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NFL Playoff Scenarios: Texans' Playoff Hopes Still Have Life

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NFL Playoff Scenarios: Texans' Playoff Hopes Still Have Life
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Despite the less-than-inspired performance by your Houston Texans this past Sunday, the team was able to come out with a victory.

Considering the way this season has gone, let's not complain about the aesthetics of the win and just accept it as is. 

Remember, these were the same Rams that only a few weeks ago nearly knocked off the then 8-0 Saints, so maybe they're not as bad as their record shows (or, more accurately, maybe they're occasionally capable of playing inspired football).

Still, a win is a win, and the Texans' playoff aspirations remain ever so slightly alive.

Within last week's playoff breakdown, I described those aspirations as "Ray Liotta at the end of Hannibal" alive. 

After the flurry of activity this weekend, I'm upgrading them slightly to Westley from The Princess Bride—mostly dead and in need of a chocolate-covered miracle, but with a sliver of hope.

A lot of our rooting interests were victorious in Week 15, but, sadly, the most critical ones were not.

In accordance with our previous breakdowns, let's go division by division.

Remember, our major premise in all of this is that the Texans win out. Without that premise, we might as well give up on the season and start making baseless predictions about the future of the franchise (that may or may not be a shameless plug for an upcoming piece). 

The AFC East was almost the most generous division during this holiday season, but there are a few things they could have done better.

Losses by the Jets and Dolphins would seem to have improved our outlook significantly, but a victory by the Dolphins would have been more useful.

Remember that according to our premise, the Texans will beat the Dolphins this weekend, and therefore will own the tiebreaker, so a victory over the Titans would have eliminated Tennessee and removed one more hurdle from our path.

The Jets' loss, however, was quite nice.

We needed them to finish 1-2 over the last three games, as they own the tiebreaker over Houston thanks to the beat down they gave us in Week One. 

The game against the Falcons was probably their most winnable game, as they have the Colts and Bengals coming up. 

By losing this game, we have bought ourselves a little bit of cushion, as the Colts may be resting a few guys this weekend and Cincinnati will likely be playing for playoff positioning in Week 17.

By that same rationale, however, the Patriots will also likely be playing for positioning, thus making our Week 17 matchup more difficult, but that's a different discussion.  Fortunately, right now, we're just assuming that the Texans are winning that game against New England (see how I got around that?).

As friendly as the AFC East was, however, the AFC North was playing the role of the Grinch.

Chicago could have really helped us out if they had beaten Baltimore, but instead they made like Santa Claus and just gave it away.  I mean, Joe Flacco's yards-per-attempt was higher than Jay Cutler's quarterback rating.

If Baltimore loses out, we would beat them based on record. I'll get to the tiebreakers in a second. 

The Steelers absolute-miracle win yesterday, was also less than helpful.  A loss would have essentially put them out of it, but for now, we remain tied.

The Ravens and Steelers play each other this weekend, and in order to determine our rooting interest here, we need to look at tiebreakers—make sure you're sitting down.

If the Ravens win, the Steelers are pretty much out of it, but we would then need them to lose at Oakland in Week 17 just to finish the season tied.

If Houston wins out, however, we would have a 6-6 divisional record, whereas Baltimore would have a 7-5 divisional record and they would win the tiebreaker.

If the Steelers win, though, it gets trickier. 

The Steelers travel to Miami in the last game and would have to win that to finish tied with 9-7 Houston. 

There has been no head-to-head game this year and we would both have identical 6-6 conference records, so we would have to move to the third tiebreaker: record in games against common opponents (minimum of four). 

Our common opponents are Tennessee, Cincinnati, Oakland, and Miami.  The Steelers would be 2-3 in these games and the Texans would be 4-1. 

Advantage Houston.

We're not done though.

The Ravens could still finish with an identical record in this scenario if they beat Oakland, but that victory would again push their divisional record to 7-5. 

So, Texans fans need to be rooting for the Steelers to win this week and then for Baltimore to lose to Oakland the following week. 

This would have been so much easier had the stupid Bears not played like the Bad News Bears. You know, if the Bad News Bears played football.

Now, let's shift to the AFC South.

Again, Houston's horrible divisional play this season (as well as Kris Brown's craptastic field goal kicking) has put them on the wrong side of all the tiebreakers.

Jacksonville's late game loss against Indianapolis was helpful and we now only need them to lose one of their remaining games: at New England or at Cleveland

Obviously, New England provides us the best hope here.

Tennessee, as mentioned before, would have really helped us had they fallen in overtime on Sunday, but instead, we find ourselves tied with two games left.

They face a Chargers team this Friday who is as hot as Marissa Miller and who is still fighting for that first-round bye. 

A loss there finally kills the Titans' season. That team is like the Lernean Hydra where when you cut off one head, two more grow in it's place. Or if you're not in to Greek mythology, they're like that guy with the long hair in the first Die Hard.

If both teams cooperate next weekend, though, we can check them off the to-do list.

Lastly, the AFC West was truly feeling the holiday spirit when the Raiders scored a late touchdown to beat the Broncos on Sunday.

While not as talked about as the Cowboy's struggles, a late season collapse by the Broncos has been nearly as reliable in recent years.

This years, might the Texans be beneficiaries?

In last week's breakdown, I detailed the convoluted tiebreaker that could potentially occur if the Texans and Broncos ended up with identical records. 

I won't rehash that now, but the takeaway was pretty simple: under no scenario can the Texans take the tiebreaker from the Broncos.

As such, the Broncos need to lose out in order for the Texans to overtake them for the Wild Card. 

Sunday's loss was a good start and with a game coming up against Philadelphia this weekend (who still has a shot at a first-round bye and therefore will be playing hard), they stand a good chance entering the final weekend at 8-7.

At that point the Texans would need them to lose to Kansas City on the final weekend.

So there you have it.

While the Texans playoff hopes are still dim, they have not yet been extinguished. 

To over simplify, this weekend we need to root for Pittsburgh to beat Baltimore, New England to beat Jacksonville, San Diego to beat Tennessee, and Philadelphia to beat Denver.

All of those are decent bets.

Then all we need is for either Oakland or Kansas City to pull off upsets and we'll be cruising towards the playoffs.

Those are less-than-decent bets.

Again, though, we have to remember that pesky premise: The Texans must win out.

Although I promised myself I wouldn't do this—and let's face it, nothing good can come of it—I can't help but wonder what might have been had we been able to score a late one-yard touchdown or a fourth-quarter field goal.

While we must remember that all of those scores would have only tied their respective games, just a single additional victory earlier this season would have given us much more control over our own playoff destiny.

Alas, we are where we are and we as fans must hope for the final two weeks to play themselves out such that the city of Houston can have a taste of the playoffs for the first time since the 1993 season.

I will be away on a ski trip next week and will therefore be unable to update the playoff scenarios, but let's just hope that there are scenarios that require updating.

Happy holidays to all.

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