I was all set to write about the Houston Texans being the favorite to get the #1 seed in the AFC after their dominating victory at Tampa Bay, coupled with the Ravens losing a third road game against an inferior opponent. That was based not only on their play, but their schedule, which should see them favored in every remaining game, often by a large margin. Then, the Matt Schaub news hit that he will be out for the season with a foot injury.
To try to estimate Matt Schaub’s injury impact, I went through every season since 2002 where a team had a starter who played in between 9 and 13 games, and had a winning record, and compared the passing numbers and W-L record with the starter and the backup. I included some cases like Ben Roethlisberger last year, even though he didn’t start the season because of the suspension, because those first four games fit what we are trying to look at here.
Anyway, over the last 9 years, there were 26 cases that fit that description. The starting quarterbacks averaged 5.99 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA). The backups averaged 4.66 ANYA, so a 1.33 adjusted yard drop off. More importantly, for our purposes, the starters had a .670 win percentage versus a .487 win percentage for the backups, an average drop of -.182.
The Texans are 7-3 record heading into the bye. Advanced NFL Stats had them as one of the best teams in the league with Schaub, with a 0.73 Game Winning Probability (GWP) against a league average opponent. Dropping their expected win percentage with a backup would take them to a .55 GWP team, still slightly above average. They still have a strong offensive line and running game, Andre Johnson is returning, and the defense is still a top ten unit. They will not fall apart, though the margins of error shrink.
The schedule still saves them here. The tougher games are at home, as they get Atlanta, Carolina and Tennessee in Houston. They should still be favored with home field advantage against all three, though the margins will drop. They also get Indianapolis and Jacksonville on the road, two games where they should still be favored. The final one is at Cincinnati, which combined with the cold weather for a warm weather team, could be a challenge in December.
Overall, the Texans were probably looking at a projected win total of almost 5 wins over the last 6. That would have put them at almost 12 wins, likely in contention for the #1 seed and a first round bye. With a backup like Leinart, that projection falls to 3.8 wins over the last 6, and about 10.8 wins on the season. That should be good enough to still win the division, but puts a first round bye in jeopardy.
Of course, we can also look at the Matt Leinart end of the spectrum. He started games in four different seasons in Arizona, opposite Kurt Warner each time. Warner outplayed him each year, and in the seasons in which both started, Warner averaged 6.37 ANYA to 4.83 for Leinart. That -1.54 dropoff in ANYA from Warner to Leinart was a little larger than our average for a starter to backup decline, but then again, Warner is a better than average top starter. I think that sample size shows us that we can expect typical backup numbers for Leinart, and shouldn’t expect him to suddenly become a star. I’m comfortable saying the Texans should expect somewhere between a 1.2 and 1.5 drop in ANYA from Schaub to Leinart.
Of course, they could go outside rather than rely on Matt Leinart. The trade deadline has passed and so any solution has to be not on a roster. Pro Football Talk has already suggested they contact Favre. He’ll be a popular name, though after last season, you have to have concerns. He’s still probably a better option at his age than Leinart.
I might be placing a call, though, to the guy who consistently proved he was much better than Leinart over a five year period, and who is now a NFL Network commentator. I know he has been out for a year, but Kurt Warner may still be the best option. It’s worth a call to see if he is done for good, or whether he has interest in a Roger Clemens-like set up where he gets one last short stretch of games before riding off in the sunset. He can come in and play against an easy schedule and with a strong running game, to get ready for the playoffs. If he can still play, the Texans might have a chance to still make some noise once they get there.
[photo via Getty]