The Schedule Release Serves A Timely Reminder of this Team’s Challenges – Both On And Off The Field.
At six-thirty central, Thursday, the Texans schedule was revealed upon the click of Marc Vandermeer & John Harris, to present the much anticipated release. To their credit, both provided a refreshing live Texans-lead perspective compared to previous years disseminations. This was ahead of the three hour long, NFL Network hand-holding and ‘hot take-ry’ session.
The obvious uncertainty of when, how many and where these games will be played, remain valid questions that will continue to orbit. The “show must go on” mantra has been the NFL’s approach to date but it remains to be seen how smoothly the season unfolds for teams and administers. Although they have previously coped with localised disasters, never a nationwide public safety issue.
There were a few startling outliers:
The first two opponents
The strength of the initial seven game stretch
Playing two games in five days
The Late Season onslaught of divisional games
Only one solitary prime time appearance
Prime Time By A Fifth
The Texans seem to being facing into broadcast exclusion with only one true prime time slot, from a possible five and repeat of eight years ago, in Detroit, on Thanksgiving.
Deshaun Watson, in year four, would appear a perfect lead for network executives, or even a cheesy battle of the Watt brothers. But Houston will travel to Pittsburgh in a bland noon kick-off in week three, just as the Quarterback match up’s with Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were deemed not fit to top the bill that week.
Typically Houston would receive a token divisional Thursday or Monday night game. This will be the Texans first season without MNF since 2016 and the least nationally televised games since 2011.
Business End of the Schedule
The AFC South, as a whole, received the cold shoulder, Tennessee have two prime time slots, one of which is against Indianapolis, the Colts only appearance. A possible indictment – of Phillip Rivers ability to change their fortunes or Ryan Tannehill’s ability to continue last years rare form – may be showing from inner league circles.
The late season inter-divisional games will largely shape the division. The much lauded potential of Phillip Rivers’ familiarity of Frank Reich system will be realised over weeks 13 and weeks 15. The latter tie, could become part of the newly accustomed ‘Texans Saturday’ showing, if flexed. The season finale for a second year in a row, will see the Titans will enter NRG stadium with potential playoff implications. The Texans ability to still in contention by that point, could be feasibly in doubt. As how they negotiate through some key stretches will determine if these games are indeed to be of material consequence.
Home Field Advantage & Key Stretches
The Texans have not let their home record necessarily be their strength in recent years that have left a sense of under achievement when reflecting on that record. That luxury won’t simply be afforded to O’Brien and his team this season.
The Texans will need to show some of their big-game presence they refreshingly unearthed last season but also will need to refine their 12-noon sluggish starts. As a minimum of 13 games will be noon kick-off’s, but there are come clear pinch-points that will underpin their 2020 record:
Soft Landing Before the bye week:
At Tennessee in Week 6, Followed by week 7 visit of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Reaching the bye with any less than 4 wins may not be a viable option for a team with post season aspirations.
A Make or Break Run Coming out of the Bye
Houston are at Jacksonville week 9, followed by week 10 trip to Cleveland before the visit of the Tom Brady-less Patriots. Then with only three days to rest, the early Thanksgiving tie in Detroit will likely be a watermark for Houstons 2020 record. Leaving that stretch with less than three wins may have already set their fate in motion.
Making NRG an intimidating place to play once more
Winning Back-To-Back – Weeks 4 & 5 followed by 16 & 17 will be strategically placed games against Minnesota, Jacksonville, Cincinnati & Tennessee respectively. Houston will need to yield a minimum of three victories considering the opponents faced. And most importantly building momentum with their own fans, via positive home-field performances.
Facing a Couple Rude Awakenings
Facing the last two years MVP quarterbacks in a matter of weeks.
Game 1 @ Kansas City Chiefs – Thursday Night Football – Season Opener
Game 2 – Baltimore Ravens – Late Afternoon Slot
Opening the season, the Texans will watch former Safety Tyrann Mathieu and his star quarterback collect their championship rings, in front of the NBC crewe. There has to be a concern of exposure due to the occasion that will be perhaps one of the most watched games of the year. As it will provide a return to normalcy, not dissimilar to the resumption of the league post the 9/11 week break. So the Texans will need to be ready in a shortened off-season program, two days earlier than 30 other teams and rise to the occasion, hoping the Chiefs haven’t quite worked off that hangover from February. This game has the potential to set the teams trajectory against the reigning SuperBowl champs.
That trip to Arrowhead in many ways, poses a more favourable match-up than the Texans will face in the following two weeks. The Texans are built to attack that type of Chiefs defence and even more favourably with their acquirement of further offensive speed. As will often be the case, if they can gain some intermediary level of defensive inception on the field, it could create conditions for this team to win. But the offence will again be required to carry the bulk of the load. This formula will likely come unstuck against top tier defences like Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Considering the opposition and two road trips to kick-off 2020 Houston face the prospect of five play-off teams in their opening seven games. Even the grandest of Pro-Houston optimists would struggle not to be concerned with where the record will be after seven games.
Defining the O’Brien Era
The Texans face a schedule that posses a propensity to arrive back of in common realms of 9-7. But based on the moves made, future drafts leveraged, beloved players exported, there’s no other feasible expectations than reaching the AFC Championship game. Failing to do so, will incite the many baying for change.
Signs would point towards a climacteric year for all those concerned. Either way, it would seem, whatever side of the fence you sit, you could be one step closer to your wish.