Texans still have a lot to play for in season-finale

Houston Texans strong safety Justin Reid (20) celebrates for the cameras after intercepting a pass by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston during the first half of an NFL football game Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

The Houston Texans are AFC South division champs for the fourth time in the last five seasons and they are again headed to the playoffs.

That’s what we know.

But there is a whole lot we still don’t know as far what seed in the AFC playoffs the Texans will have or who their first opponent will be. That is what Week 17 – the NFL’s final regular season weekend will reveal.

There are so many things that can still happen to affect the Texans chances for a long playoff run that you should not expect coach Bill O’Brien to let off the gas at all Sunday when the Texans host the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale.

“Any time we play, we play to win, so that’s how I answer that question,” O’Brien said when asked if he will fight for seeding this weekend. “We try to play to win.”

If the playoffs were to start today, the Texans would be the No.4 seed and No.5 seed Buffalo would be their opponent in the wild-card game at NRG Stadium. The winner of that game will earn the right to travel to face a Baltimore Ravens team that is looking almost unbeatable these days. Remember what happened the last time the Texans went to Baltimore. They were smashed by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Good thing for the Texans that they still have at least a slight chance at the more favorable No.3 seed. That would likely mean facing the Titans for a second straight week and for third time in four weeks. Awaiting the winner of that wild-card matchup would be a vulnerable New England team that the Texans beat earlier this month.

In order to move into the No.3 slot, the Texans would need to beat the Titans on Sunday and also would need the Kansas City Chiefs to lose at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. Right now, the Chiefs (11-4) have a full game lead on the Texans but the Texans own the tie-breaker by virtue of their head-to-head matchup earlier this season and a better conference record.

But it might not matter at all because if the Chiefs defeat Los Angeles, which they should, in the early game Sunday then the outcome of the Texans 3:25 pm. kickoff against Tennessee won’t mean anything to them. The Texans would be the No.4 seed in the AFC playoffs no matter the outcome.

So would O’Brien then change his mind about playing his starters, particularly quarterback Deshaun Watson and an otherwise meaningless game?

“Look, I think that any time we take the field, based on what we’re all about, our program and what we’re trying to do here and what we’ve tried to build here or six years is we’re about trying to win,” O’Brien said. “It’s all about the game, trying to win games. We need to play to win the game.”

Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris