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J.J. Watt will play his home state Green Bay Packers for just the third time in his career.
J.J. Watt will play his home state Green Bay Packers for just the third time in his career.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Evaluating the Houston Texans' 2020 Opponents

Man, it's been a quite a week in Houston, starting with the Texans catastrophic collapse against the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, and continuing with the firings of Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. It's been a week unlike any I've experienced in my 13 years as a media member in this town. Certainly, we will continue to perform the autopsy on both the Texans' season and the Astros sign stealing fallout, but one way to deal with the pain is to look ahead, to a hopefully brighter future!

That future will, at some point, involve an unveiling of the Houston Texans' 2020 regular season schedule, likely sometime around the middle of April. While we don't have the schedule infant of us, we do know who the 16 opponents will be (well, 13 opponents, each divisional foe will be played twice). Here are the 16 opponents, home and away, for next season:

OK, now onto the pressing questions surrounding this early glance at the Texans in 2020:

Exactly how difficult is this slate?
Well, any time you win the division the previous season, the schedule typically comes back more difficult than the other teams' schedules in your division, as the two variable games — the other 14 games consist of six division games, four crossover games against another AFC division, and four crossover games against another NFC division — against the other AFC divisional champions are at Kansas City and home for the Patriots. We wills see if it's a Patriots team with Tom Brady or not. The two divisions with whom the Texans cross over are the AFC North (Ravens, Steellers, retooled Browns) and NFC North (Packers, Vikings, and the long awaited Watson vs Trubisky matchup!) Overall, the quality of opponents on this schedule is pretty high.

How does the QB gauntlet look?
That was the big talk coming into 2019, the caliber of quarterback that the Texans would face. Of course, everything is fluid in the NFL, and the big change between the spring and the start of the season was Andrew Luck's retirement. Let's pretend Brady agrees to stay in New England. The Texans would be looking at a slate that would include the following:

UPPER TIER
Lamar Jackson, likely 2019 MVP
Patrick Mahomes, 2018 MVP
Tom Brady, 2017 MVP (and the GOAT)
Aaron Rodgers, 2014 MVP (over J.J. Watt)
Ben Roethlisberger, future Hall of Famer

HIGH MIDDLE TIER
Ryan Tannehill (twice)
Kirk Cousins
Matthew Stafford
Baker Mayfield

"WATSON ALONE SHOULD WIN" TIER
Jacoby Brissett (twice)
Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles (twice)
Mitchell Trubisky
Whoever is playing for Cincy (Joe Burrow?)

Not an easy slate, by any means.

How does the weather gauntlet look?
It's always more fun for a dome team to have a season where they cross over with, say, AFC West and the NFC West. Lots of warm weather! The Texans are doing the exact opposite of that in 2020, with the crossover divisions being the AFC North and the NFC North. The road games are outdoors in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland (along with a visit to a dome in Detroit). Toss in a trip to Kansas City, and it's almost impossible for the Texans to avoid the wrath of Mother Nature at least once, if not much more, next season.

What's the road trip ranking?
Very few NFL teams have fan bases that travel like the Texans' fan base, and they are probably already chomping at the bit to plan their roadies. Of course, with so many outdoor games in potentially cold weather, the actual flow of the schedule matters greatly in terms of road trip quality. (To be clear, some of the cold weather places, in my opinion, are MORE fun to go to in cold weather, as a fan.) In terms of "quality of city combined with stadium experience," here is my ranking of the Texans' eight road trips (and this assumes no return to London or Mexico City):

Chicago
Pittsburgh
Nashville
Kansas City
Cleveland
Indianapolis
Jacksonville
Detroit

Attending all of those first four would be pretty sweet action.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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