It looks like the Houston Texans could be down for another 12-4 season.
After the NFL released its 2013 regular season schedule on Thursday night, the Texans learned of their opponents ahead of September, and aside from a few uneasy match ups, just about every fixture is winnable for Gary Kubiak’s side. There’s the usual prime time AFC games to look forward to – along with another grudge match against New England – but the Texans will also take a tour of the NFC West this year, which is probably the hardest division in football.
Here’s a look at what to watch for in each game, and a closer examination of each team.
Week 1 – September 9: at San Diego Chargers (10:20pm)
The Texans and Chargers kick off Monday Night Football this season, and it’s a perfect stage for two of the AFC’s more criticised quarterbacks to set off on the right foot. It’s hard to say what to expect from the Texans in this one, since the two haven’t met since 2010. But the Chargers went 7-9 last season, and have a knack for slow starts. San Diego also ranked 31st in total offense last season, so it’s hard to see the Texans not going in as favourites for this one.
Week 2 – September 15: vs. Tennessee Titans (1:00pm)
This match up probably won’t steal everyones attention, but it should. The Titans have spent all offseason doing just that, spending, and we’re all curious to see if there will be an improvement. There’s no Jared Cook for Wade Phillips to form a scheme around now, but the Titans offensive line should be much better than last year after adding fifth year guard Andy Levitre. Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 192-yards on the Texans last year, but not a single touchdown. Johnson needs all the blocking lanes he can get against the Texans top rush defense, and Houston needs to recover quickly with only a five day break between Week 1 and 2.
Week 3 – September 22: at Baltimore Ravens (1:00pm)
A lot of people thought this should have been a prime time game, but oh well. It’s Ed Reed’s first visit back to Baltimore since succumbing to Rick Smith’s offer, and this is probably one of those “few” games I spoke of that the Texans could lose. If last season is anything to go by, the Texans could squeak out a close one though. Matt Schaub felt the pressure early in Week 7 last year, but Joe Flacco came off second best throwing for 147-yards. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison needs another big day from Arian Foster too – he had 111-yards when these two met in 2012.
Week 4 – September 29: vs. Seattle Seahawks (1:00pm)
The Titans added some big free agents this offseason, but the Seahawks easily outdid them. This will be the Texans first real look at Percy Harvin along with Russell Wilson, and also one of the Seahawks’ rare visits to Reliant Stadium. The biggest thing to watch though is the Seahawks’ defense, which is probably the most complete in the league after adding Antoine Winfield earlier this week. The Texans struggled last year against top secondaries, as Matt Schaub threw five interceptions in three of the Texans’ losses. There’s reason to believe this could be another close one.
Week 5 – October 6: at San Francisco 49ers (8:30pm)
The second of the Texans’ four night games is at Candlestick Park, which completes a tough three week stretch for Kubiak’s team. The key to possibly beating the 49ers though, is through the air – since they ranked towards the bottom of the league in passing defense last year. All of this depends on what kind of receiver the Texans add in the draft, but the 49ers defense will be much different in 2013 without Dashon Goldson.
Week 6 – October 13: vs. St. Louis Rams (1:00pm)
The Texans outmatch the Rams in most offensive categories, and at home, this is another must win. But the Rams can’t be taken lightly at this stage – and even though by Week 6 we should have a firm grasp of where they’re at – there’s a lot of big names gone and a few boom or bust signings to look at. There’s no Danny Amendola or Steven Jackson about this Rams offense this time around, and Sam Bradford lacks a tight end. Still, there is Jake Long to hopefully allow fewer than 35-sacks this year, so there could be a potential upset watch about this game.
Week 7 – October 20: at Kansas City Chiefs (1:00pm)
The Texans haven’t seen the Chiefs since 2010 when they won 35-31. A lot has changed since then, and Andy Reid is still trying to figure out his new offense. It’d be a huge surprise to see the Texans lose this one, especially with Alex Smith figuring out a new playbook and system amongst the Chiefs rebuilding. At the least, the Texans should be taking on one of the top offensive line prospects in either Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson.
Week 8 – *Bye*
Week 9 – November 3: vs. Indianapolis Colts (8:30pm)
As far as the AFC South goes, this is the one to watch. These two split their series last season with a win each, and the Colts are looking for further success under Andrew Luck. By this point in the year, it’s likely both the Colts and Texans will be battling out atop the division, so this could be one of the most meaningful games for both sides. Matt Schaub threw two picks against the Colts in Week 17 last year, while Luck has been close to flawless throwing four touchdown passes. This one will come down to solid quarterback play as always.
Week 10 – November 10: at Arizona Cardinals (4:25pm)
This is one of only two late afternoon games the Texans have this season, the other coming against the Patriots later on. The Cardinals had four wins at home last year which made up their 5-11 record, meaning they are no gimme in front of their home crowd. The Texans should feel comfortable knowing the Cardinals quarterback carousel is shaky, and with likely all of the linebacker corp healthy by then, the Texans simply need to blitz whoever the Cardinals have at starter by this point in the season.
Week 11 – November 17: vs. Oakland Raiders (1:00pm)
The Texans are fortunate to have a three game homestand right towards the end of the season, and it kicks off with the Raiders coming in for a visit. Like the Cardinals the Raiders could either be in the wildcard hunt by this point, or a total slump. If Terelle Pryor is the starter, the Texans have an advantage with only one career start to his name. On the flip side, Matt Flynn offers a deep passing threat and reads the opposing coverage well, and is likely the best option when the game is on the line. The Texans are probably heavy favorites.
Week 12 – November 24: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (1:00pm)
There’s no reason the Jaguars can’t put up a fight in this one. We’ll see a lot of former Texans at work for Gus Bradley come Week 12, and new Texans fullback Greg Jones will also face his former friends. Last time the Jaguars met the Texans Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t available, and Jacksonville lost by a touchdown in a high scorer. The Texans also led in all three offensive categories – something that needs to change if the Jaguars want to give themselves a chance.
Week 13 – December 1: vs. New England Patriots (4:25pm)
The NFL has stuck with this as a late afternoon game, even though it could have been much later since its at Reliant Stadium. Either way, there’s a huge revenge factor here, and Schaub can’t afford anything less than a five star performance. Simply put, he hasn’t been able to find the endzone against New England recently, and fans are tired of losing to the Patriots. Another loss like this can easily set the tone for the postseason.
Week 14 – December 5: at Jacksonville Jaguars (8:25pm)
The Texans are capable of taking two dominating wins against the Jaguars this season, even with Jacksonville’s aid of the draft and free agency. The Jaguars gave up 50 sacks last year and couldn’t keep the Texans away from seven pointers. This is the one match up that Matt Schaub always lights up his numbers, too.
Week 15 – December 15: at Indianapolis Colts (1:00pm)
The Colts own the Texans at home, and it’s probably become more of a psychological issue for the Texans offense than it has been a physical lately. Colts fans know this is their one chance to say they’re still just as good as Houston, and at this point in the season, this could mean the difference between winning the division crowd or limping into the playoffs as a wildcard.
Week 16 – December 22: vs. Denver Broncos (1:00pm)
I like this match up, because it’s a good playoff prepper against one of the leagues most improved teams through free agency. Peyton Manning told NFL.com this week that he wants the Broncos to play faster, which means he wants the Broncos to play the no-huddle much more in 2013. It’s a big test for the Texans defense, and in particular Ed Reed and younger corners like Brice McCain against top flight receivers.
Week 17 – December 29: at Tennessee Titans (1:00pm)
The Texans end the season on the road, and will face Jake Locker for the second time. On offense the Titans are likely to compete with the Texans this year, even if they ranked 31st in first downs when the season ended in 2012. The Titans are now up to draft some defenders, especially on the defensive line. There is so much youth though on offense, and there’s a mild chance of a late season upset at LP Field.
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