Dec 18, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith walks on the sideline before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

April 27 must be more important than Jan. 8 for Texans

Is a meaningless road win in the last game of the season worth the price of losing the top overall pick? History has something to say about this.

You can probably already see the visual of Herman Edwards when he was the head coach of the New York Jets, standing in front of a podium uttering his now-famous phrase, “You play to win the game.”

In this case, maybe not.

The Houston Texans have the league’s worst record at 2-13-1. They currently sit in the catbird seat for the top overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. They are only half a game ahead of the Chicago Bears, a team that is 3-13 and may be tempted to sit out its starting quarterback for its season finale. A Texans win this week coupled with a Bears loss would move Houston down from picking first to picking second in the draft.

How big a difference is there from the No. 1 pick to the No. 2 pick, really? With the top overall pick, the Texans were most likely deciding between Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. Both seem to be legitimate candidates for the top pick, so how wrong are you really going to be if you get one or the other?

Texans head coach Lovie Smith is of the mindset that Houston will get the player it needs whether at No. 1 or No. 2.

“I think it’s easy to answer that question. Where are we right now, you say the No. 1 overall pick can help? Is that what you said? Yeah. How about the No. 2 overall, can that help? Yeah. No. 3, there’s a lot of picks that can help. That’s how I look at that. We know the picks that we have coming in, we’re going to add a lot of good football players. As you look at history a little bit too on whether you get the first or second pick, third, you never really know how they all are going to turn out. I think, eventually, it helps your ballclub when you can get some of those top guys. I think if you’re picking early, you’re going to get some top players. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to get some impact players that will help us. We understand what position we’re in right now.”

While some may find it comical that Lovie continues to speak like someone who will still be the head coach next season (he better not be), he isn’t necessarily crazy for thinking that the Texans could get a top player even if they fell one pick.

The Bears, after not believing in quarterback Justin Fields to start the season, believe in Fields now. They don’t need a quarterback. Still, there is a significant possibility that if Chicago had the top overall pick, it would seek to trade that pick to a quarterback-needy team, collecting a treasure trove of draft capital in return to fill holes all over its roster.

That, of course, is something the Texans could have done if they had successfully developed Davis Mills. That they did not is why the entire coaching staff needs to go.

The reason this is a discussion is that Lovie Smith continues to preach about playing to win games ardently.

Guys are going to continue to play hard and all of those things. We’ll never question any of that. So, this now brings us down – I’ve talked a lot about our division record. We split with Tennessee, we split with Jacksonville and we have a tie against Indy, so this is a big game for our team. We’ll practice hard, show up this week and hopefully we can finish up with a good taste in our mouth.”

Lovie also says that the possibility of securing the first overall pick cannot play a role in how they approach their season finale in Indianapolis.

“That’s easy to say, absolutely. I said the same thing last week. I’ve been asked this question a few weeks because we’ve been in that role. I understand it. We’ve been trying to win for a long period of time, every game. None of that has changed. That’s why there is disappointment in what happened yesterday. We’re going to go to work this week and do everything we possibly can to win this last game.”

Houston certainly played this past week like they had no intention of even trying to be competitive, let alone win. Jacksonville took them behind the woodshed and taught them a lesson, but the Jaguars are on a roll right now, and the Colts are reeling just about as much as the Texans.

Now, nobody can expect Smith to come out and say, “Hell no, we aren’t trying to win. We are going to roll over like dogs begging for a treat and get that number one pick!” He has to say he is trying to win. The question is, does he truly believe that?

At 4-11-1, the Colts are only two games better than the Texans. They started the season 4-2-1, and are 1-9 since, including six straight losses. Former Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is expected to start for Indy this week. He has thrown a total of 66 NFL passes and been sacked 12 times.

The Colts aren’t trying to win this game Sunday. If Houston wants to win it, they can and should. They won’t get much, if any, resistance.

The reality, of course, is that Houston should want no part of winning this game, either. Why jeopardize controlling your quarterback of the future when you can cement the draft’s top pick and have the choice entirely in your control? Why let another team get first crack at the quarterback position in the draft and potentially settle for the guy you had as your number two?

Since the merger, there have been eight instances where quarterbacks were taken 1-2 in the NFL Draft:

1971: Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Dan Pastorini went 1-2-3

1993: Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer

1998: Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf

1999: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith went 1-2-3

2012: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III

2015: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

2016: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz

2021: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance went 1-2-3

In just about every one of those instances, you would want to be the team with the choice to decide, because almost always the top two guys taken are not similar in success.

While you could likely have succeeded with both Plunkett or Manning (and probably Pastorini as well), every other season has seen either one quarterback outshine the other(s) or both fail.

Maybe RG3 could have been a bona fide star if we wasn’t left in to destroy his already balky knee on a sloppy field his rookie season. We will never know. Every other season either has a clear winner, or no winner.

While you have to trust that Texans GM Nick Caserio will choose the right player at No. 1, history says two quarterbacks going first and second favors the guy who goes first, not the guy who a team settles for at No. 2.

There are some other examples where the top 2 quarterbacks aren’t back-to-back but go closely at the top of the draft.

Since 2000, here are all the examples of multiple quarterbacks going top 12:

2021: Lawrence 1, Wilson 2, Lance 3, Justin Fields 11

2020: Joe Burrow 1, Tua Tagovailoa 5, Justin Herbert 6

2019: Kyler Murray 1, Daniel Jones 6

2018: Baker Mayfield 1, Sam Darnold 3, Josh Allen 7. Josh Rosen 10

2012: Luck 1, RG3 2, Ryan Tannehill 8

2011: Cam Newton 1, Jake Locker 8, Blaine Gabbert 10, Christian Ponder 12

2009: Matt Stafford 1, Mark Sanchez 5

2006: Vince Young 3, Matt Leinart 10, Jay Cutler 11

2004: Eli Manning 1, Philip Rivers 4, Ben Roethlisberger 11

2003: Carson Palmer 1, Byron Leftwich 7

2002: David Carr 1, Joey Harrington 3

With the exception of 2004, a historic draft for quarterbacks, picking the quarterback you want most often pays off.

(Note: It’s fair to exclude 2018, where Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were subjected to multiple bad coaches in successive years on bad franchises, which clearly negatively impacted their careers, and Allen blossomed in a way nearly no one could have expected)

Generally, it is pretty clear that among the top-rated quarterbacks in a class, usually, only one becomes a star.

The win on Jan. 8 is irrelevant. The Texans need the win on April 27.

They need to be able to choose. History says so.

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