They have made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. They have won seven consecutive games for the first time in team history. They have the best defense in the NFL and they have done all of this with season-ending injuries to three of their key players (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, and Mario Williams) while also playing most of the season without their star wide receiver (Andre Johsnon). I would like to introduce you to the best NFL team in Texas – the Houston Texans.
To say that this team has had a fairy-tale season would be a fair assumption. They have overcome more adversity and hardships this season than most teams see in a handful of seasons, and they have continued to find ways to win. Their starting quarterback was once their third-stringer and their current backup quarterbacks just came out of retirement. But is this year’s Texans team really the best team in the NFL?
Consider this. If you were to take out the starting and backup quarterback, starting wide receiver, and starting OLB from the top teams in the league how would they do? Sure, statistically the Texans are considered to be the third best team (according to NFL.com) but those stats do not take into consideration the insurmountable odds that the Texans have overcome. So let us take a look at the other three teams who have clinched their division or a wild-card spot and see what they would look like if they were to lose their key players…
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are, for all intents and purposes, the most complete team in the league. They are not only beating teams, they are destroying many of them. This team has a perfect record up to this point (13-0) and their last three opponents do not look to stand much of a chance of breaking that streak. However, how would the Pack look if they were missing their key pieces? Here are their key players, the next man up at that position, and my analysis of how they would fare with their replacements.
QB: Starter – Aaron Rodgers, Backup – Matt Flynn, 3rd String – Graham Harrell
WR: Starter – Donald Driver, Backup – Jordy Nelson
OLB: Starter – Clay Matthews, Backup – Brad Jones
The Green Bay Packers run a passer friendly offense. Aaron Rodgers, one of the most prolific passers in the NFL, has capitalized on that with his 3,960 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns. His backup, Flynn, has accumulated 535 passing yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions, and nine sacks…in his four year career. Their third-string quarterback, Harrell, however, has zero experience. He was signed last year, released, signed to the practice squad, and finally signed to the active roster late last year.
If the Packers were ever to lose both Rodgers and Flynn I would hate to think what would happen to this offense. Being a pass-first team would be hell on a new quarterback. Taking over a team with a winning record, in the middle of the season, with no starting experience would almost certainly be the death of that quarterback. At this position the Packers would suffer greatly with the loss of their top two quarterbacks.
At the wide receiver position the Packers have a good amount of depth. Even if they were to lose Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson could easily step up and fill in for him. Their number three WR rookie Randall Cobb would fare well. His stats are not outstanding but if forced to grow up quickly Cobb would make a decent second wideout.
However, if you add the loss of your star quarterback to the loss of your starting WR on this Green Bay team and you would have a recipe for disaster. The team is 26th in the league in rushing and their starting RB Ryan Grant appears to be losing his big-play ability that he used to have.
Losing Clay Matthews, for the Pack, would be like losing your thumb, everything becomes more difficult to accomplish. The Packers already have one of the leagues worst defenses (31st in the league) and removing Matthews from that equation would make them all that much worse. Brad Jones, Matthews’ backup, is a third-year player who is NOT Clay Matthews. Before last season I might have considered Jones a good fill-in for Matthews but after his shoulder injury last year I could not make that same statement this season.
Altogether, the Green Bay Packers would be nowhere near their 13-0 record without their key players in place. In fact, I would venture as far as to say that they would not make the playoffs without those key pieces…it would be close though. The Texans lost quarterback Matt Schaub at week 10 and backup quarterback Matt Leinart at week 12.
Assuming the Packers started without Clay Matthews, lost Donald Driver for most of the season, and then lost Aaron Rodgers in week 10 followed by Matt Flynn in week 12 I say that the Packers would finish the season 10-6 and would lose the division to the Detroit Lions.
New Orleans Saints
The “Who Dat” nation would be crippled if they suffered the same losses to their team as the Texans have this season. They have the same amount of wins as the Texans currently do but that is with all key pieces in place. So, how would they fare without those pieces…let us take a look.
QB: Starter – Drew Brees, Backup – Chase Daniel, 3rd String – ?????
WR: Starter – Marques Colston, Backup – Devery Henderson
OLB: Starter – Scott Shanle, Backup – Jonathan Casillas
The Saints are more dependent on their pass game than even the Green Bay Packers. Drew Brees, the Saints starting QB, has thrown for 4,368 yards and 32 TDs. However, they are also a prolific run team behind the great running of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. Currently the Saints run game is ranked 8th in the league. But how would they do if they were being led by Chase Daniel?
Daniel has never started a game in his NFL career. For a quarterback who is supposed to be your backup, that is not a good statistic. Likewise, in his three years in the league, he has completed three of his four pass attempts…in three years! He has 25 total yards of passing in three years of play, he has never started at his position, and has never thrown a touchdown. To say that this guy would be a shaky QB would be an understatement. However, that is not even the best part!
The Saints do not have anyone on their active roster or practice squad who is a quarterback! That means that if Brees went down they would immediately have to begin searching for one or two new QBs. If Daniel went down two weeks later the Saints would be forced to start a quarterback who is not only new to the team but also new to the system. All three of the Saints losses came by week 10 of this season meaning that if they lost Brees at the same time that the Texans lost Schaub, they would have a 7-3 record for their third-string QB.
As far as wide-receivers go, the Saints are fairly secure with Devery Henderson as their number two. He, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem each have between 400-500 yards receiving this season. Even if Marques Colston went down the Saints still have plenty of weapons at the wide receiver position. Mix in the great ability of TE Jimmy Graham (1,101 yards this season) and the Saints would be just fine in the passing game…with their starting quarterback.
Scott Shanle has done a decent job at the WLB position for the Saints this season. He has one sack, four PDEF, and an interception on the year. Losing him would bring in his backup Jonathan Casillas.
Casillas would not, by any means, be a downgrade at the WLB position for the Saints. In the four games that Casillas has started this season he has three sacks and two PDEFs. He was lost to a season-ending foot injury during training camp last year and has come back with a vengeance. In fact, there are times that I have wondered why he is not the starter as his athletic ability has been outstanding from most of what I have seen of him.
When all was said-and-done, and after the dust settled in New Orleans, I believe that the Saints would finish 8-8 if they suffered the same injuries as the Texans have. They would have gone into the bye-week, just like the Texans, preparing their backup QB to take over. They would have faced the N.Y. Giants in that game and I am not sure that Chase Daniel would be able to defeat the Giants. After losing Daniel their third-string QB (whomever that would be) would not fare well against the Detroit Lions or Tennessee Titans.
Assuming that was the case, the Saints might not reach the playoffs due to the fact that the Atlanta Falcons already have an 8-5 record. The Falcons would have to win one or two more games to best the Saints and take the NFC South.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are the only team, out of these three, who are not a pass-first offense. In fact, the 49ers are ranked 29th in the league for passing. However, they are ranked 7th in the league for rushing and this would be a huge bonus for them if they were in the same situation as the Texans. The 49ers, just like the Saints and Texans, are 10-3 at this point in the season. They are coming off a loss to the Arizona Cardinals only to have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, without their key players, how would the 49ers fare?
QB: Starter – Alex Smith, Backup – Colin Kaepernick, 3rd String – Scott Tolzien
WR: Starter – Braylon Edwards, Backup – Ted Ginn Jr.
OLB: Starter – Parys Haralson, Backup – Aldon Smith
Being that the 49ers are a run-first offense they would not suffer as much as the Saints and Packers would without their starting or backup quarterback. Sure, losing your top two QBs would hurt because they have established rapport and leadership with the team but if there is anything that the Texans have shown it is that a good team will follow their quarterback despite who is at the position.
What is most interesting about the depth at the QB position for the 49ers is that both the backup and third-string QBs are rookies. They would both be untested and unproved as neither one of them has started, let alone played in a game this season.
Assuming that Braylon Edwards went down, and Ted Ginn Jr. stepped up, the 49ers would lose nothing. In fact, Ginn has more receiving yards than Edwards this season. Neither one of them has a touchdown and, for all intents and purposes, are nothing more than window dressing for the 49ers offense.
If the 49ers lost Parys Haralson early in the season they might have a better record than they currently have. Haralson is their starting linebacker who has two sacks, three forced fumbles, and no PDEFs. His backup, Aldon Smith is a rookie who is having a phenomenal first season. At this point in the season Smith has 10.5 sacks, one safety, four PDEFs, and two forced fumbles.
Why Smith is not starting ahead of Haralson is beyond me. This kid has freakish athleticism and is second in the league for rookie sacks. He is constantly moving forward and makes a way to get to the quarterback on almost every down.
Overall, I believe that the 49ers would do just as well as the Texans if they were in the same predicament. This comes mostly from being a run-first offense that does not lean heavily upon its quarterback to make big passes. However, losing both your starting and backup quarterbacks and handing the team over to a rookie is never easy. Losing their top WR would not do too much harm and losing their starting OLB would actually benefit them.
I am going to say that the 49ers would still have a 10-3 record and would still clinch their division.
While I love my Texans I am a little gun-shy on saying that they are the best team in the NFL. Teams such as the 49ers could possibly do as well as the Texans if they were in our situation while other teams like the Saints and Packers would suffer greatly.
The fact remains that the Texans have been successful this season because they have believed in Wade Phillips, they have believed in Gary Kubiak, and most importantly they have believed in themselves. Their next-man-up mentality combined with their 1-0 attitude has made them a great team that has overcome great adversity this season.
While they may not be the best team in the NFL right now…they are, without a doubt, the best in Texas!!