The Houston Texans are in trouble. Some may interpret that previous sentence as a bit of an overstatement considering the fact that the team just completed a franchise-best 12-win regular season. But history shows us that the Texans have dug themselves a hole that may prove too deep to escape.
It was just 23 days ago that Gary Kubiak’s squad traveled to New England with a league-best 11-1 record. A first-round bye looked all but certain and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs was well within the team’s grasp. Two postseason wins at home and the Texans would have a chance to make history in New Orleans.
It all fell apart rather quickly.
A 42-14 blowout loss at New England set the stage for a 1-3 finish that featured back-to-back losses to conclude the regular season. Home field advantage was lost and a first-round bye disappeared in a hurry after a 28-16 defeat in Indianapolis to close out the campaign. Instead of an extra week spent resting in preparation for a divisional round showdown at Reliant Stadium, the Texans are on the practice field getting ready for the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals.
No team has made it to the Super Bowl over the last 15 years after dropping their final two games and failing to secure a bye.
The 2011 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers showed the world that a first-round bye is far from being a prerequisite for winning the Super Bowl. In fact, that same Packers team—along with the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers—hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy after commencing the postseason as the No. 6 seed. But the Giants, Packers and Steelers all shared a common trait that Houston is currently lacking. It’s one of the main reasons why those three organizations found postseason success and could prove to be a big factor in why the Texans come up short.
The key factor we are talking about is momentum.
Of the 30 NFL teams to appear in the last 15 Super Bowls, only three concluded the regular season on a two-game losing streak like the Houston Texans. But here’s the catch: Those three teams (Philadelphia in 2005 and both Indianapolis and New Orleans in 2010) earned a first-round bye and played at home during the second week of the postseason. Houston doesn’t have this luxury. And if recent history holds true this season, the Texans will be on the golf course in January instead of preparing for a trip to New Orleans.
History aside, it’s also worth noting that the Texans are the only team of the 12 playoff qualifiers who lost each of their last two regular season games, and are just one of two postseason organizations that posted a sub-.500 mark over the five weeks of the season (Baltimore is the other). Of the 30 teams to appear in the last 15 Super Bowls, only three squads posted a sub-.500 mark from the start of December through Week 17.
2012 PLAYOFF TEAMS
Part of Houston’s recent collapse can be attributed to the disappearance of the team’s once-stellar lockdown defense. The Texans surrendered an average of just 18.4 points per game through their first 12 outings (11-1), but watched that number increase to 27.5 points per game over their final four contests of the season (1-3). Houston may have enough left on the defensive side of the football to beat a Bengals team that ranked 12th in the league in scoring this season, but what happens if the Texans hit the road to play the New England Patriots (first in scoring) and/or the Denver Broncos (third in scoring)? Quarterback Matt Schaub’s regular season QB rating of 90.7 (lowest in last five years) may not be enough to offset a suddenly susceptible defense.
None of this is meant to imply that the Texans won’t win the Super Bowl. This is a quality, well-balanced football team with everything it takes to come up victorious in February. But Houston’s late-season slump put the team in a bad spot, making a lengthy postseason run more difficult than it had to be. This Saturday afternoon marks the Texans’ first opportunity to buck history. Unfortunately for Houston fans, it could also mark their last.
Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh
SUPER BOWL PARTICIPANTS FROM 1997-2012 (Winning team listed first)