A few seasons ago, before I was offered the chance to cohost the Houston Texans' postgame show starting in 2014, my girlfriend, Amy, and I had made it an annual ritual to attend a couple of Texans road games each season.
In 2012, the team's best season in franchise history, we went to Chicago on a rainy Sunday night (a 13-6 Texans win) and New England on a Monday night (the "letterman jacket" debacle). In 2013, the team's worst season since 2005, we went to the season opener at San Diego on a Monday night (a 31-28 Texans win) and the Sunday night game in San Francisco (a 31-3 loss, which was the beginning of the end for Matt Schaub).
(SIDEBAR: The best part of the San Francisco trip — it just so happened that because of a scheduling quirk caused by the MLB playoffs, the Oakland Raiders were playing the San Diego Chargers later that night in Oakland. So once the Texans went down 24-3 to the Niners, Amy and I took the BART train over to Oakland and bought two 50 yard line seats for $23 apiece from a father and son who were splitting a joint outside the stadium. For us, it was easily the best decision we've made as a couple. What a great time. Raiders fans are awesome, up to and including their open smoking of weed both inside and outside the stadium. Tremendous contact high.)
Indeed, we went on Texans road trips literally in the best of times and the worst of times...and either way, they were some of the most fun experiences we've had together as a couple. I say all of this to implore Texans fans — if ever you thought of making a road trip to follow the team, THIS is the season. The road schedule is chock-full of great games, hallowed football venues and prime-time kickoffs galore!
Also, if you decide to go on any of these trips, check the Traveling Texans Facebook page and website, if you want to see what other diehard Texans fans are up to in the host city. Texans fans are among the best and most plentiful road fans in the NFL. Good people.
For now, let's rank the trips and help you make an educated decision! Kickoff times are local to the venue. Here we go...
8. JACKSONVILLE — Sunday, November 13, 1:00 p.m.
LAST VISIT: October 16, 2015. Texans 31, Jaguars 20
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 7-7
GAME QUALITY: Jacksonville has a chance to be one of the more improved teams in the AFC, and if their offseason transactions — free agency and the draft — on the defensive side of the ball work out, they could be in line for a playoff spot. If that is indeed the case, this could be a sneaky November "standings shaper" in the AFC South.
MITIGATING FACTORS: If you play fantasy football, you probably have at least one Jaguar on your team. Also, if you're looking to attend a win, the Texans are 4-1 in Jacksonville in their last five games there. Weather should be quite pleasant, as well. Other than that, meh...they play in Jacksonville every season.
7. INDIANAPOLIS— Sunday, December 11, 1:00 p.m.
LAST VISIT: December 20, 2015. Texans 16, Colts 10
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 1-13
GAME QUALITY: Assuming Andrew Luck remains healthy, this should be a fun game and is the best bet as a game to decide the division. It will be nice not having the "Can they win in Indianapolis, like, EVER?" story line hanging over the Texans anymore.
MITIGATING FACTORS: One week after the Packers game, this is two trips in a row to cold weather. Yes, the weather will absolutely SUCK in Indianapolis, although it'll feel like it's 65 and sunny compared to Green Bay. It doesn't matter for game purposes, because the Colts play indoors, but for trip enjoyment purposes, Indy can be depressing. Plan on lots of indoor drinking.
6. MINNESOTA — Sunday, October 9, 12:00 p.m.
LAST VISIT: November 2, 2008. Vikings 28, Texans 21
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 0-1
GAME QUALITY: The Vikings were a dark horse Super Bowl possibility and a likely playoff contender before QB Teddy Bridgewater went down with a gruesome knee injury a week or so ago. The Vikings traded for Eagles QB Sam Bradford, who may be on his last chance to stay on the NFL's eight-figure annual gravy train. With Adrian Peterson running the ball and a Vikings defense with some serious playmakers (OLB Anthony Barr, S Harrison Smith), this will be one of the most hotly contested road games of the season for the Texans.
MITIGATING FACTORS: Brand-new stadium! That's the big thing here...unless you like shopping in gigantic shopping malls. The attraction of this trip is largely the game and the chance to tailgate in some crisp Twin Cities October weather.
5. TENNESSEE — Sunday, January 1, 12:00 p.m.
LAST VISIT: December 27, 2015. Texans 34, Titans 6
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 6-8
GAME QUALITY: This is the final game of the regular season. In a perfect world, the Texans would be resting starters against a crappy Titans squad to get healthy for the playoffs. We all know, though, that the world is far from perfect, and the more likely scenario is the Texans' needing this game to win the division or secure a wild card, and the Titans' playing out the string.
MITIGATING FACTORS: New Year's Day! Which means you get a chance to spend New Year's Eve in the very underrated downtown Nashville area. The chance to celebrate New Year's with fellow Texans fans, and possibly kiss someone at midnight whose face is covered in steel blue, liberty white and battle red face paint makes this trip worth it, on principle.
4. NEW ENGLAND — Thursday, September 22, 8:30 p.m.
LAST VISIT: January 13, 2013. Patriots 41, Texans 28 (playoffs)
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 0-4, including playoffs
GAME QUALITY: Better, we hope, than the last two times the Texans traveled to New England, the infamous "letterman jacket game" in 2012 and the divisional round playoff trouncing a month later. This time around, there will be no Tom Brady (suspended for conspiring to deflate footballs...the horror!). Jimmy Garoppolo gets the start. The Texans will be traveling and playing a Bill Belichick-coached team on three days' rest, which is a tough formula for pulling off the upset.
MITIGATING FACTORS: The Thursday night game should have a great atmosphere, the first nationally televised game of the Brock Osweiler era. However, a Thursday night game means your live sports watching weekend is over by Friday morning, because unfortunately, the Red Sox are in the middle of a ten-game road trip, so no Fenway double dip. That would've moved this trip up at least one or two notches, if the Red Sox had been home.
3. OAKLAND (in Mexico City) — Monday, November 21, 7:30 p.m.
LAST VISIT: N/A
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): N/A
GAME QUALITY: The Raiders are my pick to win the AFC West this season, and should be very fun to watch. This is your chance to see (and boo) Derek Carr in person! (Admittedly, Carr seems like a pretty nice dude, though.)
MITIGATING FACTORS: It's an NFL game in Mexico, which is bad-ass in its uniqueness, but not so bad-ass in that the NFL may have found the only place more unsafe than Oakland to play a Raiders game. Mexico is a dicey proposition these days. Also, this is the beginning of Thanksgiving week, so this game gives you an excuse to just take the whole week off, since you're probably not working Thursday or Friday.
2. DENVER — Monday, October 24, 6:30 p.m.
LAST VISIT: September 23, 2012. Texans 31, Broncos 25
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 1-2
GAME QUALITY: The Denver defense will be out for blood going against their former teammate in Osweiler. This game takes place far enough into the season to where we'll know if this Broncos team is a worthy defender of its Super Bowl crown, or a souped-down version of last season's Texans.
MITIGATING FACTORS: Denver is a phenomenal place to watch a game, and the atmosphere on a Monday night should be off the hook, especially considering all the different entities who've worked in both places — Osweiler and Rick Smith on the Texans' side, and pretty much every football-related employee on the Broncos' side.
1. GREEN BAY — Sunday, December 4, 12:00 p.m.
LAST VISIT: December 7, 2008. Texans 24, Packers 21
TEXANS RECORD (in venue): 1-0
GAME QUALITY: Hey, who knows? Maybe this is a preview of the Super Bowl! Dare to dream, right?
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MITIGATING FACTORS: As someone who attended the only previous game between these two teams in Lambeau Field (which was also in the first week of December back in 2008, a Texans win), I will say if you're going to go to a Green Bay game, you HAVE to go in the winter. I mean, you can't watch a game on the "frozen tundra" and have the tundra actually be room temperature, right? Also, there is no city with a higher rate of bars per capita than Green Bay. There are more places to destroy your liver and clog your arteries in Green Bay than in any other town on the planet, and that's the God's honest truth.
Indeed, I can no longer travel to road games because of my radio duties, but if I could, I'd be loading up on winter clothes and heading to the Great White North. Green Bay is mecca, and considering the next time the Texans will play there is in 2024, you must go this season.
Ask questions later.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.