With the Houston Texans currently at 7-1, the team will travel to Chicago Sunday night to take on the Bears to begin the second half of their season. The first eight games couldn’t have gone much better for the Texans as the team sits alone atop the AFC standings and is in the driver’s seat for the conference’s top seed come playoff time, which of course includes home-field advantage. However, the Texans’ second half schedule is far more daunting and will provide Texans’ fans with a true gauge of their team as the playoffs approach.
The Texans will play one of the more difficult second half schedules in the NFL. Six of their eight remaining games are against teams currently .500 or better. In particular, the Texans begin a stretch of games this week that includes four of the next five on the road, and against quality opponents. This part of the schedule features games at Chicago, home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, then three straight on the road against the Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, and New England Patriots, in that order. The Bears, Lions, and Patriots games all on the road will be challenging to say the least, and depending on how real the Texans are, fans could expect the team to go 1-2 against those three. The Jags and Titans aren’t in the same league as the Texans, but division rivals always play each other tough and neither game, particularly at Tennessee, will be cakewalks.
When schedules were first issued last spring, the final three games on the Texans’ schedule appeared to be easy contests, which would benefit the Texans if they needed some late season wins. However, the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings have been two of the surprise teams in the NFL this season with respective records of 5-3 and 5-4. For comparison’s sake, the Colts and Vikings didn’t even combine for five wins total in 2011, now each have five apiece. The Texans will play the Vikings at home, bookended by home and road games with the Colts.
Overall, the Texans are looking at a much different slate of games than they did to start the season. There is little argument as to whether the Texans are a legit Super Bowl contender or not, but going 7-1 through your first eight games is a statement. Opponents fear teams that are 7-1, coaches spend extra time preparing for a team that’s’ 7-1. As I said before, the Texans are in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the AFC come playoff time, forcing the road to the Super Bowl to run directly through Houston. They are now going to get everybody’s best shot, and against a much tougher schedule, it’s tough to imagine the Texans going 7-1 in their second set of eight games.
The positive aspect to keep in mind here is whether they obtain the top seed or not, the Texans aren’t likely to miss the playoffs. The reality is the Texans could play .500 ball the rest of the regular season and still finish 11-5. Given the current state of the AFC as opposed to the more dominant NFC, 11-5 is probably still good enough for a first round bye, and maybe the top seed depending on how other teams play down the stretch. But again, the Texans aren’t about just making the playoffs now, they’re about making a statement, one that says, “the AFC runs through Houston.”
Honestly, I see the Texans hanging on to the top seed in the AFC. They’re currently at least two games up on everybody but the Baltimore Ravens, but given the Texans beat the Ravens, they’re technically two games up on the Ravens as well. While a 4-4 record would put the Texans in a solid enough position heading into the playoffs, I expect the Texans to go 5-3. My prediction is they go 1-2 against the road combo of the Bears, Lions, and Patriots, 3-1 against their remaining AFC South rivals, and defeat the Vikings in week 16, bringing the record to 5-3. With an overall record of 12-4, the Texans should have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and a very realistic shot at punching their ticket to Super Bowl XLVII.
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