The NFL schedule was released last week, as we covered here, and Houston Texan fans should be enthused for a couple of reasons. First, as I conveyed in said post last week, the schedule is actually very conducive to a bounce back season, with all three prime time games at home, and three division road games in the books by the time Week 7 is over.
Those are the "football" reasons that this is a nice schedule. However, there are hundreds of you that love to descend upon opposing cities throughout the NFL season, and for those of you in that category, this is a pretty sweet road schedule, as well.
The Houston Texans cross over this season with the AFC East and the NFC East, which means here is only one trip outside of the Eastern and Central time zones (Week 9 in Denver), and plenty of chilly weather. However, there are also some interesting and fun cities, and, most importantly, plenty of good food to eat! So like we did last season for the first time, let's rank these eight regular season road trips, and let's stack rank them empirically, based on the total score of my subjective ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10) on these four categories:
Weather: How nice will it be on game day? (The Texans only play one game indoors, the finale in Indy.)
Intangibles: How nice is the stadium? Now nice is the city? How convenient is the trip? (Any random mitigating or aggravating circumstance are grouped in here.)
Extracurricular: How's the nightlife, the amount of activities to do on non-game days, and the grub? (I included a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives choice for each city, with a YouTube link. You're welcome!)
Win: Simply, what are the chances the Texans can pull off a win?
8. PHILADELPHIA (Lincoln Financial Field, Sunday, December 23)
Extracurricular: 5 (DDD recommend: The Dining Car)
TOTAL SCORE: 13
It pains me to say this, because some of my most beloved family members live in Philly, but this is, BY FAR, the worst road trip on the schedule. For one, the weather is going to be freezing, which is fine if the fans in that city were friendly, but can you imagine sitting in frigid temps, wearing opposing gear, with four hours of this?
Second, the game is against the defending Super Bowl champs, so the chances of a win are much slimmer in this game than nearly any other. Finally, it's two days before Christmas, which means that you're flying back on Christmas Eve, which sounds just horrible. (Either that, or you're spending Christmas in a Philly hospital getting reconstructive surgery on your jaw after a bleacher donnybrook.) Again, I would go because I love my Aunt Barbara dearly, but unless you have an Aunt Barbara in Doylestown, I'd say DO NOT GO to this game.
7. JACKSONVILLE (EverBank Field, Sunday, October 21)
Extracurricular: 4 (DDD recommend: Metro Diner)
TOTAL SCORE: 19
It's a division game, so this means if you don't go this season, there's always next season, and the season after that, and after that, and on and on. For late October, the weather should be very nice, barring rain. The mitigating factor here is that the Jaguars are no longer an automatic win for the Texans. There's a decent chance that the Texans come home with an L.
6. INDIANAPOLIS (Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday, September 30)
Extracurricular: 4 (DDD recommend: Steer Inn)
TOTAL SCORE: 22
Another division game, so another one where you can kind of pick the year to go. The big difference this season is that the Texans actually play Indianapolis before December, a rarity since 2006. The weather should be pleasant fall weather, so walking around the city should be fine. (The game will be indoors.) One suggestion, as someone who went to school in Indiana — how about hitting South Bend for Stanford versus Notre Dame on Saturday night, and then back to Indy for the Texans game on Sunday? Not bad!
5. WASHINGTON, D.C. (FedEx Field, Sunday, November 18)
Extracurricular: 8 (DDD recommend: The General Store)
TOTAL SCORE: 24
Weather-wise, this is where it starts to get a little wonky for the Texans. Washington, D.C. the week before Thanksgiving should be sufficiently miserable. However, it is our nation's capital, so if you bundle up, there are plenty of historical landmarks to go see, and of course, the Smithsonian. Also, this marks the fourth straight season that the Texans will face Alex Smith — they can't shake him!
4. NEW YORK (MetLife Stadium, Saturday, December 15)
Extracurricular: 10 (DDD recommend: Mulberry Italian Ristorante)
TOTAL SCORE: 25
New York gets a sparkling mark on extracurriculars, as Christmas time in the Big Apple is outstanding. The Saturday game forces you to leave the city on its busiest night (a good thing!), and leaves you all day Friday and all day Sunday to experience New York City — shows, sports, food, MY GOD THE FOOD... and on top of that, this is a game the Texans SHOULD win, too. (I only gave it a 6 out of 10 in the WIN category, in case the season goes sideways on injuries like 2017.). If you're drawing a line between "maybe go" and "must go", I'd say it's this trip and the next three above the "must go" line.
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3. TENNESSEE (Nissan Stadium, Sunday, September 16)
Extracurricular: 8 (DDD recommend: Martin's BBQ)
TOTAL SCORE: 26
Normally, I'd say the away game at Tennessee gets the same treatment as Jacksonville and Indy — you can go every year, if you want, so it's nothing special. However, there are three big reasons to go to this one. First, Nashville is just a better city than those other two AFC South outposts. It's more fun, there's more to do. Second, this game in Week 2 should have beautiful fall weather. Finally, this is the first crack the Texans have at Mike Vrabel, their former defensive coordinator and new Titans head coach. That should add some juice. Also, traveling to Nashville is easier than any other opposing team on this schedule — driving is actually an option, if you're ok with taking your time.
2. NEW ENGLAND (Gillette Stadium, Sunday, September 9)
Extracurricular: 10 (DDD recommend: Mike's City Diner)
TOTAL SCORE: 28
This will be the Texans' fourth trip to New England within two calendar years. That is painful. However, this season's trip is most certainly among the most desirable on the schedule, for a couple reasons. First, the Astros play the Red Sox at Fenway Park that same weekend, so you can hit Fenway Friday and Saturday and then Foxboro on Sunday. Pretty sweet. Second, and more importantly, the Texans have a chance to win this game! They proved that last season, and in the season opener, they should be coming in at full strength, barring shenanigans in the preseason. The weather should be fine. If anything, it might be a little toasty right after Labor Day.
1. DENVER (Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Sunday, November 4)
Extracurricular: 8 (DDD recommend: Sam's No. 3)
TOTAL SCORE: 29
And, by one point on my rating scale, the most desirable trip on the schedule is the journey to Mile High. There's a very winnable game. There's absolutely beautiful weather. (NOTE: It's sunny in Denver 320 days a year! True story!). You Coog fans should have Case Keenum to root for, if you go. There's skiing and snowboarding two hours away. There's craft beer. There's legal weed. Basically, there's something for everybody!
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.