A lot of popular sentiment involves the Texans having a chance in tonight's game against the Ravens because the pressure is now off. Gary Kubiak's Texans have been 5-7 at this point in the year each of the past three years, in addition to this one, and have made it to 8 wins or more every time. The thinking goes that once the Texans are eliminated from public thought, they start playing like the team they should have all along.
The problem with that idea is that it's just not rooted in any matter of logic beyond wins and losses. When the Texans reeled off four straight wins to end last season, two of them were against the hapless Rams and Seahawks, sisters of the chronically sad NFC West. They beat the Dolphins on the road, yes, and that was a fine win, but the Dolphins were no Super Bowl contender, and the Texans almost squandered a 20+ point halftime lead. Finally, they beat the Patriots, who lost Wes Welker minutes into the game and at times used Brian Hoyer because they had nothing to actually play for.
2008? A 6-10 Packers team on the road, a 9-7 Bears team at home, and an (admittedly) pretty strong 13-3 Tennessee team at home, although one that couldn't take advantage of the Texans pass defense since it was starting Kerry Collins. They also lost to the JaMarcus Russell Raiders. No, that is not a typo.
2007? At home against a 9-7 Buccaneers team starting my brother from another mother, Luke McCown. A 7-9 Broncos team at home, A win at home against an 11-5 Jags team that had nothing to play for in the last week, and a loss to the 13-3 Colts.
Look at the circumstances. This is a list full of wins against mediocre-to-bad teams, teams that had nothing to play for, or teams starting mediocre or worse quarterbacks. The Texans may have not laid many eggs down the stretch while fighting to support their coach, but they also benefited from their opponents weaknesses. They very well may go 3-1 or 4-0 down the stretch again this year, facing Tennessee and Denver teams that have become absolute shells of themselves, and the Jaguars and Ravens at home. But if they do, it won't have as much to do with the pressure being off as it will the teams they are playing, of which only the Ravens can call themselves a legitimate Super Bowl contender.