A few years ago, if you ever muttered the words "home-field advantage" and "Super Bowl contenders" were ever mentioned in the same breath with "Houston Texans," then you would have lost all credibility as a knowledgeable football fan.
Your legitimacy as an NFL enthusiast would be dismissed as hurriedly as a quarterback attempting to get away from J.J. Watt.
In an alternate society, you would likely be forced up onto a scaffold and be denounced as a heretical witch.
Now, however, your views would surely be respected and held in high regard. For this is not the Texans team of previous seasons. This is the 7-1 Texans squad who are in first place in the AFC and have better chances than most teams right now of hosting the Lombardi trophy come February.
If the Texans are to make it out of the AFC and into the Super Bowl, then clinching home field throughout the playoffs will be a major advantage.
Let's take a look at the Texans' chances of clinching this much-desired advantage.
Week 10: at Chicago Bears, Sun, 11/11 at 7:20 PM CST, Away: Soldier Field
Week 11: Jacksonville Jaguars, Sun, 11/18 at 12:00 PM CST, Home: Reliant Stadium
Week 12: at Detroit Lions, Thu, 11/22 at 11:30 AM CST, Away: Ford Field
Week 13: at Tennessee Titans, Sun, 12/02 at 12:00 PM CST, Away: LP Field
Week 14: at New England Patriots, Mon, 12/10 at 7:30 PM CST, Away: Gillette Stadium
Week 15: Indianapolis Colts, Sun, 12/16 at 12:00 PM CST, Home: Reliant Stadium
Week 16: Minnesota Vikings, Sun, 12/23 at 12:00 PM CST, Home: Reliant Stadium
Week 17: at Indianapolis Colts, Sun, 12/30 at 12:00 PM CST, Away: Lucas Oil Stadium
(schedule courtesy of houstontexans.com)
The Texans will matchup against the Bears next week
Looking at the remainder of the Texans' schedule, it seems quite likely that they will be sitting atop the AFC standings at the end of the season.
Despite the three out-of-conference games that all have the chance to be highly competitive, the Texans have relatively easy in-conference games remaining.
Aside from the 5-3 Patriots, the only AFC teams that the Texans are scheduled to square off against only consist of the three divisional teams. Aside from the surprisingly competitive Colts, whom the Texans should still beat, not a single team in the AFC South really poses a threat to the Texans.
Essentially, a major key to the Texans' chances of clinching home-field advantage is their being able to continue taking care of business against lesser opponents. The Texans have done this all season long, easily dismissing teams such as the Dolphins, Jaguars, Titans and Bills.
If the Texans shake off teams like the Lions, Vikings and Colts, then the only two teams that can possibly stand a chance of defeating the Texans are the Bears and Patriots.
Though the Bear game next week on prime time will be very self-revealing for the Texans and will give the Texans a chance to prove just how good they are, it is not at all a must-win matchup.
The game against the Patriots, however, might certainly qualify as one. The Patriots are major contenders with the Texans for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and this key game will certainly be a pivotal and deciding one.
If the Texans manage to defeat the Patriots in Week 15, then they will have excellent chances of playing in front of a home crowd through the AFC Championship Game.
Current AFC Standings:
1. Houston Texans (7-1)
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
3. New England Patriots (5-3)
4. Denver Broncos (5-3)
5. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Currently, the Texans control their own destiny with regard to their playoff seeding. If they were to only lose one more game this season and win the rest of them, then they will finish atop the standings due to their tiebreaker advantage over the Ravens.
The Patriots and Tom Brady certainly pose a threat, and out of all the 5-3 teams, they are likely the most dangerous to the Texans' playoff-seeding hopes.
The Peyton Manning-led Broncos, however, have been hot recently, but due to their loss to the Texans in Week 3, it is highly unlikely that they will surpass the Texans in the standings.
Projected Final Standings:
1. Houston Texans
The Texans have a relatively easy schedule ahead of them, and they have the best chances of earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans likely field the most complete and balanced team in the NFL, and when both sides of the ball are clicking, the Texans are nearly unstoppable.
2. New England Patriots
Why do I have the Patriots finishing over the Ravens? The Ravens have severe injury issues on their defense, and the anemic Joe Flacco cannot be depended upon to lead the Ravens to victory on a week to week basis. Brady, however, also has an easy schedule ahead of him, and if he and his team can manage to defeat the Texans or the 49ers, then it is extremely probable that they will jump ahead of the Ravens in the standings.
3. Baltimore Ravens
As mentioned above, I believe the Ravens' injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb on defense will stymie their chances of earning a bye. They still have a good enough team, though, to finish high in the AFC standings.
4. Denver Broncos
The Broncos, like the Patriots, have a very, very good chance of surpassing the Ravens in the standings. Peyton Manning is playing like the Manning of old, and if he keeps up his stellar play, there is an excellent chance that he will lead the Broncos to a much better place in the standings than where I have them right now.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers, like the Texans, have a very complete football team. If they did not play in the AFC North, then they would likely not be forced to duke it out with other prospective wild-card teams.
6. Indianapolis Colts
The surprise team of the season so far is who I have earning the final wild-card slot. The Colts have already amazingly jumped out to a 5-3 record, though many experts had predicted them to finish with even fewer wins on the entire season. The Colts have an extremely competitive team driven by their desire to win, and they will be a force to be dealt with very soon.