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Sunday Five: Getting real about the Texans, the Bears' 'D' and playoff races

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Still not sure

The Houston Texans look like an awesome football team and should go deep in the playoffs. But are they battle-tested yet?

Next Sunday night, they play the Chicago Bears on the road, which should go a long way in telling us about playing on the road and potentially playing from behind for Houston.

The Texans got a taste of that in the Green Bay game at home and didn’t respond well in a 42-24 loss. So this will be their second try at what I call "playoff" football. Keep in mind Texans QB Matt Schaub has never played in a playoff game. After eight games the Texans have remarkably few opportunities in tough situations because they are so good.

When losing in games they have only have 32 completions in 53 attempts. The Steelers, for example, have already thrown 106 passes in that situation -- completing 67. In fourth-quarter passing Houston has completed 20 of 36 passes while a team like the Giants has completed 40 of 67 with 5 touchdowns. As for third-down-8-plus-yard situations, the Texans are so good running the ball they have only thrown 28 times -- completing 15. The Atlanta Falcons have completed 19 of 41 third-and-long situations.

To win the Super Bowl, the Texans can't expect to roll through opponents like they have to date. Time to find out!

Greatest 'D' since 2001?

And the Texans will be tested by a Bears defense now has to be in the conversation with the Baltimore Ravens' defense of 2000. Any defensive coach will tell you the three main jobs of a defense are to score, get the ball back for the offense and prevent the opponent from scoring.

The Bears already have scored on seven interceptions -- the 2000 Ravens did that once. The Bears have 28 takeaways (3.5 per game) -- the 2000 Ravens had 49 takeaways (three per game). The 2012 Bears give up 15 points a game while the 2000 Ravens gave up 10.3 points a game.

It's only halftime of this season, and the 2000 Ravens won the Super Bowl. But this Bears defense is tracking in so many areas that are favorable to the great Ravens defense that comparisons are intriguing.

Get real about second half

Outside of Jacksonville and Kansas City, there is a notion that every other team is still in the playoff race. That's really not true but it's a ray of hope that keeps fans interested -- even if their teams have four wins as we approach the second half of the season.

Last season was fairly typical, when one team with four or fewer wins at the midway point gets into the playoffs. That means there's a five percent chance of making the playoffs if a team is at or below .500 at this point.

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There's a much better chance your head coach will be fired (33 percent) at the end of the season than your team will make a postseason run. Keep in mind it is easier to win a division with a bad record than make it as a wild card in most seasons.

Last season, the Broncos were 3-5 and won the AFC West with an 8-8 record, leaving the 9-7 Titans home because they lost in a head-to-head vs. the Bengals for the final playoff spot. In 2010, the 7-9 Seahawks got in as a division-winner -- leaving the Giants and Bucs home with 10 wins each.

So, if you think your current three- or four-win team can run the table and go 7-1 or 6-2 down the stretch you might be dreaming. In 2011 there were 18 teams with four of fewer wins at this point in the season and they averaged 3.3 wins the rest of the season. Not one team ran the table (eight wins) or even went 7-1. Only the Cardinals went 6-2, but even that was a little too late.

Teams with winning records at the halfway mark kept winning for the most part -- averaging 4.7 wins in the second half, and some of those teams shut it down late in the season to rest starters or those teams would have averaged more than five wins down the stretch.

The truth is the fate of most teams is cast by now -- whether they, or their fans, want to hear it or not.

Wild card favorites

Assuming the division leaders remain division leaders through the rest of the regular season -- as seven of the eight did last season -- picking my favorite teams for the wild card spots is a more interesting call after Week 9.

Overall record, conference record, division record, remaining schedule, head-to-head games played, team health and remaining home games all play a role in picking four wild-card teams (two from each conference) to be my top contenders. And I certainly will not be selecting any teams with a losing record.

In the AFC, the loser of the Ravens-Steelers North divison battle should get one of the spots. Baltimore is already 5-1 in the conference, while the Steelers still have five home games left.

As for the second AFC wild card, I'm torn between the Colts and the Chargers. San Diego already has a 4-2 conference record and has rallied in the past behind Philip Rivers. The Colts are a game ahead of the Chargers at 5-3 but only have three home games left and are a 1-2 road team. Playing for ill coach Chuck Pagano is a powerful emotional tool and Andrew Luck is the real deal. I will take the Colts for the sixth spot.

In the NFC, the North runner-up is a wild-card lock for me, and I think it will be Green Bay -- even though the Packers already beat the Bears once. The Packers' defense is not up to par with the Bears' at this point. As for the second spot, I like the Seattle Seahawks even though the Tampa Bay Bucs are coming on strong. Seattle is not a very good road team (1-4) but it has only three road games left, and two of them look winnable. Russell Wilson has five TD passes and one INT and has taken only one sack in his past two games. At home, he has nine TD passes to zero interceptions and is 4-0.

The young guns

Last week, I wrote about the statistical pace of this rookie QB crop. Back in 1983, the great rookie class -- led by John Elway and Dan Marino -- threw only 688 passes all season. The class of 2004 -- led by Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger -- only passed the ball 575 times in Year One. And the class of 2012 is going places not even the class of 2011 could comprehend.

My projections last week were that this class was headed towards 2,586 pass attempts set last season, but I might have to move that number closer to 2,800 throws.

Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III combined for 195 passes in Week 9 -- paced by Luck's record-breaking performance vs. the Dolphins.

This rookie class has reached 1,409 pass attempts at the halfway mark. When I showed Marino what coaches were letting rookie quarterbacks do in 2012, he said, "Man, I wish I was playing in these offenses."


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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