Texans can clinch the AFC South title with a win over the Buccaneers on Saturday
This game may not feature two playoff teams, but it'll be really intriguing when the Tampa Buccaneers host the Houston Texans on Saturday. These two teams have played just four times historically with Houston winning each of the last three. Back in 2015, the Texans won 19-9 at home as Ryan Mallett beat Jameis Winston, who had only one interception in the loss. The touchdowns went to Alfred Blue and DeAndre Hopkins, who is still playing very well for Houston at wide receiver.
The Texans (9-5) have to be feeling good after winning in Tennessee 24-21 last week. The victory put Houston atop the AFC South and pus them just one more win away from claiming the division. Deshaun Watson was solid, but more importantly, Houston was able to run the ball with some success as Carlos Hyde picked up 104 yards on the ground. The defense is still a massive question mark as the unit has allowed 20 or more points in three straight and four of the last five games since the Week 10 bye.
On the other side is Tampa Bay, who is 7-7 and has won four straight and five of six. Of course, Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in the league, but Winston has to be up there as well in terms of not knowing what he will do. The signal-caller put up 458 passing yards last week in a 38-17 win over the Lions in Detroit. Tampa's defense has now given up 20 points or less three times this season. The Bucs have fared well against the AFC South this season, beating the Colts and Jaguars and losing to the Titans by just four points on the road.
Houston at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Houston -3
Three Things to Watch
Just because there are two weeks left in the season, doesn't mean that there aren't intangibles to consider. This is the second straight road game for the Texans, who are smack dab in the middle of a Titans sandwich. Remember, this is the same Houston team that laid a massive egg against Denver at home and has played down to their competition at times. I don't think focus will be an issue, not with the AFC South title there for the taking, but I'm not a huge Bill O'Brien fan either. Tampa Bay is not playing like a team with no shot at the playoffs. The Buccaneers are back at home after a stretch of three of four on the road and have some momentum thanks to their four-game winning streak.
2. And you are?
Jameis Winston has been incredible the last two weeks, throwing for more than 900 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. This came after the game against Jacksonville in which he had no TDs or INTs. The more impressive part of this is that he's losing weapons left and right, as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both out for Saturday. That's more than 2,000 receiving yards gone. Breshad Perriman now takes over as the No. 1 wide receiver with Justin Watson and Ish Hyman out of James Madison as some others who have a chance to step up. This is a prime chance for disappointing tight end O.J. Howard to show what's he got as well, but who knows with him. Houston's secondary is vulnerable and you know Winston is not afraid to sling it around.
3. Can either team run the ball?
Winston has had to throw it so much this season because Tampa Bay has not gotten much going on the ground. Peyton Barber’s 82 rushing yards back in Week 2 against Carolina qualifies as the team’s top showing this season. The Buccaneers are basically rotating him, Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale out of the backfield, but none of them are standing out. Tampa Bay is 28th in the league in rushing offense (91.4 ypg) and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Houston is seventh overall (130.9 ypg) but it’s more of a collaborative effort rather than just one man. Carlos Hyde had his third 100-yard rushing game of the season last week, which also put him over 1,000 for the season. Duke Johnson and Deshaun Watson also get their carries and each is averaging better than five yards per carry. The challenge could be finding running room against the Bucs’ defense. Tampa Bay is awful against the pass but No. 1 in the NFL vs. the run (73.3 ypg). Whichever team can establish itself on the ground should be well-positioned to win on Saturday.
With a normal head coach and a focused team, this would be an easy selection for the Texans. As I mentioned above, I don't like Bill O'Brien and I think this team is too flaky. Houston has the advantage here and can sew up the AFC South with a victory and take a lot of the pressure off of next week's rematch with Tennessee. Still, Tampa Bay's hot right now and it doesn't matter how banged up their receiving corps is, Winston is going to throw the ball. I'll take the Buccaneers in a mild upset as the Texans make next week's game against the Titans even bigger.
Prediction: Bucs 27, Texans 23
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.