Since the Houston Texans are on their third-string quarterback, they may get eliminated immediately upon entering the playoffs, but even if that's as far as they go, winning the AFC South for the first time in franchise history means everything for the Texans.
Two AFC South teams, the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, drafted quarterbacks in the first round of the draft last year. That means they are rebuilding. The Titans also fired their head coach last season.
The Jaguars are even further in rebuild. They have a new owner, will have a new head coach by the season's end and may even draft another quarterback in the 2012 draft.
Then there's the Indianapolis Colts, who have been the team representing the AFC South for the last decade. They're about to draft Andrew Luck onto a team where most of the playmakers are older guys. They may also be hiring a new head coach.
Essentially, every team in the AFC South is looking to the future, but only one is looking at the present, and that's the Texans.
Here's everything that went wrong for the Texans this season: Arian Foster, the leading rusher in the NFL in 2010, has had a nagging hamstring injury all season; Andre Johnson, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, has also been on and off the field because of injury; Mario Williams, maybe the best player on the entire defense, tore his pectoral muscle and has been out for most of the season; they have changed defensive schemes; and, finally, they lost their first and second quarterbacks to injury.
That's a lot of adversity. However, you'd never know it looking at their record. The Texans are tied with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers for the best record in the AFC at 10-3. They have already locked up their division and are assured a playoff spot.
They even have a chance to get a first-round bye. The remaining schedule for the Texans is as follows: Carolina, at Indianapolis, Tennessee. Not a tough schedule by any means.
Cam Newton is an explosive player and can score on anyone, but if a team has an effective enough pass rush, it can shut him down (see Carolina vs. Tennessee in Week 10). The Texans ought to be able to minimize Newton's effectiveness.
The Colts haven't won a game. I don't need to explain why the Texans will beat them.
The Titans are vying for a playoff spot and Chris Johnson is finally playing effectively. Still, the Texans have the home-field advantage and could come away with a win anyway.
At worst, the Texans should finish up the season 12-4. Since the Patriots, Ravens and Steelers each have at least one tough game left, that should be good enough to assure the Texans a first-round bye.
So, why does that matter for the future? For one thing, it cools head coach Gary Kubiak's seat. Everyone knew at the beginning of the season Kubiak had to win big or he'd lose his job. Well, guess what, he did. He isn't going anywhere soon, and not having to replace your head coach is always a good thing.
Furthermore, with all three other teams in their division in rebuild mode, the Texans have no reason to think they won't be in the same situation next year. The closest to threatening them right now are the Titans, and the Texans beat them 41-7.
If the Texans can win 12 games with all the injuries they've gone through this season, they ought to be monsters next season.
Of course, the biggest boost they'll see from this season is the mental boost. The Texans have been around since 2002 and have never been to the playoffs. That's something that hangs over the head of the players on the team and it's something that the coaches have had to overcome every year.
When you're a team that's a perennial loser, you get used to losing. I know. My high school football team had a losing record for seven years straight (including my four years of high school) and once that first loss occurred, everyone thought "Ah, here we go again." It's a mentality that's hard to prevent and even harder to overcome.
Now that they've won their division, that mentality is vanquished. The Texans aren't the bottom dwellers anymore; they're contenders.
Winning the AFC South this season is something that this franchise will remember for a long time. Even if the Texans end up the No. 3 seed and get eliminated in the wild-card round, it doesn't matter. They're there. They're finally there. And that means the world.