By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

This is finally the year for the Houston Texans. Or is it?

Finally, after years of disappointment and zero playoff appearances in franchise history, everything seemed to have come together. The Texans have world class skill players on offense and their defense, long the team’s Achilles heel, has come together under coordinator Wade Phillips. The team even survived injuries to stars Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. But two weeks ago, QB Matt Schaub went down with a foot injury. And last week, his backup, former college star and NFL draft bust Matt Leinart lasted barely a half before breaking his collarbone. Both are out for the year.

So now, at 8-3, they turn to a rookie, fifth-round pick named T.J. Yates. Nope, I haven’t heard of him either. He nearly gave last week’s win over Jacksonville away; this week he makes his first career start against the surging Atlanta Falcons.

Things are so thin at QB for the Texans, they had to sign Jake Delhomme out of mothballs this past week. And while they’ve showed incredible resiliency to withstand the injuries that have followed them around all year, having to close out the season and potentially make a postseason run with a third string rookie under center may be too much. The Tennessee Titans lurk just a couple games behind and they are set at QB. The two teams will play in Week 17 and Houston’s only challenging game up til that point will likely be at Cincinnati next week (they face the Panthers and Colts between those two games).

Houston is probably far enough along to avoid worrying about pissing away the franchise’s first postseason appearance. But with Schaub (or maybe even Leinart), they looked like a team ready to go fairly far. Now, with Yates, Delhomme and maybe even one of the valets at Reliant Stadium, who knows?

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. Green Bay: No less of an authority on the topic than Tom Brady said this week that, “it’s impossible to play quarterback better than Aaron Rodgers is playing it right now.” For more evidence to support this claim, look at the numbers – 72 percent completions, 3,475 yards, 33 TDs, four INTs, 127.7 passer rating. Out of this world.
2. New England: With no truly great teams residing outside of Wisconsin, let’s give the Pats this spot, not just because we like them but because they’ve won their last three games by a combined score of 109-39.
3. Baltimore: With a nice, long rest after their dominant performance against the 49ers on Thanksgiving, the Ravens now get to fatten up with a game at Cleveland. Baltimore’s D against a Browns offense that’s scored more than 21 points once all season? Could be ugly.
4. New Orleans: The Saints lambasted the fading Giants on Monday Night Football, rolling up 49 points and nearly 600 yards of offense. This team, experienced and rounding into form, may be as dangerous as any heading into the season’s final month.
5. (tie) Pittsburgh/San Francisco: The Steelers really had to eke one out against the Chiefs and their backup QB and with Ben Roethlisberger’s thumb broken and Troy Polamalu concussed, having won seven of eight may not matter with the Bengals and 49ers coming up in the next three weeks. As for those Niners, they’ll be OK after the loss in Baltimore; they can get well on the Rams this week. But it bears watching going forward how they deal with anyone who matches their physicality and can handle their running game.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Indianapolis: The Colts fired their defensive coordinator and benched their QB this past week with a game against the Pats looming. Laughable. Heard someone on the radio say today he’s never seen a team so blatantly look like its tanking as this year’s edition in Indy.
2. St. Louis: This season, supposed to be so good, can’t end soon enough for the Rams, who can’t even beat the Cardinals at home and now may have lost QB Sam Bradford again. What a nightmare. Coach Steve Spagnuolo, a Coach of the Year candidate last season, may not survive this, injuries or not.
3. Minnesota: So the Vikings released Donovan McNabb yesterday. And apparently, he wasn’t in shape before they benched him. That’s not a knock on them, it’s a knock on McNabb, who should put himself out to pasture before humiliating himself any further. What is a knock on them is, once again, allowing BrettFavre to hold their franchise hostage for those two years. It’s hard to believe the culture there would have gotten so toxic and lingered on into this year if they’d handled that situation differently..
4. Jacksonville: The Jags, finally, mercifully fired coach Jack Del Rio this week, about three years too late. Classy til the end, Del Rio managed to pass the buck one more time before his ouster, blaming his offensive coordinator (again) for not calling a timeout on a potential game-winning drive last week against Houston. Like calling timeouts isn’t the head coach’s responsibility. Now that Del Rio is gone and the team has been sold to someone apparently bent on keeping it in Jacksonville, maybe the Jags will become at least slightly relevant again.
5. Arizona: The Cardinals are salivating over getting Kevin Kolb (57 percent completions, 77.8 passer rating) back from injury this week. That’s how bad John Skelton, who actually presided over three wins in four games, has been.

What’s Trendy
Chris Johnson, Titans: Tennessee has somehow managed to get to 6-5 without much out of all-world back Johnson. But he finally busted out last week in a win over Tampa, rolling for 190 yards on just 23 carries. It was Johnson’s second 100-plus yard output in three weeks and given the Texans issues at QB, he may be rounding into form just in time for a playoff run.
A.J. Green, Bengals: Cincy’s rookie QB Andy Dalton has gotten more of the publicity, but first-round pick Green has quietly proven to be one of the best receivers in the AFC. He has 745 yards on 44 catches (16.9 YPC) and six TDs. Better yet, coach Marvin Lewis said this week, “He’s the best first-round pick I’ve ever been around. He continues to amaze me every day.”
The Cowboys: In winning four in a row and five out of seven, Dallas has gotten big-time performances out of its defense. In those seven games, the Cowboys have allowed over 20 points just twice, none of them during the four-game winning streak. Two games against the Giants in the last four weeks will decide their season, but right now they look pretty good.

What’s Not
Mike Martz, Bears: The Chicago offensive coordinator, who has a history of saying dumb things at bad times, ripped his players for screwing up a throwback screen pass in a loss to the Raiders last week. “I’ve done that for 20 years and it’s never anything but a good play, really,” Martz said. “We didn’t execute it. Screens aren’t hard.” This is the second time this year Martz has gotten on his players for not handling his calling of a trick play to his satisfaction. That’s two times too many.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Two weeks after getting benched for missing a team meeting, Jackson, Philly’s wildly talented, hare-brained receiver/kick returner, dropped two TD passes in the Eagles blowout loss to the Pats and was benched again. These drops came a week after he broke a big play against the Giants, then flipped the ball at their defensive coordinator after getting run out of bounds and incurring a 15-yard penalty as a result and a week before being front and center in the Eagles disgraceful loss to the Seahawks last night. In a league full of knuckleheads, Jackson is near the top of the list.
The Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, they’ve now lost three straight following a win over the Pats after which they acted like they’d just won the Super Bowl. Sure, they’ve had a tough schedule (at San Fran, vs. Philly, at New Orleans) and this week they have to play the Packers. But this kind of swoon in such a wide open division, while at least slightly typical of the Giants, could kill their playoff chances, which in turn could finally spell the end for coach Tom Coughlin.

And finally…
Welcome to the world of unconscionable knuckleheads, Rolando McClain. In his hometown of Decatur, AL, for his grandfather’s funeral, McClain, a second-year linebacker for the Raiders drafted in the first round last year, somehow found himself involved in a bar fight, pulled a gun, fired it into the air among a crowd and, perhaps most shockingly, held to a man’s head while the man begged him not to shoot. He was charged with menacing, assault, reckless endangerment and firing a gun inside city limits.

Forget for a second the charges or the potential outcomes. Instead, think about what the hell McClain was doing carrying that gun and why the hell he felt like he needed to pull it. This guy is a millionaire professional athlete. He has everything he could ever possibly want and then some. And now, not only has he put his team in a horrible position (in a season said team is actually a threat for the first time in eons), he’s risked everything his talent has awarded him. He was released from jail on bond yesterday and will probably play in the Raiders game at Miami this weekend. Which in turn will probably enable the idea that he did nothing wrong and could well do it again. Knucklehead.