LOOKING AHEAD

What to know about the 2018 Texans schedule

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. The Jaguars

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.  


 

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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