Bill O'Brien and Deshaun Watson will have an interesting schedule to deal with in 2018. Getty Images
The Texans already knew they had the fourth place schedule and would be facing the Browns and Broncos as well as teams from the NFC East and AFC East as well as their six games against the AFC South. Last night they found out the order and kickoff times. That’s the most important part of it.
And despite the Texans getting the easiest schedule based on win percentage from 2017, it’s not as simple as the numbers suggest.
Let’s break it all down and try and get an idea of how the schedule might determine their record.
Starting on the road against 2 tough opponents.
They start Week 1 in Gillete Stadium against the New England Patriots and head to Nashville for a Week 2 divisional game against the Titans.
It’s tough to start the season on the road, it’s even tougher to start on the road against the AFC Champions. The Patriots have a pretty good record against the Texans the last few years and although they have shown vulnerability in early season games this will be a challenge for the Texans.
Follow that up with a road game against a divisional foe that made the playoffs last year and you have what could easily be an 0-2 start. It will be up to the Texans defense to slow down Tennessee’s run game and make this a low scoring affair.
The next 3 out of 4 are at home and all 4 are winnable.
They come home for the Giants in week 3, who finished 2017 with 2 wins; then hit the road for their first meeting with the Colts and return to Houston for games with the Cowboys and Bills. Only the Bills made the playoffs last year but they have undergone offensive changes at the quarterback and receiver positions so an early visit to Houston may be an advantage for the Texans.
The Cowboys game is the first of three scheduled in prime time, which sets up for a nice challenge. The Texans haven’t always done well outside of Sunday afternoon, and they haven’t always done well against their in-state opponent. The schedule might work in their favor this year because it’s a home game in a stretch when the Texans should be finding their groove. The loss of Dez Bryant might hurt the Cowboys’ offense at a time when they aren’t ready for a stout defense.
If the Texans can somehow manage 3-4 wins in the first 6 weeks of the season they will be in a good position for their Week 7 matchup on the road in Jacksonville. Midseason is when a team should start to find its groove and figure out who they are. The Jacksonville defense will probably be playing well so it might be a low scoring game. This one could rest on the shoulders of the quarterback, if that’s the case then I will bet on Houston.
The great late season push
The Texans will face the Dolphins at home on Thursday night in Week 8 and the Broncos in Denver before their week 10 bye. Both are potential wins if the team is healthy and playing at or near its potential.
After the break they have five winnable games: at Washington; home against the Titans on Monday night, then Browns and Colts; wrapped up with a road game against the Jets.
Those are seven winnable games if Houston is firing on all cylinders. It will be later in the season and injuries will probably be a factor so I am going to assume the Texans can get through this stretch with 4 or 5 wins. Houston can be in position for a wild card if everything goes well heading into the final 2 weeks of the season.
The Final 2 games might be do or die
Just to make sure it’s no easy road to the playoffs for a former last place team, the scheduler left the Texans with two final games that should determine their fate.
In week 16 they hit the road to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Eagles and wrap up the season against the AFC runner-up Jacksonville Jaguars. Neither of which are considered winnable right now. This is the kind of “F You!” the NFL sometimes throws in there to keep a team who might have just gone through an off year from having a clear and easy path to the playoffs.
Just because the Texans have the fourth place schedule, and the easiest; it may not be an easy road. These final two games will most likely determine the playoff fate of the Texans. It’s only fitting that they are against some of the toughest teams. Hopefully they can get at least a split and secure a playoff spot.
Taking into account the full scope of the schedule; this looks like it might be another 9-7 season. That’s better than the 4-12 from last year, but it might not be enough to get into the playoffs and just enough to be a successful turnaround. Anything can happen and teams can play above their expectations, the Texans being one of the teams fully capable of doing so.
This is a team loaded with talent, especially on defense; that has the potential to win more games than would have been thought. If the star players stay healthy they can ride this into a playoff spot and there they can upset the balance of the AFC postseason. It will take a lot of effort and great coaching to get there but it can be done. After all, this was a team that two years ago had the No. 1 defense, and at one-point last year had the highest scoring offense with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. If all of the cards fall into place then the Texans will be a formidable team. If there are any struggles or injuries it might be another long season that teases a playoff spot.
Now it’s just a waiting game to see what additions and subtractions help finalize the roster as we all eagerly await the opening game on Sept. 9.
Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.
Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.
Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.
Who pitches the sixth inning?
Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”
While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.
And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.
But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.
Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!
Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!