Last night, the NFL announced their 2011 regular season schedule.
There would normally be nothing strange about this as the schedule is always announced sometime in the month of April.
It is perfect timing as far as the league is concerned, because it drums up excitement for the draft, the league’s biggest ratings-grabber outside of the regular season.
This year is different though.
One must wonder as you look over the schedule, if any of these games will not be played because of the current status of the labor unrest and league mandated lockout.
This is especially poignant considering home games are scheduled to be played in Washington DC and New York on Opening Day, which happens to be the 10th anniversary of September 11th.
For fans of the Houston Texans, the announcement of the schedule has to be met with concern and contentment simultaneously.
There are definite rough stretches, but considering the slate of pre-determined opponents, the schedule makers gave a favorable order to those games, in my opinion.
Also, I know that no one will admit it because it would be considered cheap or cowardly, but the Texans might be one of a handful of teams that might not mind losing a few games off the front end of the season.
They should want either a quick resolution to the lockout, or a drawn out process; losing training camp time but no regular season games would be a worst case scenario.
I will explain with my assessment of the 2011 schedule.
I will analyze the season the way that most coaches do; in quarters.
A 16 game season becomes four four-game seasons to coaches as they try to make the playoffs.
The philosophy is simple: produce a winning record in every four game stretch or at least three of the four and you will produce a winning record.
So, here’s my take on the 2011 regular season schedule for the Houston Texans.
Week 1–9/11/2011: Indianapolis Colts.
Week 2–9/18/2011: @Miami Dolphins.
Week 3–9/25/2011: @New Orleans Saints.
Week 4–10/02/2011: Pittsburgh Steelers.
The first four games of the season are by far the most difficult of the four quarters.
Last season, the Texans approached the opening game against Indianapolis as if it was a playoff game, while the Colts almost laughed at the Texans' attitude.
The result was a pounding in which Arian Foster was introduced to the national spotlight.
The Colts won’t take this repeat season opener for granted.
Following that week is a Miami team that many are assuming will be worse, and might be considered the one “easier” game of the four.
Games between the Texans and Dolphins are always close, however, and even though the offense is in shambles, the Dolphins will return a lot of defensive starters for Mike Nolan, who is one of the best coordinators league-wide in my opinion.
The following week will pit Houston against their annual preseason opponents, the Saints.
The last game of the four game stretch is against the Steelers.
3-4 defenses always give the Texans fits, and the last time they faced off against the Steelers it was to open the 2008 season when the Texans were embarrassed in Pittsburgh.
This stretch of the season is pivotal for the Texans. If they can come away with two wins out of the four, I would be a happy man.
Winning against the Colts and Steelers would be huge, because obviously beating a division opponent is key and beating the Steelers may have tie-breaking implications if the Texans actually come close to reaching the playoffs for the first time.
As I was saying before, the Texans cannot afford a resolution to the lockout right before the season. If Phillips has to face these four teams without ample time to implement his defense, the results could be disastrous.
Hear that Mr. McNair? Disastrous.
Week 5–10/09/2011: Oakland Raiders.
Week 6–10/16/2011: @Baltimore Ravens.
Week 7–10/23/2011: @Tennessee Titans.
Week 8–10/30/2011: Jacksonville Jaguars.
This quarter will be less harsh than the first, but very critical all the same.
It will be interesting to see what shape Oakland is in by Week 5. Last year they seemed to really be making strides forward, as evident by sweeping their division, but then they fired their head coach.
People rave about Hue Jackson, but that is not a healthy way to take over a team.
Playing at Baltimore will be very tough. I believe the Ravens will have a chip on their shoulder all year because of the way they ended their season last year, and they will not let the Steelers win the division again and get home field advantage.
Every game will matter to them, and the Texans will not sneak up on them again as they did in their impressive comeback that was all for naught on Monday Night Football last year.
The next two games will set the tone for the Texans in the AFC South.
Tennessee will have no business being good considering their upheaval in the offseason, and the Texans should feel embarrassed if they let Jason Babin and company perform a victory pose like last year.
The Jaguars, however, will be a difficult opponent. They are quietly getting a lot better as a football team since Gene Smith took over, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The real question for them is at quarterback. If they enter another season with David Garrard starting, I predict another mediocre season for them.
If the Texans hope to make the playoffs for the first time, they need to win three out of these four games.
This would put them in contention for the division, and all four games are conference games which could be huge for playoff tiebreakers.
Week 9–11/06/2011: Cleveland Browns.
Week 10–11/13/2011: @Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Week 11–11/20/2011: Bye.
Week 12–11/27/2011: @Jacksonville Jaguars.
Week 13–12/04/2011: Atlanta Falcons.
You hate to call one quarter of the season less significant, but if I had to pick one that was the least pivotal, this would be it.
Cleveland will still not be a great team next year.
Colt McCoy will lead a mediocre offfense at best next season, and the defense will be completely revamped by Dick Jauron, who I feel is a substandard coordinator.
The Texans should not lose this home game.
Tampa Bay was a surprise last season, but I see them taking a step back next year. They will face a tougher schedule, and this team had a terrible record against above average teams last year.
There’s a lot to like from this team, but I don’t think they're as good as people give them credit.
Having said that, they could still beat the Texans the week before their bye.
The bye is at the optimal time if the Texans will finally make it to the playoffs.
Teams prefer to have their bye as late as possible because if it comes too early, players will be ragged by the final stretch of the regular season.
The only exception to this is if teams need to halt an early season skid. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
The game in Jacksonville is the only game in this quarter that is a must-win regardless of the Texans’ record. You have to win division games late in the season to become an elite team.
It won’t be easy either because I believe the Jaguars will still be in the playoff hunt.
This game will not be easy, but at least the defense will have had 13 weeks to learn and gel.
Week 14–12/11/2011: @Cincinnati Bengals.
Week 15–12/18/2011: Carolina Panthers.
Week 16–12/22/2011: @Indianapolis Colts.
Week 17–01/01/2011: Tennessee Titans.
This is the quarter of the season that will determine the playoff future of the Texans…hopefully.
Who will be playing quarterback for the Bengals in Week 14? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question to include Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer.
I think it’s safe to say though, that this season should be a rough one for Bengals fans. This game should be a confidence booster going into the final stretch.
Carolina is in a similar state of flux that Cincinnati is, although not as dysfunctional. I respect Ron Rivera as a coach, but he has his work cut out for him and this is a multi-year turnaround project.
No way the Texans should lose this game at home and still consider themselves a playoff team.
It would be nice if this Thursday night game in Indianapolis is to decide the fate of the division, but to be honest, I’ll be happy if the Texans are just still in the playoff hunt.
The Colts have a tendency to rest starters late in the year, but here’s hoping they are not in a position to do so in 2011.
If I had to pick a division opponent to close out the season, at home no less, it would be the Titans.
I would LOVE to see the Texans destroy the minions of Bud Adams in the city that he stole a football team from.
This game is circled on my calendar, please don’t let me down Gary.
As I stated before, given that it was already known who the 2011 opponents for the Texans would be, I can’t think of too many more favorable ways of putting the 16 games together.
It’s almost as if the NFL is tired of hearing about this year finally being the playoff season for Houston, and is doing everything they can to make that happen.
Don’t see it? Consider the facts:
The Texans have five consecutive two-game stretches of home or away games after the opener (two away, then two home, then two away…)
After the first quarter of games which includes three playoff teams from 2010, they face only one in the subsequent quarters.
They play one game (Cincinnati in Week 14) that is likely to be a cold weather game. The rest are either in warm climates at the end of the year, or indoors.
They get to open and close the season at home, again.
The only negative aspect of the schedule is the lack of prime time games. The Texans have one, and none at home.
This is a significant step back from the three from 2010. In fact, there are only three games that won’t be played at Noon CST.
While that may not be great if you’re a fan, it’s probably more ideal for players. Every week, they will be ready to play at 12:00.
Consistency is bred from routine.
The dye is cast for the Texans. If Gary Kubiak fails to take them to the playoffs yet again, he has no excuses anymore.
For my ridiculously early record prediction, I’m going to say 10-6 and a wild card playoff berth.
What say you Texans fans? Let me know your predictions either in the comments, or on twitter (@JakeBRB).