Commentary

Texans' loss is Steelers' gain

Surprising Thursday night result keeps Pittsburgh alive for No. 2 seed in AFC

Originally Published: December 23, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The Houston Texans clinched their first playoff berth in Week 14, but they're not exactly heading into the post-season with a head of steam.

With its shocking 19-16 loss to the Colts on Thursday night, Houston dropped to the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

Thursday night's result officially gave the New England Patriots a first-round bye and sets up the possibility that they will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they beat the Miami Dolphins on Saturday. The Patriots would still need losses by Baltimore and Pittsburgh for that to happen, so the No. 1 seed might not be decided until Week 17.

The big winner Thursday night was the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens hold an edge over the Texans in the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed, but the Steelers would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans for the No. 2 seed because Houston beat Pittsburgh earlier this year. Now, the Steelers have a chance to have a better record than 10-5 Houston and get a possible first-round bye if they somehow win the AFC North.

Of the four AFC teams that have clinched playoff berths, the Texans are the only ones that seem to be content. The Steelers and Patriots have been to multiple Super Bowls. The Ravens are tired of being a wild-card team playing on the road every year and not making it to the Super Bowl.

Although they may not admit it and their defense does play hard, the Texans seem to be happy to just be in the playoffs.

Houston has lost to the Panthers and Colts in the past two weeks, teams with a combined record of 7-22. In Week 17, the Texans will close the regular season against the Titans, who are on the fringes of playoff contention.

It's not out of the question for the Titans to win in Week 17 and, if the Bengals or Jets fail to nail down the AFC's No. 6 seed, the Texans might have to host the Titans in the first week of the playoffs.

Heading into Saturday, the Texans hold a 1½-game lead over the Denver Broncos, who are trying to secure the AFC West title and No. 4 seed. The No. 4 seed has the toughest assignment in the first round of the playoffs because it must play the Steelers or Ravens.

By finishing the regular season with a rookie quarterback (T.J. Yates) and a possibly a three-game losing streak, the Texans have eliminated the fear factor of any team coming into Reliant Stadium in the playoffs. The good news for the Texans is that they should have Andre Johnson back at wide receiver. He has missed nine games because of hamstring injuries. They also should have Wade Phillips, who is recovering from kidney surgery, back at defensive coordinator in the playoffs.

The finish may not be great, but the Texans are looking ahead to their first trip to the playoffs. Where they will be seeded remains to be seen.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN

John Clayton

NFL senior writer