At last, the wait is over.
With kickoff taking place in Green Bay last night, what felt like the longest offseason ever finally came to a close. And with the Houston Texans making their 2011 debut this Sunday at Reliant Stadium, I figured it was time to go on record with how I feel the team will do this year.
Let me preface this piece by stating to new readers that I have never predicted the Texans to have a winning season, much less make the playoffs. The past few years it has become a prediction favorite by the so-called experts out there that this will be the year the Texans finally turn the corner. But not from me; not even close. I have never picked this Houston team to finish better than .500, and except for the 2009 season (9-7 finish), I’ve always hit that mark.
So does that mean you should quit reading? Well, hopefully not, because this looks to be the year that Houston owner Bob McNair has finally read the riot act to a coaching regime that many would argue has overstayed its welcome. Bob decided to fire most of the coaching staff and not let Gary Kubiak hire another one of his drinking buddies to pretend to be a defensive coordinator. But with a defense that was historically bad in 2010, is it possible to have a one-year fix for a mess that bad?
Enter Wade Phillips, the defensive mastermind who has a knack at turning around poor defenses relatively fast. In just a short sample size this preseason, many believe that he can make the beleaguered Texans defense at least “middle of the pack” in 2011. And with an offense that ranked third in the NFL last season returning almost one hundred percent of its starters, this could be enough for Houston to finally get over the hump.
With all of that being said, we’re going to take a game-by-game look at the 2011 Texans schedule here, and I’ll go on record with my picks for each game. Feel free to bookmark this article which will make me look very smart, or oh so dumb, come January.
Week 1: vs. Indianapolis Colts
With all the media focused on the loss of Peyton Manning for possibly the entire 2011 season, many are forgetting the fact that Houston was already a favorite at home for this game. With Kerry Collins leading the way, Indy has no hope to match the high-powered Texans offense and they make the Houston defense look better than they ever did in 2011. Win (1-0)
Week 2: at Miami Dolphins
It seems like these two teams play almost every season, and every season the Texans find a way to beat them. In fact, Houston is 5-0 all-time against the Phins, and they make it six in a row here. Win (2-0)
Week 3: at New Orleans Saints
This is the first real test of the 2011 season from a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Much like the Saints game against the Packers last night, I think this one will be a shoot out by two of the best offenses in the game. New Orleans pulls away late to win by 10. Loss (2-1)
Week 4: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The last time these two met, the game was over by halftime. Houston makes it a much better game this time around, but is still unable to get a consistent rhythm going on offense and fall at home to even their record. Loss (2-2)
Week 5: vs. Oakland Raiders
With the .500 record after four games, some are already starting to say “same old Texans” and calling for Gary Kubiak to be replaced. You might think it’s too soon, but fans have grown impatient with this regime and results are expected. Good thing the Raiders come to town and get handled on both sides of the ball in a victory. Win (3-2)
Week 6: at Baltimore Ravens
The Monday Night game against Baltimore proved that the Texans offense can even put up gaudy numbers against the toughest of NFL defenses. And every season I say you’re going to win one you shouldn’t, and lose one you shouldn’t. This is winning the one they shouldn’t as they upset the Ravens at home and claim a victory against them for the first time in franchise history. Win (4-2)
Week 7: at Tennessee Titans
Regardless of what Michael Lombardi says, I see the Titans as a train wreck this season. But the weakened division sees them get off to a decent start and they have enough confidence in this game to take a lead into the fourth quarter before Houston pulls away in the end for a 10 point victory. Win (5-2)
Week 8: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Three straight victories, including two on the road, have silenced the Kubiak critics for the time being. With the Jags making the transition to rookie Blaine Gabbert by this point in the season, Houston rolls to a fourth straight win. Win (6-2)
Week 9: vs. Cleveland Browns
Off to their best start in franchise history, the coaching staff sees this as a trap game and spends extra time preparing. Colt McCoy has a big game, but Matt Schaub is able to match him comfortably for a fifth straight victory. Win (7-2)
Week 10: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
By this point, the city is going nuts for this football team. But there is still cautious optimism as fans remember how they managed to lose eight of their last 10 the season before. And with one game before the bye, they’re unable to win a nail-biter against the young Bucs who seem to find ways to win all the close ones. Loss (7-3)
Week 11: BYE
The fans and the team have to feel good headed into the bye week standing at 7-3. A cushy three-game lead in the AFC South standings seems to indicate that only a huge collapse could keep them out of the playoffs for the first time in history. Still, there are epic amounts of cautious optimism floating around The Bayou City.
Week 12: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Remember what I mentioned earlier about losing one you shouldn’t? Well, this is it. In a rivalry game, it never matters how good or bad one team is; it’s always going to be a close game. Even when the Jags were terrific and the Texans had David Carr, they’d still find a way to win against them. This is what the Jags, who are having an abysmal season, do here. Loss (7-4)
Week 13: vs. Atlanta Falcons
Looking to lick their wounds and recover back at home, Houston unfortunately meets up with the Falcons. Atlanta, with an offense that is clicking as well as Houston’s, is able to score when needed, and, unlike the Texans, they make the stops late in the game. The Texans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this one as they fall for the third straight game. Loss (7-5)
Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals
A five-game win streak followed up by a three-game losing streak has fans already predicting the collapse that was dreaded. But what better remedy to get back on track than by facing the Bengals who are being led by a rookie quarterback? Houston easily gets their much needed first win in over a month. Win (8-5)
Week 15: vs. Carolina Panthers
Facing a rookie quarterback for the second straight week is just what Houston needed to get back on track as they take care of the rebuilding Panthers in simple fashion, and the team clinches the AFC South and their first playoff berth in franchise history. Win (9-5)
Week 16: at Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning is playing in his third game since coming back from his neck surgery, and he isn’t going quietly. He has his timing back, and Gary Kubiak decides to rest some key players who are banged up in preparations for the playoffs, as Houston remains winless against the Colts in Indy. Loss (9-6)
Week 17: vs. Tennessee Titans
In the final tune-up before the postseason, Houston is playing for an opportunity to host a first round meeting in Houston. So all the key players are on the field and they take care of business here easily. Win (10-6)
Wild Card Weekend: vs. Baltimore Ravens
The first playoff game in Houston since 1993 has a Super Bowl-like vibe to it as the success-hungry fans of Houston come out in droves. The city is pretty much at a stand-still that it hasn’t seen since the inaugural game against the Cowboys in 2002. Baltimore, who earned the wild card after losing a tiebreaker to the Steelers, has to come on the road to try and exact some revenge on their week 6 loss to the Texans. This one comes down to the final series that sees Matt Schaub and Arian Foster lead an eight minute drive to break a 21-21 tie with a Neil Rackers field goal from 33 yards as time expires. Win (1-0, 11-6 overall)
Divisional Playoff: at Pittsburgh Steelers
By this point, many Texans fans are elated and begin to think “why not us?” But poor weather conditions and the smash mouth Pittsburgh defense sees the Houston offense play the worst it has all season in a painful loss that sees a spectacular season disappear with the snow and ice on Heinz Field. Loss (1-1, 11-7 overall)
I think this is a scenario most Texans fans would be enthralled to witness. To go from mediocrity to finally breaking the string of not being able to make the playoffs, and even winning a game would be more than any fan thought could have happened after the 2010 season.
But this team is still young and seems to have found a good coaching combo with Wade’s defense and Gary’s offense. This isn’t a one year deal for Houston. They’ll be back. And they will be better.
So there you have it, folks. The first time I've finally bought in to all the Texans hype. The thing is, I thought they were good enough to win the division before Garrard was cut and Manning was declared inactive for awhile. But with all of that taken into effect, I see no way they can't win this division if they avoid injuries to critical pieces.
If you want a more thorough breakdown of each game, check out the weekly podcast a group of us do here, and you won't be disappointed.