2-2 in their remaining games probably isn’t enough.