Curran: The Texans' biggest hurdle? Believing they can win

Curran: The Texans' biggest hurdle? Believing they can win

It’s said that confidence flows from demonstrated ability.

In order to truly feel confident that you can accomplish something, you need to have carried out a mission before. Or perhaps even been dangerously close to carrying it out.

Getting his team to believe it can beat the Patriots -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- is going to be the biggest hurdle for Bill O’Brien to clear this week.

The Texans opened as 16-point underdogs. They lost 27-0 to the Patriots in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Now Tom Brady’s back. And the Patriots defense is better than it was then (although that was the one game before he was traded where Jamie Collins played like Jamie Collins could play). Houston stumbled around all season, winding up in the playoffs with their 9-7 record thanks in large part to the festival of mediocrity that is the AFC South. In September, Brock Osweiler had at least an air of competency. Now, benched, belittled and plugged back into the starting lineup, he’s had precious few, “Yeah, I can DO this!” moments.

They advanced through the Wild Card round with relative ease but they know as well as we all do that the triumph over Oakland comes with the caveat that they were facing a quarterback making his first NFL start.

Connor Cook performed as one would expect:18 for 45 for 161 yards and three picks to go with his lone touchdown. The Raiders were 2 for 16 on third down and punted 10 times on their 15 possessions.

Aside from the September loss to the Patriots, Houston lost at home to the Pats 27-6 last December at home and 34-31 in December of 2013, also in Houston.

The games that caused the franchise mental scars that are still visible came in 2012.

The 11-1 Texans got off the bus for a Monday Night Football matchup with the Patriots wearing letterman jackets. They got stuffed in a locker, 42-14.

After that, the Texans lost two of their final three games to close the regular season then had to come to Gillette again for a divisional playoff game. They fell behind 38-13 early in the fourth and lost 41-28.

Asked about the jackets in September, J.J. Watt said he had no idea where his was anymore. “Those were some bad memories. I hope (the jacket is gone). I don’t want to bring that back up at all. Those were some bad days.”

O’Brien, speaking Sunday before he knew his opponent, is smart to send the message to his team that it should look no further than the end of their shoes as they walk toward the weekend.
  
“I think the big key for us is to just take care of our own business in here during the week," he said. "Let’s work to put together a good game plan. Let’s teach the game plan. Let’s have good practices and then let’s go to wherever we got to go and let’s see what happens.”

Texans owner Bob McNair attempted to say it could have been different in September when asked about the earlier meeting with the Patriots. 
 
"When we went up their earlier, we shot ourselves in the foot," he explained. "We had two fumbles in the first quarter and gave up the ball on the 20-yard line. Doesn’t matter who you play, you can’t win playing that.”

Nope. And sometimes, there’s no explaining it. A team just has a collective bad day.

Other times, the collective bad day can be a matter of performance conforming to the anticipated result. One bad thing happens and the, “Here we go again…” starts to creep in.

There’s no stat for that. But there’s no anyone denying a team’s collective mental state will ebb and flow during a game and that the ebbs will be deeper if you’ve got past experience that flows don’t usually come against a particular opponent.

O’Brien will have his work cut out for himself this week simply in convincing his team to not flinch, never mind walking in and taking the game from the Patriots.

NFL's Top 10 list revealed Monday night: Where does Tom Brady wind up?

NFL's Top 10 list revealed Monday night: Where does Tom Brady wind up?

NFL players vote every year on which players should make up the list of the best their game has to offer, but it's an imperfect system. And that's probably putting it lightly. 

The NFL Network will reveal the final 10 players on its annual Top 100 list Monday night at 8 p.m. It will be an order that has been chosen by some players, not all. Of those who took part, some hastily made their way through a handful of names at the end of last season handing over their choices. 

Yet it's the list the league ends up with, for better or for worse, prompting responses like JJ Watt's when he found out he was No. 35 this year after playing in three games last season. 

On NFL.com, the Top 100 list is described as the answer to the question, "Who are the top 100 players in the NFL today?" If that's the criteria -- and not simply performance in 2016 -- then Watt's complaint actually doesn't hold much water. If he's healthy, no one would argue that he's one of the best 35 players "in the NFL today."

This year, several Patriots players from 2016 made the cut: Rob Gronkowski (No. 23), LeGarrette Blount (No. 80), Julian Edelman (No. 71), Dont'a Hightower (No. 94) and Malcolm Butler (No. 99). 

Tom Brady will be the last of Bill Belichick's players to be named. He's lumped into a Top 10 that will include Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Von Miller and Khalil Mack.

Here's what we think the list should look like when the curtain falls on the finale of this flawed endeavor:

10. Elliott
9. Beckham
8. Bell
7. Brown
6. Ryan
5. Jones
4. Miller
3. Mack
2. Rodgers
1. Brady

David Harris gets Jerod Mayo's old No. 51 with Patriots

David Harris gets Jerod Mayo's old No. 51 with Patriots

If you're hoping to help lead the Patriots defense from the middle of the field, No. 51 wouldn't be a bad jersey to wear in that pursuit.

Those are the digits that were worn by longtime Patriots captain (and Quick Slants co-host) Jerod Mayo during his run with the team from 2008-15. Taking the torch from linebackers like Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau and Mike Vrabel, Mayo was the defensive signal-caller and quarterback of the Patriots defense for the better part of a decade, eventually handing the reins to his understudy Dont'a Hightower. 

With Harris now in the mix, the defense will still be led by Hightower, who was a captain for the first time in 2016. But Harris figures to serve as a leader in his own right for the Patriots. The 33-year-old 'backer has been one of the game's most durable players at his position while with the Jets, and over time he established himself as a savvy communicator at the second level. 

Comparing Harris to Mayo comes easily because of their reputations as coach-on-the-field types. Back in 2014 when Darrelle Revis called New England home, he explained that what Mayo did for the Patriots defense reminded him of what Harris did in New York.

Now Harris has Mayo's old number, and in training camp he'll make a play for some of the duties Mayo held later in his career. How Harris will handle his new role, and how he may help his teammates take their games to new heights, is something we touched upon in this space earlier today

Harris wore No. 52 during his 10 years with the Jets. That number has belonged to Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts since he came into the league last season as a rookie, and it looks like Roberts will hold onto it for the foreseeable future.

No. 51 has bounced around to a couple of different Patriots since Mayo's retirement. Last year it was claimed by Barkevious Mingo, who has since moved on to Indianapolis as a free agent. Through this year's spring workouts No. 51 was worn by undrafted rookie linebacker Brooks Ellis, who now shares No. 47 with fullback Glenn Gronkowski.