Judgements 13: Why the Houston Texans are a legitimate Super Bowl threat

The Weekend in Review: Why Houston is Super Bowl threat … roadblock ahead for Pats … and 5 things you may have missed...

Maybe Kansas City isn't the biggest threat in the AFC to defending champion New England after all. Maybe, just maybe, it's Houston.

After losing their first three games this season, the Texans haven't lost -- as in nine straight and counting -- and show no signs of slowing down. Of course, neither do the Chiefs … except for this: They just got rid of their leading scorer, and they still can't play defense.

So that leaves Houston, and look what's going on: They can run. They can pass. Their quarterback can do both. And, most important, they can play defense -- holding six of their last eight opponents to 17 or fewer points each, not allowing anyone during that time to put up more than 23 and outscoring everyone, 206-127.

Plus, they're in the Top 10 in takeaways and moving on up -- forcing multiple turnovers Sunday for the first time since October.

We saw what defense did to New Orleans last weekend. And we just saw what defense can do to Baker Mayfield. And that's why the Texans are serious threats to reach the Super Bowl.

Look, Tom Brady is a great quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is having a great year. But great pass rushes trump great passers … and Brady learned that the hard way in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Houston can pressure the pocket with its front four, dropping everyone else into coverage. And that's going to cause trouble for any quarterback -- Brady, Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, you name it -- going forward.

Bottom line: Don't mess with the Texans.

POTENTIAL SPEED BUMP FOR PATS

There's only one opponent with a winning record left on New England's schedule, but beware what's on the road up ahead.

It's Miami.

I know, the Fins are 6-6. And, yeah, the Patriots drilled them earlier this season. But that was in New England. This one's in Miami.

So why is that significant? Because Miami is Tom Brady's kryptonite, that's why. He's 7-9 there but 1-4 in his last five, with just five touchdowns in last four starts in Miami. Plus, there's this: The Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill won his last eight starts at home, including Sunday's defeat of Buffalo.

Gaining a first-round bye … no, gaining home-field advantage … is critical to New England. The Patriots haven't lost at home this season, while going 3-3 on the road. They won their last 13 there the last two years (including the playoffs). And they're 19-3 in Foxboro in the playoffs with Brady.

So the next two weeks are the most critical of the season for New England. First, with Miami. Then, with Pittsburgh. Both on the road.

FIRST-AND-25

  1. The NFL interviews 66 persons and spends months investigating … and later suspending … Tom Brady for "general awareness" of deflated footballs. Yet it does not interview Kareem Hunt for domestic violence? Worse, it doesn't budge until a video surfaces? When someone says these guys are tone-deaf, now you know why.
  2. I feel so much better after hearing Kareem Hunt's mea culpa. Yeah, sure. The guy lied to his coaches and to the organization. He has no credibility.
  3. Maybe Buffalo's Jerry Hughes should work at the league office. He denied there was a video with him confronting an official ("I will get you! I will get you! Guaranteed!") following the Bills' loss Sunday ... even though, of course, there was (isn't there always?). Here's hoping the NFL gets to this before TMZ.
  4. At least the Vikings are consistent. They haven't beaten an opponent that currently has a winning record. With Seattle and Chicago left on the schedule, I don't like their chances of making the playoffs.
  5. The Chargers should award a game ball to referee Bill Vinovich and his crew. They cost Pittsburgh two touchdowns by blowing two obvious penalties. The first was an illegal-procedure call reminiscent of one earlier this season on a Chargers' touchdown pass -- a mistake that cost the guilty official his job. If I'm Mark Perlman, the line judge for Sunday's game, I'm not answering my phone this week. The second was a block in the back on a game-tying punt return for a touchdown. Neither was called. Earlier this season, the Steelers' Mike Tomlin termed league officiating "a joke" and was fined. I can only imagine what he thinks now.
  6. Book it: The Seahawks are going to the playoffs as one of the NFC's two wild cards.
  7. With the firing of Mike McCarthy, Packers' CEO Mark Murphy just admitted what he wouldn't last week: Time to give up on the season.
  8. Everybody off the Andrew Luck MVP bandwagon. Now.
  9. Oh, and, please, someone give Luck a watch for Christmas. The clock management on the Colts' last drive wasn't bad. It was deplorable. No spiking the ball. No urgency. No nothing. Horrible.
  10. One reason it took Tom Brady 18 years to reach 1,000 career rushing yards: Speed. He doesn't have it. Reason No. 2: Kneel downs. Since 2006, he's lost 160 yards in kneel downs.
  11. Call it the Hue Jackson effect, but I'm not sure Cincinnati wins another game.
  12. The Giants won't win the NFC East, but they will be a playoff factor -- mostly because they can play the spoiler down the stretch. Can't believe I'm saying this, but … there a team nobody wants to play now. They're 3-1 the past month and lost only when they blew a 19-3 lead to Philadelphia.
  13. Todd Gurley, listen up: There is nothing wrong … NOTHING … with scoring a touchdown. That's the second time this season Gurley voluntarily stopped short of the goal line, and that's twice too many.
  14. Jim Caldwell was fired after going 9-7. Successor Matt Patricia is 4-8. Just sayin.'
  15. So league TV ratings are up. Terrific. But there will be more people in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium next weekend for an MLS game (Atlanta United vs. the Portland Timbers) than there were Sunday for an NFL game. Guaranteed.
  16. If you're going to knock Denver GM John Elway for his QB drafts, then you better give him credit for choosing Bradley Chubb, Royce Freeman and Courtland Sutton this year before finding free-agent Phillip Lindsay.
  17. Richard Sherman didn't see five Russell Wilson picks Sunday. But he did see four TD passes.
  18. John Harbaugh says there's no quarterback controversy in Baltimore, but maybe he should talk to linebacker Terrell Suggs. "I've been around here a long time," said Suggs. "I'm a big fan of my teammates, particularly Super Bowl MVPs."
  19. Coming soon to Pay Per View: Adam Thielen vs. Bill Belichick.
  20. Next to Tom Brady, running back James White is the Patriots' MVP. The guy does everything and anything.
  21. Did I hear Cam Newton right last week -- that this is the best season of his career? Somebody call rewrite. The Panthers just dropped their fourth straight, Newton threw four interceptions and he and the team are in danger of missing the playoffs. Newton was the league MVP in 2015 when the Panthers went to the Super Bowl. So, no, this year is NOT better.
  22. OBJ is the best QB in NYC.
  23. Call off the Defensive Player of the Year vote. It's over. The Rams' Aaron Donald had two sacks, a third nullified by penalty, a forced fumble and four more quarterback hits Sunday. The guy's such a load he might be the MVP, period.
  24. Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as a starter, and the Ravens are only a half-game behind Pittsburgh now in the AFC North. But I'll be honest: I don't see Baltimore riding the rookie deep into the playoffs ... provided the Ravens get there. He's too inaccurate as a passer.
  25. It wasn't just Pittsburgh that lost Sunday night. It was Kansas City, too. Had the Steelers prevailed, the Chiefs would've had a two-game lead in the AFC West with four games to play. And they could use it. Their next three games are (in order) vs. Baltimore, the Chargers and Seattle -- all teams with winning records.

FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

  1. That was the first time Arizona beat Green Bay on the road since 1949. The Cards had lost seven straight.
  2. The Rams have had 12 three-and-outs all season … or one per game. The league average entering Sunday was 25.
  3. Tampa Bay had three interceptions in its first 11 games. It had four Sunday vs. Cam Newton.
  4. Nobody has beaten Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in consecutive games. They're now 0-8.
  5. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen ran for more yards (135) than the rest of the eight rushers combined (123) in the loss to Miami. Now, if he can just work on that accuracy (Note: See his last pass).

THE CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

NFL -- Someone from TMZ to run security.

WASHINGTON -- A domestic violence tutorial.

THE CHARGERS -- A placekicker with direction.

JETS' COACH TODD BOWLES -- A good realtor.

BRUCE ARIANS -- The Cleveland job.

THE SUNDAY OMG

Odell Beckham Jr. has more touchdown passes of 49 or more yards this season that Marcus Mariota, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning and Mitch Trubisky.

THE SUNDAY OMG II

When the Chargers overcame a 16-point second-half lead, they made history. It was the largest blown lead by the Steelers since 1981, and their largest blown lead at home … EVER. They were 174-0-1 at home with a 16-point lead.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE OF THE DAY

"There is no quarterback controversy in our locker room. Maybe we'll play all there or maybe we'll play one. -- Baltimore coach John Harbaugh on who starts at quarterback next week.

SUNDAY'S BIGGEST WINNER

THE CHARGERS. They absolutely stole a game they had no business winning … but did. Credit Philip Rivers. Credit Keenan Allen. Credit the defense. Credit the officials. All had a part in a critical victory for L.A. Cincinnati is next up for the Bolts, and consider that a win. After that, it's the Chiefs … with first place in the AFC West at stake … and good luck. The Chiefs are 20-2 within the division since 2015 and have beaten the Chargers the past nine times they met.

SUNDAY'S BIGGEST LOSER

NFC NORTH. Nobody won. They were a combined 0-4, outscored 104-70, and, worse, they lost more than games. They lost a Super Bowl head coach, with Green Bay canning Mike McCarthy after the Packers bowed to … Arizona? McCarthy's only the second Super Bowl-winning coach not to finish a season he started. The Colts' Don McCafferty was the first (1972).

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