The first thing everyone has to accept about the NFL season is that, after four weeks, we don’t really know how good anyone is. Vegas puts the odds on a Seahawks/Broncos Super Bowl at 3½-to-1, but those seemingly unstoppable, undefeated juggernauts have gotten there by beating teams with a combined record of 9-22.
One of the only teams without a losing record factored into that equation is the Texans, who lost to the Seahawks on Sunday. Next week, meanwhile, the Cowboys play the Broncos as a nine-point underdog at home. With both Texas teams sitting at 2-2, and everyone still figuring out which presumed-to-be-competitive teams actually kind of stink, it’s time to ask the question: Are either the Cowboys or the Texans any good?
Both teams lost last weekend, both after giving up double-digit leads. The Texans’ loss was the more embarrassing of the two: Houston gave up twenty unanswered points in the second half and overtime to lose a game that they’d been winning 20-3 at halftime. The game turned on a Matt Schaub interception on a Gary Kubiak playcall that was so bad it has fans clamoring for Schaub to be benched and the team holding the dreaded players-only meeting. The team has yet to win a game that didn’t hinge on a last-second field goal, and in a suddenly-strong division in which they sit in third place, the Texans haven’t given fans much reason to believe. They’ll have a mid-season stretch in which they play the Cardinals, Raiders, and Jaguars (twice) in a five-week span, none of whom place above 22 on most lists of power rankings, so there’ll likely be some sort of winning streak to look forward to in November. But they could lose a lot of games before they get there.
If they played on a neutral field next week, oddsmakers probably wouldn’t know what to do with a Texans/Cowboys matchup. (The two teams won’t meet, barring a Super Bowl matchup that Vegas will give you 200:1 odds on, until next season.) The Texans have looked both good and bad in four games, but the Cowboys just look like the Cowboys. Since 1997, two seasons after the team’s last Super Bowl victory, Dallas is 128-128; the last two seasons ended 8-8; now they’re 2-2. Eight wins may be enough to make the playoffs in a bad division—they’re currently sitting alone in first place—but describing the team as “good” is hard to do. Jerry Jones himself described the team as in a “rut,” and it may be one of the few Jones decisions that Cowboys fans don’t want to argue with. Are the Cowboys better than the Texans? Who the hell knows? Both teams, through four games, look equally capable of losing to any team, anywhere, on any given Sunday. They’d probably end in a 9-9 tie.
But the Cowboys, at least, have a solid win under their belt; in week three, against the Rams, they clobbered a bad team the way that the Seahawks and the Broncos do. Their losses, meanwhile, have been to teams in an above-average AFC West, and they were competitive in the fourth quarter of both games.
There’s a sense, at least, that the Cowboys could get better throughout the season. If Tony Romo completes a few more 4th quarter passes against the Chiefs, or if Terrance Williams doesn’t fumble on the goal line against the Chargers, they could be looking at a different record. Romo has spent his entire career being a mystery who is fully capable of single-handedly winning or losing games, and Williams is a rookie who shows a lot of promise—it’s easy to believe that things could have broken differently for the team in either situation, with a little bit of luck.
In Houston, though, it doesn’t look like luck is an issue. Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak have been in Houston together for six previous seasons, and the peak of the team’s offense may well have come and gone: It’s the rare running back who’s seen as many carries as Arian Foster whose best years are still ahead of him, Andre Johnson is 32 years old, and there’s blame enough to go around between Schaub and Kubiak. (Not that it’s stopped Houston’s Skeeter’s Grill from naming a burger “The Matt Schaub Special,” where you “pick six” toppings, then “pay dearly for it.”) When the players are meeting without the coach, when the coach is deflecting criticism from the quarterback and a team that no one thinks is going to be better next year, with so many aging offensive stars on the roster, is settling in at 2-2? The panic, the ironically-named burgers, the jersey-burning, and all of the frustrated fans seem appropriate.
It’s hard to say if the Cowboys are better than the Texans right now, but with two teams who don’t inspire much confidence, even asking the question seems kind of mean.
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