The Houston Texans had the best season in franchise history in 2009, finishing with their first winning record at 9-7 after back-to-back seasons at 8-8. Still, most around the team would still call it a disappointment because the playoffs were expected – Houston did have a chance to get in on the final Sunday of the 2009 season with a little help but it didn’t happen. The killer was a four-game losing streak starting in Week 9 and all to division opponents. Houston then ended the year on a four-game winning streak. The Texans were 5-3 on the road in 2009 but just 1-5 overall against AFC South foes.
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The bright spot last year was definitely the passing game. Matt Schaub became a Pro Bowler for the first time and led the NFL in passing yards with 4,770 – including nine 300-yard games. He also completed 67.9 percent of his throws and had 29 touchdowns. And his favorite target, Andre Johnson, led the NFL in receiving yardage with 1,569 on 101 catches with nine touchdowns. The main problem on offense was a practically non-existent running game that ranked 30th. Steve Slaton was a stud as a rookie in 2008 in leading the AFC in yards from scrimmage. But then last year he kept fumbling, lost his confidence and the starting job and then suffered a neck injury. Thus, this season he will have to battle rookie Ben Tate and Arian Foster for the starting job, and reportedly Foster is in the leader entering camp. He had had 267 yards in the last two games of the 2009 season. In addition, star TE Owen Daniels, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year, says he fully expects to be ready for the start of the season. He was on the way to a monster season with 40 catches for 519 yards and five touchdowns before going down in Week 8.
The Houston defense was middle-of-the-pack last year, ranking 13th overall (10th against run, 18th against pass). And that unit could struggle some in 2010 because the team’s best cornerback, Dunta Robinson, left as a free agent. Thus, rookie Kareem Jackson may have to start. And Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing will miss the first four games after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
With Coach Gary Kubiak getting a contract extension after last year, nothing short of the playoffs will suffice in 2010. WagerWeb lists Houston’s ‘over/under’ for NFL season win totals at 8.5. Let’s break down the 2010 Houston Texans schedule (all times Eastern):
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Monday, Nov. 1, at Indianapolis, 8:30 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Dec. 2, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 13, Baltimore, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
This schedule ranks as the co-toughest in the NFL in terms of opponents’ 2009 winning percentage at .547 (140-116). Houston, which has seven games against ’09 playoffs teams, has a team-record three prime-time games on the schedule; the Texans previously had never had more than two nationally televised games in one season (2005).
The Texans probably would like to open with anyone other than the Colts, but at least they can game plan for Indy all summer. Houston always seems to play the Colts tough – losing both games last year by a combined 11 points – but can never beat them. The Texans are 1-15 against the Colts, but I’m calling the upset in Week 1 even though Indy is a three-point favorite.
Houston’s questionable pass defense will definitely be tested in the first five weeks in having to face Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Eli Manning. And having to face two potential Super Bowl teams in Indy and Dallas in its first two home games will be no picnic for Houston. A 3-3 record at the bye wouldn’t be a bad thing and 4-2 might be asking too much. That Dallas game will be crazy – already being called a scalper’s holiday in Houston -- because the two teams haven't met at Reliant Stadium since the Texans' 19-10 upset in the first game in franchise history in 2002.
After their open date, the Texans have two stretches in which they play three of four on the road. Houston gets Indy after the bye week and on a Monday night, but the Colts are off the same week so really no benefit there. The next four games feature two more matchups against potential Super Bowl teams (San Diego and the Jets) before the quick turnaround for the Thursday night at Philly. Last season, the Texans finished 3-1 against the NFC for the third consecutive year. Looking on the bright side, Kubiak said that the 11-day gap between the Eagles and Ravens games will be like having another bye week late in the season.
Think the weather will be a factor for that Week 15 matchup in Nashville and Week 16 in Denver? Then the Texans should be able to close with a win over Jacksonville.
I think Houston is a playoff-caliber team, but this is a very tough schedule. Obviously it never helps having to play Indy twice a year. I would call this as a 9-7 team, which probably won’t be enough to reach the postseason. WagerWeb lists Houston as +320 to win the AFC South, and I can’t see that happening short of an injury to Peyton Manning.