The Houston Texans have been a potential breakout team for some time now. Since head coach Gary Kubiak took over, every year they team seemed to improve until the miserable setback of 6-10 came last year. Kubiak was retained, but it was made clear that this year will be playoffs or bust.
Is it doable this year though? Now that a new collective bargaining agreement looks to be close, other dominoes will start to fall. The length of camp, what free agents are retained or signed, and the health of returning starters are all questions that will hopefully soon be answered. Until they are, though, it’s hard to say how successful the Texans will be.
One thing that we know for sure is the schedule. Despite being in the middle of a lockout, the NFL released the regular-season schedule back in April. Now that it looks as if there will actually be a 16-game season, I decided to go back and analyze the schedule a little further.
When I did further examine the season, I found some interesting quirks that may or may not play a big role in the Texans' eventual success or failure this year. Here are the five schedule-related issues that may have the most bearing on the Texans.
Have any thoughts of your own on the schedule? Leave them in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@JakeBRB).
One of the difficulties that face teams in the western part of the United States is constantly having to travel east to play games. Teams that hail from the Pacific and Mountain time zones have a hard time adjusting to not only the pregame routine but also playing at what feels like 9:00 in the morning.
Sometimes the same is true in reverse though. Teams face difficulties traveling all the way across the country to play in locations such as California. It is a sizeable home-field advantage when your team is adjusted to the time and the visitors are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home.
This is certainly true of the Texans. Under Gary Kubiak they have laid eggs against teams they should have beaten in cities west of Houston. Examples of this are losing to the Broncos last year with Tim Tebow starting or losing to a hapless Raiders team in 2008 while attempting to get into the playoffs.
The Texans won’t have to worry about it this year. They do not travel west of Houston to play a single game this year. In fact, the only team they play from west of the Central time zone is Oakland, and it is a home game.
The 2011 opponents for the Texans were determined as soon as the 2010 regular season was over, but the order in which they face those opponents has a lot of bearing on potential success. This year, the Texans schedule appears to be heavily front loaded.
The 2010 combined records of their first-half opponents is 74-54, good for a .578 win percentage. The second-half opponents are a measly 59-69, however, for a much lower .460 win percentage. Of the six games against 2010 playoff teams, only two come after Week 6.
The NFL classically has a lot of fluctuation of talent, so some of the bad teams will inevitably get better and vice versa for the good teams. It is fair to say, though, that games against the Colts, Saints, Steelers and Ravens all within the first month-and-a-half constitute what will probably be the toughest stretch for Houston.
This can be viewed in either a positive or negative light, depending on your perspective. On one hand, a losing record in the beginning of the season could be disastrous for a fanbase that has been asked to buy off on the Kubiak regime for one more year. On the other hand, even a .500 record in the first six games could be a great foundation for a playoff run.
The Texans play 13 of their games all at the same time in 2011—12:00 CST. That leaves only three games in either a late-afternoon slot or in prime time. Last year, the team played twice as many games not in their standard early afternoon time.
For the fans, this is sort of a bummer. Prime-time games are usually a barometer of interest from the rest of the league, and the Texans only have one this year which is an away game. This is indicative of a 6-10 record in a season which was supposed to feature a long-awaited breakthrough.
It will likely be viewed as a positive for the team, however. Athletes thrive on routine, especially football players. Whether playing at home or away, every Sunday at 1:00 EST will feel like football time for the Texans. They will have their pregame routines down pat.
This may not seem that significant of an advantage, but in a game won or lost by inches, any little benefit is welcomed. The only potential change to this is if the Texans are in the middle of a playoff chase, some of their games may be flexed later in the year. I, for one, would be OK with that.
The Texans are an offensive team, to a fault. Under offensive-minded head coach Gary Kubiak, the Texans have been so lopsided with a great offense and abysmal defense that it has been their undoing. Last year was the greatest example of this.
Wade Phillips has been hired to fix the defense, but in one year he will likely be able to do only so much. This team will continue to be predicated on the offense winning games. One thing that can derail the high-powered passing offense is the cold, winter weather late in the regular season.
This year, weather shouldn’t be much of an issue. Unless October proves unseasonably cold in Baltimore or Nashville, the only game that the Texans play in which weather might be a factor is in Cincinnati on December 11th. All other games are either indoors or in Florida.
Thanks to the climate-controlled stadiums in Indianapolis and at home, Matt Schaub will likely have to throw in freezing or near-freezing temperatures once. He proved he can do it two years ago in frigid conditions in Green Bay, but I’m sure he and all Texans fans are OK with not having to do so again.
Playoff teams are often determined in the last few weeks of the season. For teams to earn a postseason berth, they have to prove that they are worthy by winning games down the stretch. This will be especially necessary for the Texans, who—as mentioned earlier—could have a rough start to the season.
The last part of the season is set up for this very possibility. In the last four games of the season, the Texans play the Panthers, Bengals, Colts and Titans. Besides the always-strong Colts, the Texans could not have asked for a better chance to catapult themselves into the postseason.
It is likely that three of those teams will be starting rookie quarterbacks by that time. The Colts, who are getting older and more injury-prone, may or may not be playing without key leaders on both offense and defense. Phillips’ defense will also have had 14 weeks to learn and gel before facing the two rookie offensive tackles for the Colts.
If the Texans want to finally make it to the playoffs, they have to make it happen in these four games.