Are Texans and Steelers still competitive with Patriots after losses Sunday?
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The Texans and Steelers entered the season as some of the Patriots' most feared competitors. Houston had the league's best defense a year ago and invited a first-round pick in quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Pittsburgh took the Patriots to the wire in the AFC Championship Game last year and brought back MVP candidate Le'Veon Bell from injury. Five weeks into the season, Watson looks like a rookie of the year frontrunner and Bell, along with wideout Antonio Brown and QB Ben Roethlisberger, is perfectly healthy. So what's gone wrong?
Both teams suffered losses in Week 5, but they couldn't be more different: The Texans drove the Chiefs to the brink in a 42-34 defeat (much like they did in their 36-33 loss to New England), while the Steelers and Roethlisberger completely imploded in a 30-9 home walloping by Jacksonville. But in a way, each loss was a perfect microcosm of each club's season to date.
The Steelers, while potentially deadly with their complement of offensive weapons and rising stars on defense, continue to be maddeningly mercurial. Without an improvement in quarterback consistency they won't go far in the playoffs. Houston, on the other hand, continues to surprise on offense but has been fickle on defense (the team's supposed strong suit). After surrendering 29 to the Jags to open the year, the team has given up 36 to New England and 42 to Kansas City: they've only held a floundering Andy Dalton and an injured Marcus Mariota/ineffective Matt Cassel combo under 28 points so far. Add to that JJ Watt's season-ending broken leg, and the defense could be in some trouble as the year wears on.
There were definitely some long-term repercussions after the defeats: JJ Watt, as mentioned above, is out for the year now, and fellow pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus is also done for the season after suffering a chest injury against KC. Pittsburgh's loss (and his 5 interceptions) was so bad it drove Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger to ponder retirement (even if his proclamation that "maybe I don't have it anymore" was more melodramatic than anything else). For both teams, the blows could prove critical without other players stepping up and team leaders rallying the squads in the coming weeks.
As of now, the Steelers still sit above .500 (3-2), while the Texans are 2-3. In their respective divisions, they could still play the way they have so far the rest of the way and finish with championship crowns. But their losses Sunday and those long-term effects exposed some crucial flaws in both squads. Unless they can remedy them down the stretch (a task made harder by the key missing or underperforming players), the Texans and Steelers might not pose much of a threat to the Pats come playoff time.