With experience (and a QB), Texans coach Bill O'Brien ready to face ghosts of playoffs past

HOUSTON -- With their third division title over the past four seasons in hand, coach Bill O'Brien heads into his fourth playoff game with the Houston Texans with knowledge gained from postseason experience.

The knowledge of some disappointment after two playoff losses -- 30-0 against the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round to end the 2015 season and a 34-16 loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round to close the 2016 season.

And knowledge of what maybe, just maybe, could be different this time around.

"You have some experience," O'Brien said Wednesday. "I mean, you have experienced a lot of different things. You know there are certain things that are very, very important that can help you. But at the end of the day it's a totally different year, different team, different opponent. I don't think there's ever any substitute for experience."

Yes, it is a totally different year as the Texans bounced back from an 0-3 start to finish 11-5. It is indeed a different team as the Texans went from worst to first in the AFC South after an injury-filled 2017 season.

And, sure, it's a different opponent with Saturday's wild-card game against the Indianapolis Colts (4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN) this time around -- the first postseason meeting between the division rivals. But what's really different -- potentially postseason-altering -- is the one thing O'Brien has this time around that he didn't in previous playoff rounds. And that is second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson.

"I've been on him since he was at Clemson," Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "I've seen his maturity level go through the roof, the way he's handled himself. ... His determination to win, he's been in situations this year where we've been down before and I don't think anybody expected us to come back and find a way. Being in those situations early in the season he knows how to manage himself, this team. He doesn't get overwhelmed about being down, he's always composed."

Because if you peel away the layers of the Texans' two previous playoff losses during O'Brien's tenure, there is one number that can't be ignored -- seven. As in the seven interceptions his starting quarterbacks threw in the two games.

In the loss to the Chiefs four seasons ago, the Texans ended as many drives with turnovers as they did with punts: five.

"The mental toughness of both teams is evident," O'Brien said of the Texans and Colts. "To be 1-5 and to be where they are now, and then for us to be 0-3, there's no doubt about it. ... It's going to come down to takeaways, giveaways. It's going to come down to penalties. It's going to come down to who can execute at the highest level. We know it's going to be a huge challenge for us."

And the best-laid Texans' plans were undone by a quarterback's giveaways in those losses from years gone by. Brian Hoyer threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in the wild-card loss to the Chiefs, and Brock Osweiler threw three interceptions in the loss to the Patriots roughly a year later.

This time O'Brien comes to the postseason table with Watson at quarterback, a player who safety Tyrann Mathieu called a "seasoned superstar in my eyes."

As he prepares for his first NFL postseason game, Watson's teammates continue to laud his maturity and his front-burner role on a team that believes it showed something by bouncing back from the 0-3 start to host a playoff game as a division winner.

"It's just another opportunity for myself and this whole team to be able to show what we've got and put in the work," Watson said. "I've played in a lot of big games before, you know, in college and stuff, but you can't really pit college playoffs with the NFL. This is the hardest business, top notch. It's a whole new season, a whole new speed of game. So it's going to be new for me, of course, because it's my first one. It's going to be a lot of fun. Every play counts. Every moment counts. You can't slip up. You have to go out there and be able to focus and be locked in at every moment."

The Texans went 2-3 this season against teams in this year's playoff field, including 1-1 against the Colts. Watson threw for at least 339 yards and a touchdown in three of those games, including both of the Texans' wins.

And only some late-game heroics from quarterback Nick Foles on Dec. 23 kept the Texans from a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, when Watson finished with 339 yards and two touchdowns.

"Of course I'm hyped up," Watson said. "I'm hyped up for the playoffs. I guess you could say that. I don't think of it as anything different. Especially people that know me, people that are close to me, I have the same mentality, the same conversations, I do the same things -- I have butterflies. I have butterflies every game. The anticipation, being able to step on the field and feel the energy of the stadium. I always have butterflies. But, it's not scared butterflies or anything, just kind of just ready to get out there and ready to get things going."