Bill O’Brien takes a lot of flak for coaching the Houston Texans, but he can silence all the haters by upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.
When we look at the Bill Belichick coaching tree, the branches never seem to be as fruitful as they should. Belichick has had several assistants under him ascend to head-coaching jobs, college and pro, but there isn’t a single branch we think he should be overly proud of. Well…there’s this one branch down in Houston that’s doing all right. Of course, we’re talking about Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien is in his sixth year as the head coach of the Houston Texans. He coached the Penn State Nittany Lions for two years before that, helping establish a respectable football culture in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal that cost Joe Paterno his job. After going 15-9 (10-6) in two years in Stage College, O’Brien made his way back to the NFL to replace Gary Kubiak in Houston.
The Texans were coming off an atrocious 2012 NFL season, one where they went 2-14 and starting quarterback Matt Schaub turned into a pick-six throwing pumpkin. Houston had the No. 1 overall pick and selected an overhyped pass-rusher out of the University of South Carolina in Jadeveon Clowney.
All the while, O’Brien has had five winning seasons and has won the AFC South four times in five years. Since taking over in 2014, the Tennessee Titans have never won the division, the Indianapolis Colts only did it once in 2014 and the Jacksonville Jaguars came out of nowhere to win it in 2017 (the same season Houston went 4-12 because Deshaun Watson got hurt).
Flash forward to the present day and O’Brien has a shot to do something no Texans coach ever has: Lead his team to the AFC Championship. Sure, there have only been three head coaches in history, but that doesn’t make getting to the NFL’s final four any less special. It’s something Dom Capers couldn’t do with an expansion franchise in the early 2000s. Kubiak couldn’t do it either.
Of course, it is a frustratingly difficult matchup for the Texans in the AFC Divisional Round. Houston will have to take on the No. 2-seeded Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. That means O’Brien and his team will be taking on Andy Reid’s team coming off a bye. We know Reid is getting his team ready to play coming off a bye week. This may not end well for Houston.
Then again, Houston did beat the Chiefs in their matchup earlier in the season. The Chiefs were only two games better than the Texans in the regular season, and it’s not like Watson has the impossible task of hanging with his draft classmate Patrick Mahomes in the afternoon. These are two of the most special young quarterbacks in the game today. Watson will hold his own.
And that’s how the Texans will have to win. They’ll upset the Chiefs if Watson can dial up a few explosive plays in the passing game to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Nothing is ever easy for the Texans, and O’Brien’s coaching style is a big reason for it. However, he’s won enough consistently to have our respect. It’s not like he’s Hue Jackson coaching the Cleveland Browns.
Without question, there will be a few plays where we’ll be screaming at the TV, wondering what O’Brien and his staff were thinking. The good news for the Texans is Reid is about as good with a clock as the white rabbit, always running out of time. He’s a genius play-caller, but he’s no Dr. Manhattan. So O’Brien’s Texans have at least a snowball’s chance of pulling off the upset.
Let’s not forget how many times in previous years where the Chiefs have found ways to choke away certain home playoff victories. Though this is a new era of Kansas City football, this is a franchise that last went to a Super Bowl when O’Brien was an infant in 1970. It’s been that long, and O’Brien is hopeful he can be a roadblock that ends Kansas City’s Super Bowl LIV dreams.
Ultimately, just getting to a conference championship game doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re even a good coach. Heck, there have been men who have led their teams to Super Bowls, or for that matter, held the role of the head coach while an elite team carried him to the promised land of NFL football glory. He’s more than a figurehead, and we need to accept that now.
O’Brien has been a bit of an NFL head-coaching punching bag for the better part of a decade. Yet, if his team finds a way to win at Arrowhead on Sunday, we need to give the man some respect, while simultaneously asking ourselves what went wrong in Kansas City this time and if Reid is as good as we all think he is. This game is equally important for both head coaches, don’t forget that.