By Sam McPherson

Who knew the Houston Texans were capable of such drama? The injury saga of star running back Arian Foster is now over, as he tore his Achilles tendon in Sunday’s ugly 44-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Foster has played in just 25 games over the last three seasons, and he has probably played his late game for the Texans. Meanwhile, one-time starting quarterback Ryan Mallett missed the team flight to Miami and was promptly waived on Tuesday after the team secured the services of a different veteran backup quarterback.

Going forward now, it’s Brian Hoyer at quarterback and Alfred Blue (and friends) at running back for the 2-5 Texans, who sit just one game out of first place in the terrible AFC South right now. After all the Houston team has been through this season, it’s amazing to think the playoffs actually are within reach if the team can just focus on winning instead of all this other stuff. The Week 7 loss to Miami was embarrassing, as the Texans fell behind 41-0 by halftime to a team that just fired its head coach a few weeks ago.

Hoyer Will Have To Deliver Every Week

He is a 30-year-old quarterback from Michigan State with an 11-9 record as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Now, Hoyer is the only real quarterback on the Texans roster. Houston will go as far as Hoyer takes the team this year, with Foster out and Mallett gone. The former Spartan was 7-6 as the Cleveland Browns starter last season, and that can give Texans fans hope. If Hoyer can replicate that effort this year, then Houston is looking at finishing at .500 this year; which could be enough to win the AFC South.

Hoyer also has the benefit of having worked with Head Coach Bill O’Brien for years now, first with the New England Patriots. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is excellent currently (11 touchdowns, three interceptions), but Hoyer still exhibits inconsistent play. That has to change if the Texans want to mount a winning streak and grab the division lead with two hands. Good quarterbacks don’t let their teams fall behind 41-0 in the first half against the Miami Dolphins; Hoyer has to be better than he has been so far (his 58.9 percent completion rate, for example, needs a serious boost).

Blue, Polk & Grimes

It sounds like an petroleum-business law firm, but no! It’s the new running-back committee for the Texans that must step up in Foster’s absence and make itself known to the rest of the NFL, and soon. So far, the trio has been so-so in 2015, so each one of them will have to improve. Blue (60 carries, 234 yards, one touchdown), Chris Polk (40 carries, 138 yards, one touchdown) and Jonathan Grimes (14 carries, 54 yards) have all carried the ball at a rate better than what Foster had been providing this year, and now they just have to do it every game, every week, from here on out.

It’s going to be a symbiotic relationship between Hoyer and his running backs. The better he throws, the better they will run. The better they run, the better he will throw. The team needs both units to thrive in order for this offense to work and give the defense (see below) all the help it can get. The receiving corps are adequate enough, with breakout star DeAndre Hopkins supported by a cast of veterans. Either way, O’Brien will probably choose to throw first in order to set up the run, and thus the running backs need to be ready when called upon to succeed in this offense.

Defense, Defense, Defense

We’re sounding like a broken record, but sooner or later, J.J. Watt has to start taking over games. How does a defense with Watt on the front line give up 41 points in one half to the Miami Dolphins? Houston is 23rd in yards allowed (370.9 per game) and 28th in points allowed (28.4 per game). Sure, Watt is only one player, but this defense is better than that. However, until the unit proves otherwise on the field, the Texans defense stinks. The good news is the next opponent is probably without its starting quarterback, and if the team can get the win there, the bye week follows; giving this defense time to regroup and get better fast.

The Schedule

Forget the 2-5 record. If the Texans win the division, they’re in the playoffs and all the critics won’t be able to do a darn thing about it. But Houston must win this week at home against the Tennessee Titans if it wants to win the AFC South. It’s an absolute must, considering the Texans already lost a home division contest to the Indianapolis Colts. If Houston beats Tennessee this Sunday, then they get a week off to iron out the kinks in the roster and focus on the second half.

The final three games of the season (at Indianapolis, at Tennessee and home against Jacksonville) are must-in situations for the Texans if they want to win the division as well. Assuming Houston can get to Week 15 with a 6-7 record, which in itself will take some upsets, then the club can run the table and waltz into the postseason with the AFC South title in hand. It’s a lot of “ifs,” but that’s what midseason analysis and predictions are all about these days.

Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.

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