Houston Texans: How They Won the AFC South in Week 7

Job TennantCorrespondent IIOctober 25, 2011

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 02: Cornerback Jason Allen #30 of the Houston Texans celebrates the game ending interception against  the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 2, 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.Texans won 17 to 10. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The Houston Texans are in first place in the AFC South and control their own destiny after Week 7, and unless something goes terribly wrong, that means that they should claim their first divisional crown in franchise history. 

They currently own a half-game lead on the Titans but also have a 2-0 record in the division compared to the Titans' 0-2 division record. In addition to that, the road win for the Texans means that the Titans still have to come to Reliant Stadium to play the Texans in the final week of the season. 

The Titans are the only real threat for the Texans because the Colts, without Peyton Manning, are off to an 0-7 start and the Jaguars are at a measly 2-5, despite a great game last night.  In addition to that, the Titans and Jaguars both drafted a quarterback in the first round last year.  Blaine Gabbert is already starting for the Jaguars (and looks terrible) and the Titans will get more and more pressure to start Jake Locker.

However, the most important thing for the Texans and what improves their chances of making the playoffs the most is what they have already overcome.  The Texans' "Big Three" of Schaub, Johnson and Foster have only been on the field for part of the Pittsburgh game.  With Foster missing the first three games, the Texans found out that Ben Tate is legit and can lighten the load on Foster to keep him healthy and fresh for a late-season push.

The Texans clearly do not have a replacement for Andre Johnson, but between dumping the ball off to Foster, finding Owen Daniels in the middle of the field and that rare occasion where Jacoby Jones or Kevin Walter can do just enough to stretch the field, they've managed.

As soon as next week, that may no longer be an issue for the Texans.  If Johnson comes back healthy, he immediately makes the offense much better simply by being on the field.  His ability to slant the field towards him opens up things for everyone else on the offense, and his ability to make plays despite the extra attention makes him one of the best receivers in the NFL.

The Texans were not so fortunate with Mario Williams' injury, but the loss has not completely devastated the defense as some thought it might.  Mario was the best pass rusher the Texans had, but Wade Phillips' scheme provides plenty of opportunities for everyone else on the defense to step up.  Brooks Reed has stepped up and played well (not as well as Mario) and he is continuing to develop through his rookie season.

Connor Barwin has also stepped up in a big way.  His transition from an injured defensive end to an impact outside linebacker might be Phillips' greatest achievement.  Barwin has been an absolute animal and has put as much consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks as anyone on the team.

Finally, the one thing that is certain for the rest of the season is the schedule.  The Titans are facing six teams with a winning record (a better record than they have).  The Texans are facing three teams with a winning record (only Cincinnati at 4-2 has a better record than the Texans because of the bye week).  The Texans also have their bye week in Week 11 (to get healthy before a late season run in the playoffs?).

As long as the Texans don't fall apart with a catastrophic injury to Matt Schaub or permanently lose multiple other players, there is no reason why they should not win the AFC South and make their first playoff appearance in their decade of existence.  If they can do that, it will be the first playoff game played in Houston since 1993 and the entire city will erupt with a victory.