Starting 0-2 or 0-3 already puts NFL teams at a huge disadvantage in terms of qualifying for the postseason. At 0-4, you might as well start thinking about next year, as only one team has ever recovered from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs (the 1992 San Diego Chargers.)
While I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, there’s some reasons to believe the 2020 Houston Texans could be the second team in NFL history to pull off this difficult feat.
The Texans made the shocking move of firing head coach and General Manager Bill O’Brien after the team’s disappointing start. Interim head coach Romeo Crennel has a tough challenge ahead of him, but sometimes a coaching change can actually spark inspiration in a team.
Having a Star Quarterback
The NFL is an offense-based, quarterback-driven league. Having Deshaun Watson under center makes the Texans a force to be reckoned with against any team. Sure, Watson’s talent level may be a step below that of Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but Watson is a young, dual-threat quarterback that can elevate the play of those around him.
Heading into this season, Watson held a very solid 24-13 career record. In the two full seasons Watson has played from 2018 to 2019, the Texans made the playoffs both years and finished 10-6 or better each time.
Watson’s record has slipped to 24-17 after an 0-4 start to this season, but the quarterback is hardly to blame. He’s completing 65.6% of his passes, accumulating 1,092 yards, six passing touchdowns, three interceptions, and one rushing touchdown through four games.
The Texans hold an ugly -46 point differential this season: but 31 of those points were the difference in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, two elite teams. In the last two weeks against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, the Texans have been outscored by only 15 points, suffering a single-score loss to both teams.
Watson hasn’t been rushing the ball as much this season (4.25 rushes per game, down from 5.47 in 2019) and is definitely missing his former number one reciving threat, DeAndre Hopkins. But he’s still above average, and in the NFL, that can take you far. If Houston’s defense can tighten up just a little bit, the Texans should be able to outscore some opponents.
Manageable Remaining Schedule
The Texans traveled to played the defending Super Bowl Champions in Week 1, before hosting the reigning MVP and a dominant regular season in Week 2. Find me a team that wouldn’t be 0-2 in that situation.
It didn’t get much easier in Week 3, playing an upstart 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers team on the road. Houston lost that game by just a touchdown, an encouraging step forward. In Week 4, the Texans squandered a chance to earn their first win of the season, allowing 31 points to the also then-winless Minnesota Vikings.
The Texans can’t afford many more losses, but their remaining schedule is manageable. Not easy, but manageable, if the Texans are serious about turning things around.
Houston’s next game is against the 1-3 Jacksonville Jaguars. If the Texans don’t win this game, then it’s fair to say their season is over. But let’s say they win this game. Week 6 brings a tougher matchup against the currently undefeated Tennessee Titans. While it’s likely too late for the Texans to contend for the AFC South title, they’ll need to defeat their divisional foes in this game to keep the momentum going and improve to 2-4. Houston split their regular season meetings with Tennessee in 2019, but rested starters in a Week 17 loss to the Titans.
From that point on we can break down the Texans schedule into:
- Tough games: Vs. Packers, Vs. Patriots
- Manageable games: At Browns, Vs. Colts, At Colts, At Bears
- Winnable games: At Jaguars, At Lions, Vs. Bengals
Obviously, with little margin for error, the Texans would need to sweep the “winnable” games, and then take at least three of the tough and manageable games.
This would put the Texans at 8-8, where a wildcard spot would be a possibility. But realistically, Houston may need to go 9-7 or 10-6 to make the postseason. The Texans can’t really afford to lose more than three or four more games this season.
The Extra Wild Card Spot
While an 8-8 wouldn’t have gotten the Texans into the postseason last year, the NFL added a third wildcard position in 2020. Based on last year’s standings, the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have been the seventh and final seed in the AFC playoffs. Four more teams finished 7-9, just a game back from the hypothetical seventh seed.
So could 8-8 be enough to make the playoffs in 2020? Quite possibly, but a 9-7 would drastically increase those odds.
Breaking down how the wildcard race could shape up this year:
- AFC East: Patriots or Bills win the division, the other team gets a wild card spot. Wouldn’t count on the Jets or Dolphins to finish with more than seven wins.
- AFC North: Likely the Ravens division, with the Steelers finishing in second. It wouldn’t make a difference to Houston who won, as they’ve already lost to both teams. The 3-1 Browns could be a serious wild card threat if they keep up their hot play. The Texans would gain a lot by beating Cleveland on November 15.
- AFC South: Assuming the Titans win the division, the Colts seem to be the likely second-place finisher. The Texans could potentially flip the script by sweeping Indianapolis.
- AFC West: Obviously the Chiefs’ division. The Raiders look to be the second-best team, and could finish in the eight-to-ten win range and be a real wildcard threat. The Chargers are dangerous as well, but currently hold a 1-3 record.
Let’s fast forward and look into the NFL playoffs crystal ball. Assume the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, and Kansas City Chiefs win their respective divisions.
This would leave the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, and, if things go their way, the Houston Texans in the mix for three wild card spots.
If we go a step further and hand the Patriots and Steelers the top two wildcard positions, there would be four teams potentially vying for that final spot.
Again, the Texans would need to take care of business and win eight or nine games for this to be even a possibility. Personally, I could see the Browns and Raiders fading away as the season progresses. This would leave Philip Rivers and the Colts as the Texans biggest competition. If the Houston can indeed win both games against Indianapolis, they would not only lower the Colts’ playoff chances, but also earn a head-to-head tiebreaker in the event the two teams finish with the same record.
While the Colts opening schedule was relatively soft, especially compared to that of the Texans, their competition does get fiercer, with two games against the Titans as well as matchups with the Packers, Ravens, and Steelers. In other words, the Colts hot 3-1 start could be humbled in the second half of the season.
Will the Texans Make the Playoffs in 2020?
I’m not a betting man, but if I had to place a wager on whether not the 0-4 Houston Texans would make the playoffs this season, I’d probably bet against it.
But the point is, the Texans have a clear road to the playoffs, as well as a talented quarterback and recent regular season success. In addition to a schedule that gets a little easier, and the advent of the third wildcard position, the Texans can’t be counted out just yet, even at 0-4. Only one team in NFL history has rebounded from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs, but on paper, the Texans have the tools to become the second.
If the Texans finish 8-8 (8-4 from this point on,) they could make the playoffs, but would have to rely on other teams faltering down the stretch. At 9-7 (finishing a strong 9-3 from this point on,) the Texans would have a much better chance to sneak into the postseason. Either way, they’d likely have to leapfrog the Colts in the AFC South, as it would be hard to see the division sending three teams to the playoffs.