It sometimes takes a trio to be significant. A trio of points in a triangle; a trio of stooges; a trio of pitches in a strike zone. For the Houston Texans, a quartet would have probably allowed them to out pass Aaron Rodgers last Sunday night and remain undefeated, but thanks to a weak American Football Conference, their powerful trio is enough incentive for them to rear up and make a legitimate run at the February game at the Superdome.
The last two games for the Houston Texans brought their preseason exhilaration to the human earth. Despite beating the New York Jets 23-17 on October 8, the Texans only scored two touchdowns, their fewest in a match all season. Granted, the Jets were fortunate to have made the game as close as they did, as one of their touchdowns (Joe McKnight’s kickoff return TD) wasn’t so much a show of skill as it was a show of good fortune. But aside from that, the Texans were far from their previous dominant self that led teams by multiple touchdowns before facing the Jets. And against the Green Bay Packers last week, well, let’s just say when your club gives up six touchdowns you aren’t playing at a burly level.
But the Texans are still playing fantastic football. Through six games this season, they have as many wins as they had through 16 matches last year. While their passing may be ranked 18th in the National Football League, they average 134.2 rushing yards a game (6th in league), allow only 213.2 opposing passing yards (8th), and ration the opposite running hole to only 87.7 rushing yards a game (7th). By comparison, the undefeated Atlanta Falcons are 25th, 12th, and 17th in the last three categories respectively. All good things come in a trio, yes?
The big thing in their favor, however, is that the AFC, for a lack of a better term, sucks. Bad. Really bad. Only one other team in the AFC has a winning record – the Baltimore Ravens. And with the Ravens losing their defensive Quarterback, Ray Lewis, for the rest of the season, the Texans now command the most glamorous team in the conference. They’ve scored more points in the conference than every team but the New England Patriots, and they’re tied for stingiest defensive team in the AFC, allowing only 115 points. The Ravens don’t quite do that.
Bringing Texan dreams to reality, the playoff scenario will look very different in a month or two. So many teams can’t remain this lackluster for too long. The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have statistically played like teams with winning records, but the Pats have fallen asleep at the goal line, and the Broncos’ three losses are against three of the best teams in football. By December, the Patriots’ mind numbingly easy schedule will save them, and the Broncos will stop facing Super Bowl-level clubs. But even after the .500 numbers begin sprouting with slightly more consistency on the standings, the Texans will still have one of the best records in the league.
For now, however, the Texans have to take advantage of the overall scrubbiness of the AFC. Home-field advantage made significant difference in last season’s playoffs. The home side won every match in the postseason last year, with the exception of the New York Giants’ two National Football Conference road games. Often in the last decade the Baltimore Ravens, for example, broke into the playoffs but fell short of bursting into the Super Bowl because their home stadium wasn’t hosting many games. That’s not the fate the Texans can’t fulfill to reach the Super Bowl. If the Texans want to make the Super Bowl, they can’t pull a Giants run. These Texans can’t rely on luck; only one postseason run shows that luck hasn’t helped them. No, the Texans need to rely on their trio of strength to lead them to the Super Bowl. They have to play like the Packers, Patriots, and Falcons teams of consistency and dominate the stat lines to win their conference. And with so many feeble AFC opponents, the Texans will be sure to dominate the box scores.
Make no mistake: this Texans team is still the best team in the AFC. While that may not seem like a major assertion because the conference is pathetic, what do the Texans need at the moment besides making the Super Bowl? However they fair in February against their NFC opponent, if they make the big dance, should be inconsequential to them right now. While they’re in the AFC, they should seize the role of the dominant club. With only one playoff victory in their history, the Texans’ fans shouldn’t overreach their perspective right now. They should instead look at themselves the way they truly are: the best team in the AFC. The Texans may not have a quartet of strength that makes them Number One in the power rankings, but let’s be honest: how many times will a team have to defeat a six touchdown performance? A quartet is expensive; a trio is masterful.