Houston Texans: Tough 2020 schedule includes brutal first four weeks

The Houston Texans weren’t done any favors by the NFL’s schedule-makers in 2020, and their opening four-week slate might be the toughest in the league.

The Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals find themselves unexpectedly linked in two major ways heading into the 2020 season.

The first and most obvious linkage: star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins now plays for the Cardinals after having previously spent the entirety of his career in a Texans uniform.

The second and less obvious linkage: these teams are tied in the strength of schedule difficulty rankings for his upcoming season, according to CBS Sports’ John Breech.

Both Houston and Arizona rank eighth in the NFL in terms of anticipated schedule difficulty (based off 2019’s results for NFL teams in win/loss percentage and overall record).

Only the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons have a tougher road than the Texans do to traverse this fall.

The teeth of Houston’s schedule seems be all up front as well. The Texans open up their 2020 season against the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs — and on the road — before returning home to face the Baltimore Ravens, last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC.

It doesn’t get any easier in Weeks 3 and 4, either. Houston goes back on the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third week of the season at one of the most hostile away environments in the NFL — and it’s a team that should have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back under center. And then the Texans conclude this opening quarter of their year at home against the Minnesota Vikings, who went 10-6 a season ago.

The first four weeks aren’t the only difficult part of Texans’ 2020 schedule, either

The Texans will get somewhat of a respite in Week 5 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a division rival they swept last year. But then Houston will go on the road to take on the Tennessee Titans — another division rival and the AFC runner-up in 2019 — before finishing their pre-bye schedule against the Green Bay Packers, who were the NFC runner-up in 2019.

All in all, it makes for an extremely difficult first half of the season — and the first four weeks are particularly daunting.

Houston head coach Bill O’Brien knows how important it is for the Texans to start strong right out of the gate this season:

“I think early in the season, I think the team that does the best job with tackling, with penalties, with ball security is going to be the team that has the advantage,” O’Brien told reporters Thursday, per USA Today’s Mark Lane.

Next: Texans get no love in Bleacher Report win/loss projection

Hopefully, the Texans will do a better job at tackling, minimizing penalties, and holding onto the ball throughout the 2020 season than their opponents — but particularly in the first four weeks against some of their most difficult competition.

Otherwise, they could be in for a long season…