The Houston Texans have turned a calamitous season into one streaking toward a potential playoff berth. Head Coach Bill O’Brien guided his team to a third straight victory Sunday, leaving NRG Stadium with a 24-17 win over the New York Jets.
With quarterback T.J. Yates — the team’s fifth starting quarterback of the O’Brien era — under center, Houston put up 24 points on a defense that entered Saturday ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA (minus-16.9 percent), which assesses each play of the NFL season, assigning each play a value based on both total yards and yards towards a first down. Houston, meanwhile, entered Saturday ranked 26th in Offensive DVOA.
More impressive, though, was the Texans’ defense, under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The Jets converted just 3-of-14 third-down attempts, and were held to 267 total yards of offense—a season low.
The HBO series “Hard Knocks” spent a significant portion of its five-episode season this summer sensationalizing the franchise’s defensive outfit (in case you haven’t heard, J.J. Watt is a superhero masquerading as a defensive end). After a tepid start to the season in which the team allowed an average of 28.4 points per contest through Week 7, Houston has gone three straight games without allowing 20 points. They have allowed two touchdowns in the past 14 quarters, looking more and more like the unit depicted in the series.
“You don’t want to give up points. That’s our job,” Watt candidly said earlier this week. “We’re playing fundamentally sound defense. We’re executing our assignments. We’re understanding the game plan and playing within the system. We’re just doing our jobs very well. We have to continue to do it.”
What began as a season to forget has ballooned into a competitive year that could bring about the team’s third playoff appearance in franchise history. However, the road won’t be easy: Houston is favored in two of its six remaining games, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Putting those percentages up against the rest of the AFC South competition — the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) and Indianapolis Colts (5-5) — paints an even starker picture.
The road to the playoffs doesn’t require the team to win out, but overall, Houston has the worst odds of winning it remaining games, when compared to the odds of Indianapolis and Jacksonville doing the same.
O’Brien’s squad is unquestionably carrying more momentum than both the Colts and Jaguars, but with erratic and unreliable performances marring the first half of the team’s season, numbers aren’t ready to favor the Texans just yet.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.