NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans wrap up the season on Sunday against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium.
The Titans are coming off a 38-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans beat the Bengals 12-10 to clinch the AFC South.
This week, I caught up with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. You can follow John on Twitter at @McClainonNFL. Here's how our conversation went…
Wyatt:** Hey John. Right out of the gate, what's the mood there after the Texans clinched the AFC South over the weekend?
McClain: They are so fired up, because they know what they have overcome. They won't say it, but they know they have overcome a quarterback who was mediocre at best. They know they have overcome the loss of J.J. Watt, two starters on the offensive line, a couple of more starters on defense. But mainly when you lose the best non-quarterback in the league and then your quarterback doesn't play like $37, much less $37 million, to win the division and be 9-6, even if it came down to a missed field goal by an opponent, they were celebrating and I guarantee you it was a sigh of relief. They'll never day it, but nobody wanted to come up there and playing against the red-hot Titans for the division. Now it's different with Marcus Mariota out, but winning it the way that they did, they were excited and relieved at the same time.
Wyatt: So how will they approach the season finale in Nashville against the Titans?
McClain: Bill O'Brien told us Monday nine times they are playing to win this game with the Titans. He said, 'We'll be smart.' So I do not expect (running back) Lamar Miller to play, and there's some older guys who've been out with injuries, and I'd be surprised if they played. But their offense has to play because it's been so bad, and it needs all the work it can get. I mean, they've scored one touchdown in each of the last three games and won them all. The highest they've scored is 27 – they haven't scored 24 but once in nine weeks. So the offense, especially with quarterback Tom Savage, needs work. The defense, which is No.1 in the NFL despite losing Watt and having other starters out, has been carrying this team. But they want to go 10-6 and have their best record under O'Brien, and win four games to end the season. It would send them into the playoffs with momentum, plus they would be 6-0 in the AFC South for the first time. People took it like they are going to play everybody to win this game, but I doubt it.
Wyatt:** How has Tom Savage performed since replacing Brock Osweiler, and what is Osweiler's future in Houston after being benched?
McClain: Well, they can't get rid of Osweiler. It's a $25 million cap hit, and the next year it's $6 million. So he has to be here. He's a good soldier, and he and Savage are tight. He'll work hard and do everything he's required to do. But they just can't get rid of him. No one is going to trade for him. Savage, as a rookie, played one game in Indy and fumbled two snaps, threw an interception and hurt his knee. Last year, in the last preseason game at Dallas, he hurt his shoulder and spent the year on IR. So people say, 'If they liked him, they never would have spent $37 million guaranteed on Osweiler.' But I think they worried about injuries and probably still do. He had an infected elbow that cost him a week here this season. But when he came off the bench against Jacksonville and played really well – he was 23-of-36 for 260 with no turnovers. He engineered only one touchdown drive, but it was the winner in a come-from-behind victory. In the Bengals game they have 34 yards in the first half, the worst offensive performance I have seen in 38 years covering the NFL. He was sacked twice in the first series. Their pass protection was awful. O'Brien goes to a hurry-up at halftime and he goes out and plays so much better. Again, he only led one touchdown drive, but it was a come-from-behind drive to win. So the two things Savage has done well is he has not turned it over in two games *— the first time they have gone two in a row without a turnover. And he has engineered a touchdown drive in each game for a come-from-behind victory. He has a great arm, can make any throw, and he works his ass off. One of the things he has done is he has completed balls beyond 10 yards, and he stands in there and takes hits, and it doesn't seem to faze him. If he were to play well against the Titans and then well in a playoff game, I don't know how they couldn't name him the starting quarterback for next season.*
Wyatt:** In your opinion, what kind of chances do the Texans have of making a run in the playoffs?
McClain: I'd be shocked. Everybody says they're one-and-done. If Matt McGloin comes here with Oakland — they had Oakland down in the fourth quarter in Mexico City and Derek Carr threw two touchdown passes as the Raiders came back to win 27-20. So they should've beaten them there *— Osweiler actually played pretty well, and they shut down Oakland's run. So I think if Oakland came here, that is their best chance to win. If Kansas City comes here, everybody is talking about the Chiefs are great, well, the Chiefs weren't great two weeks ago (vs the Titans). So I am not saying they could beat the Chiefs — the Texans beat them 19-12 in Week 2. And there's also a scenario where Miami comes here. But because of the Texans offensive woes — not the running game, but the passing game — nobody gives them a chance to win a playoff game.*
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Houston Texans. (AP Photos, Donn Jones)