The Houston Texans have locked up their first playoff berth, a home game in the playoffs, and a division title. They can not move from the No. 3 seed. However, this is an absolute must-win game.
The Texans are a team that must win on defense and the running game. That is something that they can do with the second ranked defense and the second ranked rushing attack. Arian Foster might be the best running back in the entire NFL in what he can do as a runner, a receiver and a pass protector. The defense doesn't have the name recognition of the Steelers or the Ravens but they can pressure the quarterback, they can stop the run and Johnathan Joseph can match up with any wide receiver in the AFC playoffs.
Despite this the Texans have lost their last two games to the Panthers (6-9) and the Colts (2-13). They are starting a third string quarterback and the offense has all but ground to a halt without Matt Schaub.
With the offense unable to sustain drives and put points on the board the defense has struggled dealing with the extra plays and not being able to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback when the opposition is down.
In addition to the team's recent struggles, the Pro Bowl teams just came out and the Texans may lead the league in snubs. Only Joseph and Foster were named to the team and neither is starting. While no one on the team will say that his is disappointed about not receiving personal awards, it has to be a blow to the psyche of any player to play well enough to deserve the award and to not receive the praise of his peers.
Both defense and running the ball are dependent on emotions. The most iconic defenses and defensive players are all emotional leaders. Either it is Ray Lewis with his pregame dance or Mike Singeltary's "I like this kinda party!" defenses have to have a cocky bravado in order to be at their best. A team that is limping into the playoffs, particularly one that doesn't have playoff experience, will struggle to have that bravado.
The same goes for the offensive line. The hogs on the line may not dance like Ray Ray but it has to be harder to put yourself through the physical punishment that is required of every lineman in every game if they don't feel confidant or even cocky.
If the Texans want to have a chance to go on a run in the playoffs they need to bring back the cocky bravado that they had while they were on their seven game win streak. Without that the city of Houston will have to wait for next year for the franchise's first playoff win.