Without a doubt, coming out of the bye week and into Week 11 of the NFL 2019 regular season, this is the most hope that Houston Texans fans have felt during the Bill O'Brien Era. It starts with Deshaun Watson and his true ascension into the upper, upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, and it continues with the improvements made to the roster by O'Brien and the team of staffers responsible for roster construction.
Sure, some of the bills will come due for the moves they've made — the Texans are without a first round pick until 2022 and have other various Swiss cheese-style holes in their draft board because of certain deals — but in the moment, in 2019, this feels like a team capable of beating anybody. Look at the top of most NFL power rankings and you don't get past the top five or six teams before you've seen the Saints, Chiefs, Patriots, and Ravens, in some order.
The good news is that the Texans should have beaten the Saints in New Orleans (with Drew Brees at full strength), and they DID beat the Chiefs in Kansas City (with Patrick Mahomes playing, but maybe a tad banged up, but still, cool win). The even better news, is that in the next three weeks, the Texans will get a chance to prove their worth against the other two teams, with the Ravens coming up this weekend and the Patriots in Week 13.
The Texans currently sit at 6-3, with seven games remaining, including three division games. Let's rank the remaining seven games in order of importance, with "importance" being judged in a combination of empirical and subjective grading. Here we go:
7. WEEK 16 — at Tampa Bay, Sun 12/22
If the Texans are able to win enough games to remain in the mix among the top AFC teams, they should be in pretty good shape on tie breakers, as two of their three losses so far are against NFC teams, and the tiebreakers are largely based on head to head, division, and conference records. This Bucs game, the last crossover NFC game of the year, is kind of sneaky scary with the Bucs' ability to score points and the schedule placement in between the two Titans games, but it's still the least important game on the schedule.
6. WEEK 14 — vs Denver, 12/8
This is the first game following the three-game gauntlet of Baltimore, Indy, and New England, so it should feel like a step down in weight class. Also, it will be the third game in a row at home, and the Broncos will likely be starting an inexperienced quarterback. If there were one game I'd bet the Texans blindly right now, it's this one.
5. WEEK 15 — at Tennessee, 12/15
4. WEEK 17 — vs Tennessee, 12/29
The two Tennessee games are division games, but I don't expect the Titans to be anywhere near the Texans in the standings by Week 15, and certainly not by Week 17. The Week 17 game is ranked as more important, because I do expect the Texans to be playing for SOMETHING in the final week of the season, whether it's a division title, or a perhaps a bye in the postseason.
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3. WEEK 11 — at Baltimore, 11/17
The game this Sunday should be at or near the top of the list of games that fans with no rooting interest in either team would want to watch, with Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson doing their thing at quarterback. This game takes precedence over either Titans game because I think there's a better chance the Texans need a head to head win in a tie breaker with the Ravens than they need a win over the Titans to break a tie in the division.
2. WEEK 13 — vs New England, Sun 12/1 (SNF)
This will certainly be the game with the most off-field juice for the rest of the season, with this being the first meeting since the Patriots levied tampering allegations against the Texans in their pursuit of Nick Caserio to he the team's new GM. On the field, there is the small matter of O'Brien being 0-5 against Bill Belichick since becoming the Texans' head coach in 2014. So yeah, this is an important game, and would be the win that raises the most eyebrows around the league, however.....
1. WEEK 12 — vs Indianapolis, Thur 11/21 (TNF)
....at some point, pragmatism must set in, and the Texans likely don't win the division if they go 0-2 against the Colts, and if the Texans are going to accomplish the goals that are tied to things like gutting your future drafts for a left tackle, then you can't be chasing those goals from a wild card position. So the Colts game a week from Thursday is not the glitziest game, but it is the most important game for the rest of the 2019 season.