The Houston Texans are trying to push for the playoffs far earlier than anyone expected. The team is 4-4 and heading into their next matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals fresh off of from behind victory that saw the Texans defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with seconds to go.
The victory saw C.J. Stroud throw five touchdown passes in a historic outing, and now the Texans are hoping that some of the same magic from last week transfers over to this week. It would be borderline remarkable for the Texans to be above .500 this late into the season, this early into their rebuild.
But that's exactly what could happen. The Texans could leave their game with the Bengals 5-4 on the year, and claerly in line for the playoffs if things keep breaking their way. But to get past the Cincinnati Bengals, the Texans have to focus on these three things.
Keep C.J. Stroud upright
The Bengals have a dynamic front four that includes one stellar pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson, and two other men with a history of making quarterbacks hurt, Sam Hubbard and BJ Hill. Combined the three men have 16 sacks on the year between the three of them and they will be hunting for Stroud all game. The Texans have to keep the Bengals' best pass rushers off of Stroud, and in doing so, they may just have a shot at the victory.
Introduce themselves to Joe Burrow
The Texans, on the flip side of the conversation, have to get after Joe Burrow. Both the Texans and the Bengals are over-reliant on their quarterback to propel them offensively, so if the Texans can introduce themselves to Burrow all game long and make it necessary for his jersey to get dry-cleaned, then they're going to be in great shape.
Make your kicks
Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is out of the upcoming matchup against the Bengals and may be out for a few more weeks beyond that with a quadriceps tear. That means that Matt Ammendola will have to fill in. The Texans nearly pooched their win away last week by not having a field goal kicker on hand who was healthy, forcing the Bengals to go for two-point opportunities each time they scored. It was not effective. The Texans need to have a healthy kicker on hand who can make the kicks that are expected of him. It's unlikely they're going to be able to survive a second week of not being able to hit field goals.