The Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) travel to Texas this weekend to take on the Houston Texans (2-12-1) at NRG Stadium. The game is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and can be watched on CBS in local markets.
While the results of this game won’t dictate which team wins the AFC South (that will be decided when the Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans in Week 18), head coach Doug Pederson made it clear that the Jaguars will be playing to win against the Texans. Plus a win over Houston for Jacksonville keeps its slim hopes alive for a Wild Card spot if the Jaguars were to lose to the Titans on Jan. 8.
“There’s never a meaningless game” - #Jaguars HC Doug Pederson. Says the only time he’s “resting” players is when they’re hurt.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) December 28, 2022
Let’s find out how Houston’s season has gone thus far (not well). For the second time this season, we connected with Scott Barzilla, also know as “vballretired,” of Battle Red Blog — SB Nation’s home for all things Texans.
Who do Texans fan want to see the team select at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft? Will Lovie Smith return next season? Would Texans fans rather see the Jaguars or Titans win the AFC South Division title?
1. So, the Texans have gone 2-12-1 so far this season. What has gone wrong for the team this year? What went right last week in the win over the Tennessee Titans (that put the Jaguars into first place of the AFC South)?
Scott: I don’t know how much has gone wrong, per se. I think everyone knew this was going to be another long season given the salary cap constraints and draft limitations from the previous season. I think the Texans are where the Jaguars were during the 2021 season. I think a number of fans are expecting a similar turnaround and I might be one of those.
The Texans have played more close games this season than they did in 2021 and have lost most of those games. They have been terrible in the fourth quarter this season and that changed on Saturday. The Titans committed three fourth quarter turnovers and that was the key. When you have a bunch of young players, those young players have to learn how to win. Linebacker Jake Hansen, linebacker Christian Harris and safety Jalen Pitre all made key plays down the stretch and all three are rookies that have gotten extensive playing time. The hope is that this momentum can continue into next season.
2. If the season were to end today, the Texans would hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Is there a particular player you would like to see or that Houston fans would like to see? I’m thinking at the quarterback position here, correct?
Scott: I have no direct insight into who the Texans might be targeting at this point, but I am all in on Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. I think he combines the talents and gifts with the intangibles needed to be a franchise quarterback. Obviously, there will be a ton of evaluation between now and April, and we will see guys like Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis considered as well.
I am not a college football expert and I’m not a scout, so I couldn’t tell you with any authority which guy is better. I only know what I see. What I see is a guy that took a team without as much elite offensive talent as Alabama is used to and either competed or won games nearly on his own. He also had to overcome a bad offensive coordinator that we know well here in Houston (Bill O’Brien). Watching Alabama games was an odd deja vu experience where the offense would fumble around for two to three quarters because they couldn’t run the ball consistently. Then, in the fourth quarter they would just let Young take over. It was like watching Texans games between 2018 and 2020.
Stroud played with a lot of talent and Levis wasn’t really as successful. I do worry about his size, but no prospect is perfect. I think you could compare him favorably physically to Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. The key is that he might be closer to Murray in terms of physical talent and Hurts in terms of intangibles. That’s the best of both worlds.
3. The AFC South crown will come down to Titans vs. Jaguars in Week 18. Which team do you think wins and why? Which team do you think the majority of Houston fans would rather see win the division title?
Scott: I started watching football in the early 1980s. I was a HUGE Oilers fan growing up and a large part of me has never forgiven them for leaving. I can’t bring myself to root for the Titans in any situation. As I have been fond of saying, if the Taliban somehow stumbled onto the field and put on pads to play the Titans, I would have to give it some additional thought before deciding.
I think we have a good rivalry with the Colts and Jaguars, but it just isn’t the same. I would imagine the love/hate relationship is similar as it would be in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. So, I’m rooting for the Jaguars just out of general principle. Plus, I like the story, too. Teams that go from worst to first are good stories every year and they give us hope that we could do it next season.
4. Obviously things have not gone well for the Texans this season, but do you think Lovie Smith and his staff should return next year or will Houston once again be looking for a new head coach? If Smith does return next year, what changes need to be made for the Texans to find more success in 2023?
Scott: The situation that Lovie was hired under could charitably be called bizarre. Essentially, the Texans were in the middle of a coaching search when the Brian Flores lawsuit came down and then they suddenly pivoted to Lovie. I think that was done to keep them out of further legal exposure and that is especially true if they were about to hire Josh McCown.
The last two seasons with David Culley and Lovie Smith have been surreal. Make no mistake, Lovie is a competent coach. He doesn’t do anything outrageously stupid really like his predecessor. So, I can understand the folks that say he should get another season. He really didn’t get an opportunity to succeed. When Lovie Smith was at his best in Chicago, he had strong coordinators around him on both sides of the ball. That would have to happen if you bring him back. Pep Hamilton isn’t it on the offensive side and he needs someone else calling the defense next season. The issue is that you will have trouble finding talented coordinators willing to come in if they think you will be fired following the season.
I would go ahead and flush the whole coaching staff and start over. This team needs to start competing, and so the faster you get that guy, the faster that Nick Caserio can start bringing in talent that fits that coach’s system.
5. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Jaguars are currently 4.5-point favorites and the over/under is set at 43. Of course, the Texans have already beaten the Jaguars once this season. Will the Texans cover the spread, are you taking the over or the under and what is your final score prediction?
Scott: I think this depends a lot more on the Jaguars than it does the Texans. One of my questions to you was whether the Jaguars would rest guys in advance of the big showdown with the Titans. If the Jaguars take this game seriously, I don’t see them having any trouble covering.
The Titans lost last week because they played an absolutely awful game. There were any number of moments they could have pulled away and won easily and just didn’t. If the Jaguars team that beat the Jets shows up, I don’t see a drastically different result. If the Jaguars sit a bunch of guys and just spin their wheels then they could lose this game. But that is not Doug Pederson’s plan.
The Texans are playing hard. They aren’t playing well because they simply don’t have enough talent to play well, but they are definitely not phoning it in either. The over/under seems a bit high considering what this team has done in recent weeks. Another good bet for the degenerate gambler among us would be over whatever yardage they have for Travis Etienne Jr. If the Jags take this game seriously, he could easily get to 100 yards rushing or more.
No final score prediction, but the Jaguars should win.
Thank you to Scott for his thoughts and analysis regarding Houston. For more on the Texans, be sure to follow Scott and Battle Red Blog on Twitter.