Breaking down the Texans’ first 4 games of the 2017 NFL season

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The first four games of the Houston Texans’ 2017 season will tell fans all we need to know about this team.

It would be very difficult to find a more challenging opening quarter of the season for any team in the NFL than the gauntlet the Houston Texans face in 2017.

Part of the problem is that the Texans play in what has arguably become the best division in football and part of the problem is how the NFL develops their schedule.

Here is a look at the first four games that will largely determine how far this team goes in 2017.

September 10 – vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

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Before anyone starts to think that it’s just the Jaguars, let’s revisit how the Texans did last year against the Jacksonville.

The good news is the Texans won both games last year against their division foe. The bad news is it was by a total of just four points.

The Jaguars finished the season with a 3-13 record, but Jacksonville wasn’t your typical three-win team. They were inconsistent but in games they kept things close against some really good teams like the Green Bay Packers (lost by four) and the Kansas City Chiefs (lost by five) who both won their respective divisions.

More potentially bad news for Texans’ fans is how much the Jaguars have improved from last year.

The Jaguars got some much needed defensive help with the additions of cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Barry Church, and defensive lineman Calais Campbell through free agency.

Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles was bad last year. Not Brock Osweiler bad but bad nonetheless. He should be better in his third NFL season and having rookie running back Leonard Fournette in the backfield should help.

Jacksonville will most likely not hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year, but this isn’t your father’s Jaguars either. Based on the close games last year and the improvements they have made for 2017, this could be a serious challenge for the Texans to start the season.

September 14 – at Cincinnati Bengals

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The Bengals were a disappointing team last year but then again I think you could say that every year in recent memory for Cincinnati.

The Bengals managed just six wins in 2016 and half of those came at the expense of the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns.

Still, the Texans managed to make a game of it last year against the Bengals, beating the Bungles 12-10 on Christmas Eve in Houston. A win is a win but the Texans were given a gift with Bengal’ kicker Randy Bullock missing a 43-yard field goal as time expired.

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Cincinnati improved their offensive weapons with the addition of rookie wide receiver John Ross from University of Washington and rookie running back Joe Mixon from the University of Oklahoma.

But in typical Bengals fashion of one step forward and two steps back they lost two of their best offensive linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.

This looks to be the most winnable game for the Texans of their first four, but the NFL schedule makers didn’t do Houston any favors by having them play this game on a Thursday night and making Houston travel to Cincinnati.

Good teams will find a way to win in difficult situations. So if the Texans are true contenders they need to win this game against a somewhat inferior opponent.

September 24 – at New England Patriots

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This is easily the most difficult game for the Texans during the first month and maybe the entire season.

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady is 7-1 against the Texans during his career if you include the playoffs. He has thrown for 17 touchdowns to just six interceptions in those eight games.

In four home games against the Texans during the Brady era, the Patriots have averaged nearly 40 points a game.

The key to beating the Patriots and really any team in the NFL is to put pressure on the quarterback. This is something the Texans should be able to do with a healthy J.J. Watt and a motivated Jadeveon Clowney.

The Texans did have some success against Brady, forcing two interceptions in that otherwise forgettable playoff game last season.

The play of Osweiler proved to be too much for the Texans to overcome last year but they should look to keep the ball on the ground and use a controlled passing game to keep Brady off the field as much as possible.

This should be the plan but playing the Patriots in New England is a lot like fighting Mike Tyson in his prime. The former heavyweight champion famously quipped, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The narrative of the Texans season can be largely told if they can take a punch and fight back instead of falling on the canvas.

October 1st – vs. Tennessee Titans

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Titans and Texans split last year, each team winning at home by a touchdown.

The confusing part is that the Texans were beaten by quarterback Matt Cassel but made Marcus Mariota look average.

The Titans are a fashionable pick to win the AFC South this year in large part due to Mariota’s strong season in 2016 which ended with a broken leg.

Tennessee has a very potent running attack with both DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The backfield along with Mariota accounted for over 2,000 yards on the ground last year.

The Titans upgraded their secondary with the additions of cornerback  Logan Ryan from the Patriots and safety Jonathan Cyprien formerly of Jacksonville. This improves a defense that gave up the third most passing yards per game last year.

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Despite the free agent additions, the Texans’ receivers should have a lot of opportunities in this game if the defense can repeat their performance from last year when they didn’t allow a 100 yard rusher in either game against the Titans.

I don’t share the prognostications that the Titans will win the division but they are a good team.

These two teams will forever be linked or at least until the last person that remembers “Luv ya Blue” is no longer on Earth so there is something special about playing the Titans.

Depending on how the opening game of the season goes this could be a pivotal divisional game for the Texans.

It’s a must win if there is a possibility that they go 0-2 in the division, considering both of those losses would be at home.

The Texans could easily start the season 0-4 and probably just as likely to go 4-0 in their first four games of the year. Reality probably lies somewhere in between.

Regardless of how it turns out, we will know what kind of season the Texans will have based on this difficult early stretch of games.