Even with the likely season-ending injury to quarterback Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans are still in the driver's seat to claim their first AFC South crown and take their maiden voyage into the NFL postseason come January.
The team is strong in enough in so many areas that even if Matt Leinart isn't capable of leading the Texans down the stretch, their schedule is light enough for them to back into the playoffs.
With that said, let's take a look at seven of their possible opponents in the playoffs and how they match up with the Texans.
San Diego is playing pretty unimpressive ball right now, but with the way the AFC West is, a small winning streak could put you right back near the top. So don't count the Chargers out of the 2011 NFL postseason yet.
If they get there, a matchup with the Texans could be quite entertaining. Both have explosive offenses that can rack up the points as needed and both have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Houston would obviously be more run-heavy than San Diego with the loss of Schaub, whereas Philip Rivers can air it out with the best of them.
The key to this matchup would be defense and special teams. San Diego has been known the past couple of years to give up the big play on special teams, and if the Texans can get a big return or two, their defense could be just enough to win a possible shootout.
By losing their last three games in embarrassing fashion, many have to now wonder if the Bills are just reverting back to who we thought they would be in 2011. After an amazing start to the year, Buffalo now finds itself at .500 and running alongside Denver and New York competing for that last wild card spot.
But, just for the sake of this article, let's say that they get the ship righted and make it to the postseason to face Houston. First of all, this would be good news because it would mean the Texans probably got a pretty high seeding. But regardless of that, how would the two match up?
It's hard to predict how good the offense will be with Matt Leinart under center, but with Buffalo ranked 23rd in the league against the rush and letting up around 125 yards per game, I'd have to think this would be a favorable matchup for the Houston rushing attack. Just give the ball to Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and let them do what they do.
I think that the Bengals proved the past two weeks that they are legit. While both games will end up in the loss column, if ever there was a moral victory for a young franchise, the past two games against the Steelers and Ravens were just that.
In a possible game with the Texans, we'll get a preview in a couple weeks when they meet up in Cincy. But on paper, this could be one of the more unfavorable matchups for Houston. The Bengals are second in the league against the rush, meaning that Matt Leinart will have to throw the ball some to open things up. A category that the Bengals are also a top 10 team in.
What this means is that Houston is going to have to play some defense. Thankfully, they've proven to be quite good at it this year. Facing a rookie quarterback and applying a consistent pass rush to force Andy Dalton into bad decisions will be the key here. If you end up in the plus column on turnovers, the offense should score enough points to get the win.
This is also a tough one to predict because we have no idea how the quarterback play is going to look a month-and-a-half from now by either team.
Carson Palmer has looked better each week since joining the Raiders, and he appears to be kicking off the rust. We saw earlier this season that the Raiders are capable of stopping the Houston running attack and make the quarterback try to beat you. Not exactly the scenario many want to see Matt Leinart in.
Just like with Cincy, defense will be the name of the game on this one. Unlike the game in Houston earlier this year, it will be inexcusable to let a guy like Darrius Heyward-Bay have a career day against you. Then there is that part about keeping Darren McFadden in check.
This isn't a favorable matchup on paper for the Texans, but we also have to consider that Houston has made a lot of adjustments since its Week 4 loss to Oakland.
Of all the possible matchups in the playoffs, this is the one I'd most like to NOT see.
Houston hasn't been handled by anyone this season not named the Baltimore Ravens. Also, the fact that the Texans have never beaten Baltimore is always at the forefront of my mind.
Truth is, you're not going to run the ball on the Ravens defensive line. At least not very well. Which means you're going to have to throw the ball consistently and the thought of Terrell Suggs closing in on Matt Leinart makes me very nervous.
The difference in this matchup, unlike in Week 6 of this year, is that Houston will likely have Andre Johnson back. For all the people nervous about Leinart throwing the ball, remember that you don't have to be a great quarterback for Andre Johnson to make a play.
He did lead the league in receptions one year with David Carr throwing him the ball, remember? There is no one in the Ravens secondary who can hold down Johnson in single coverage so they would be foolish to stack the box against the run like in the last contest between the two.
I am one of the biggest Tom Brady guys out there. I think he is one of the best to ever put on the pad and helmets, and people who say he is overrated are either jealous he isn't on their team or they are Jets fans. So I would be nervous as anything for this little matchup in January.
However, one thing that is different about this Patriots team from those in the recent past is that their defense is about as bad as the Texans' was in 2010. They give up 412 yards per game, which is good for worst in the league. So of course Brady's stats are going to be through the roof as he has to air it out to keep them in their games.
I never thought I'd say this, but I think the Texans could beat New England in the playoffs. Why? Because I think this defense is good enough to hold New England under 30 points and I don't think the Patriots defense can do the same.
It is known by this point that to get to the Super Bowl, you have to go through the Steelers.
With the Texans having played, and beaten, Pittsburgh earlier this season, they know what kind of game to expect. A physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth game that will be won or lost in the trenches. The Houston offensive line showed in Week 4 that they're willing to be up to the task, and while I know that the final score depicts that it was a close game, it really wasn't. Horrible officiating kept a game that should have been a blowout close until the final series.
Sure, the Steelers look like a different team since that game, but they also have only played one team worthwhile since that Houston game and they lost (Baltimore) at home.
I got nothing but respect for the Steelers franchise and I know that when the postseason light comes on, they're one of the best. But for all the talk about how light the Texans schedule is, I think Pittsburgh's might be softer.