The Houston Texans have claimed the past two AFC South titles, but winning a third will prove to be a tall task, as the rest of the division has significantly improved this offseason through free agency and the draft. The Texans retained the majority of their players that lead the league in total defense last year and also have a healthy J.J. Watt returning from injury.
But Houston won’t become a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they don’t get better play from the quarterback position, which was a major liability for them in 2016. Keeping that previous statement in mind, Texans general manger Rick Smith traded up 13 spots in this year’s draft in order to select quarterback Deshaun Watson out of Clemson. Watson, who developed an impressive resume in college, could wind up being the missing piece Houston needs to make a championship run in the near future.
Here’s a game-by-game prediction of how the 2017 season could go for the Texans:
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET
Houston does fairly well in home-openers, owning a 7-4 record in those games. Their record against the Jaguars since Bill O’Brien took over as head coach is an unblemished 6-0. The Texans will spoil cornerback A.J. Bouye’s homecoming and start the season off strong with a win over a division rival.
Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 14, at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:25 p.m. ET
The Texans have gotten the best of the Bengals in seven of their past eight meetings. Houston’s success against Cincinnati will continue as their defense makes life miserable for Andy Dalton.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET
Houston and New England are no strangers to each other. Although the Texans kept things close in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, they’ve managed to lose six straight games at Gillette Stadium, which dates all the way back to 2006. That number will increase to seven when the dust settles.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET
The Titans have become a formidable opponent for Houston, but the Texans had their most impressive offensive showing of the 2016 season when these two clashed in Houston. They’ll pick up a victory at home and start off the first quarter of the season holding a 2-0 record over the AFC South.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:30 p.m. ET
This will be the fourth time Houston and Kansas City have played each other in three seasons. In 2016, the Texans barely beat the Chiefs due to the efforts of Nick Novak, who would drill four field goals to bail them out. Once again, this should be a low-scoring, defensive battle as Houston comes away with an ugly win.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET
The Browns are in rebuilding mode, and although they had a strong offseason, which included three first-round picks, they won’t be good enough to upset a 2016 playoff team on their home field. Assuming Cleveland holds on to Brock Osweiler, this game could get interesting when he makes his return to NRG Stadium.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET
Houston had trouble winning away from NRG Stadium last year, posting a 2-6 record in road games. Considering Seattle is known for having a great home-field advantage, it’s hard to imagine the Texans’ offense mustering enough points to take down the Seahawks.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET
The last time the Texans and Colts met at NRG Stadium, Houston overcame a 23-9 deficit in prime time to win 26-23 in overtime. They’ll get the better of Indianapolis again at home, a place where the Texans were 7-1 in 2016.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Los Angeles Rams, 4 p.m. ET
Houston will get a win in the City of Angels simply because they are a superior team to Los Angeles. The Rams finished with a 4-12 record last season and aren’t expected to get marginally better in 2017.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m. ET
The Cardinals finished the 2016 season with a disappointing 7-8-1 record, but they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to bounce back. This game will be close, but Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will hand the Texans their first loss at home in 2017.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 27, at Baltimore Ravens, 7:25 p.m. ET
This game will be a matchup of two excellent defenses. As a result, this should be a low-scoring Monday night game. But the edge narrowly goes to Baltimore because they have an experienced signal caller in Joe Flacco and are playing in front of a home crowd.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET
The Titans have significantly closed the game between themselves and the Texans in the past two offseasons. Both clubs split 1-1 last season, each team coming away with a win at home. This will happen again in 2017.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1 p.m. ET
Like the Cleveland, San Francisco is rebuilding and isn’t good enough to knock off a 2016 playoff team. Whoever gets the nod to start quarterback in this game will have a long day against Houston’s stout defense.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET
On paper, the Jaguars are the most improved team in the AFC South – again. But it’s hard to tell if that will translate on the field into wins. The Texans’ flawless record against Jacksonville will live on in 2017.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 25, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:30 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh has an offense that’s capable of putting Houston’s defense under duress. But the Texans hang on to earn a win at home, as J.J. Watt scores an offensive touchdown against his brother T.J. and rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson delivers a game-winning touchdown drive in the most important game of his career thus far. With the victory, Houston will win the AFC South for the third straight year and will lock up the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET
The Texans have been unable to pick up a win in Indianapolis for the vast majority of their franchise history, but they’ve now won in Lucas Oil Stadium for back-to-back seasons. With that being said, Houston will have nothing to play for, having already clinched the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. As a result, the Texans will rest key starters and will finish the regular season with a loss.
Projected AFC South Standings:
- Houston Texans 10-6
- Tennessee Titans 10-6
- Indianapolis Colts 8-8
- Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11
Projected AFC Playoff Seeds:
- New England Patriots (East, 14-2)
- Oakland Raiders (West, 13-3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (North, 12-4)
- Houston Texans (South, 10-6)
- Kansas City Chiefs (Wild Card, 11-5)
- Tennessee Titans (Wild Card, 10-6)
AFC Playoff Seeding Tie-Breaker Notes:
- Houston (No. 4) clinched the AFC South division title over Tennessee (No. 6) based on better record vs. division opponents.
Projected Playoff Finish: Eliminated by Kansas City Chiefs in Wild Card round.
The Texans may get the best of the Chiefs once in 2017, but not twice. To be brutally honest, Houston is a year or two away from being seen as a legitimate threat to AFC powerhouses such as the Patriots. With a full year of experience now under his belt, Deshaun Watson will look to take his level of play to new heights in order to make Houston potential Super Bowl contenders in the near future.