The 49ers and Texans have only met four times and San Francisco holds a 3-1 advantage. Their first meeting was in New Year's Day in 2006, the final game of the regular season which the Niners won 20-17. The Texans exacted revenge three years later by winning 24-21 in their own home turf.
The next two games were more decided. San Francisco destroyed Houston 34-3 in 2013 and beat them 26-16 in their most recent meeting in 2017. This last game was Garoppolo's first start as a quarterback. He threw for 334 yards with a touchdown and a pick. The Niners went on to go undefeated for the rest of the season.
Both teams have struggled in recent years but they seem to have found their franchise quarterbacks and are back to contending. The 49ers have Garoppolo and Houston has Watson, the best quarterback match-up between these teams. When they meet, their budding pivots will clash with their stalwart defences. It's bound to be good football.
San Francisco 49ers Recent History
Young 49ers fans now won't remember what it was like during their parents' era. The Niners ruled the NFL for two decades and resembled what the New England Patriots dynasty are now. From 1981 to 1998, San Francisco won five Super Bowls and made the playoffs in every season but two. They had 16 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.
Flash forward to recent years and the 49ers are barely a shell of their old dynasty. Since 2003, the Niners have only three playoff appearances: a three-year stint with Jim Harbaugh where they returned to the Super Bowl in 2012 in a losing effort. Outside the Harbaugh era, the 49ers haven't won more than eight games.
The arrival of Garoppolo as quarterback signals some hope for the franchise and if he proves to be more like a Steve Young than a Colin Kaepernick, the Niners Empire will rise again.
Houston Texans Recent History
Houston was awarded another franchise after their original Oilers relocated and became the Titans. This new Texans franchise took a while to become a good team. They spent six of their first nine seasons as a losing team and didn't make the playoffs until their tenth year.
But Houston makes the most out of their playoff appearances. Out of their four playoff appearances, they won at least one game in three of them but they have yet to advance past the divisional playoffs. Their best year came in 2012 when they posted a 12-4 record but subsequently tied their franchise-worst with a 2-14 record thanks partly to injuries.
The Texans' weakness has been their lack of a good quarterback. Even when they had an elite defence led by a generational talent like J.J. Watt, Houston couldn't get too far. But they're hoping Watson is finally the guy they're looking for. If he is, this Texans team is ready to take it to the next level.
San Francisco 49ers Outlook
It's easy to just keep talking about Garoppolo but he has much to prove. It's often been the case where backup quarterback wows everyone but regresses the following season and is exposed. That may or may not be the case with Jimmy G but the 49ers have made moves to ensure he succeeds.
San Francisco bolstered their offensive line drafting Mike McGlinchey in the first round and signing Weston Richburg (C) to help protect Garoppolo and then they overpaid Jerrick McKinnon to shore up the running game. They also reached for wideout Dante Pettis to add an extra catcher.
The defence is solid and finished in the upper half of the league to end the season when they finally had support from the offence. Former rival Richard Sherman is the biggest addition and even though he's past his prime, his energy and veteran experience will go a long way in shaping the secondary.
Houston Texans Outlook
It all depends on Watson. He lit the NFL on fire in 2017 before going down with a knee injury. If he can recover and resume his spectacular play, the Texans should be a Super Bowl contender now and the next seasons. But if he gets exposed or isn't the same player he was, it's back to searching for another quarterback.
But their offensive line is weak as is their running game. Watson may be pulling a Russell Wilson trying to stay alive at every play but he has the tools to replicate it. On defence, Houston has arguably the most stacked unit. They have Watt leading the front-seven with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney terrorizing quarterbacks.
On the secondary, Johnathan Joseph (CB) has one side of the field covered and they just acquired Tyrann Mathieu, who is a game-changing safety. This team isn't perfect but they are a dark horse to win it all.
This is a toss-up. The Texans have the superior defence and Watson and Garoppolo cancel each other out. But Houston's offensive line is just terrible and their non-existent running game will make them more one-dimensional than San Francisco.
Houston's playmakers on defence could be the difference. Watson will be under siege for the few snaps he plays so he might be a non-factor. Brandon Weeden is at least a capable backup who has some starting experience. He isn't as dynamic as Watson but he's a decent passer, especially going against backups.
Garoppolo will also be under pressure from the fearsome Texans' defence. His o-line is better but is still adjusting to the new players.
This game has the makings of a low-scoring defensive struggle. There will be some moments for either team but the edge goes to the Niners who will be able to constantly pressure whichever quarterback Houston rolls out.