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Monday, November 28, 2011
Odd expectations now for Texans

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

It’s an odd, odd place the Texans find themselves in this morning,

They come out of Week 12 riding a five-game winning streak with a 2.5-game lead in the AFC South based on their rout earlier this season of the Titans in Nashville.

But Houston's expected to be starting its third-string quarterback, T.J. Yates, the rest of the way.

So the prevailing analysis is that the Texans will go on to win the AFC South and make the playoffs for the first time. It’s conceivable they’d even have a bye. Right now, they rank as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, edging the Patriots on the strength of conference record.

If it pans out that way, would a team with a bye ever go into the playoffs with NFL fans holding them in such low regard?

A playoff team led by a rookie quarterback -- and one drafted in the fifth round, not in the first or second -- might have high internal expectations. But the outside expectations will be incredibly low no matter what Yates does between now and a potential first playoff game in franchise history.

It’s a quarterback league, and no matter how well the Texans run it and play defense, they’ll need plays from Yates at big moments. Will he be able to deliver against playoff-caliber defenses like Baltimore’s, Pittsburgh’s or Cincinnati’s? Will he be able to guide his team effectively enough to match someone like Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, super-rookie Andy Dalton who’s started all year or even Joe Flacco, who I know is up and down?

We’re jumping ahead of course.

The Texans still have work to do to earn the asterisk next to their name in the NFL standings.

But it’s hard not to imagine a team that might have made a run to the AFC title game or Super Bowl with Matt Schaub going nearly as far with a third-string rookie quarterback.