HOUSTON - OCTOBER 02: Running back Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans breaks loose for a 42 yard run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Reliant Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 17-10. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The schedule is only tough if your team isn't good enough.
Houston is a football town so it comes as no surprise that there has been a lot of talk about the Texans chances this season among fans and on sports talk radio; especially since they're considered a Super Bowl favorite. The talk has ramped over the last several weeks and it seems like Texans fans, sports talk radio callers, and even sports talk radio hosts are repeating the same argument that has been used for several years like they were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Maybe it's a crutch, but every year about this time fans of the team and radio hosts point to the Texans schedule as a reason that they'll disappoint us and fall short of expectations. In the past I believe the Texans falling short of expectation was more a result of fans over valuing how good they were, rather than a tough schedule.
During the pre-season last year we heard that they're schedule was too tough. We heard that they couldn't beat Pittsburgh, they couldn't beat Atlanta, and that games at Tennessee and Tampa Bay would be tough as well. The Texans went 4-0 against those teams with blowout victories over Tampa and Tennessee. Some of you might be thinking right now, "well the Buccaneers turned out to be terrible." True, but we didn't know that in the pre-season with them coming off a 10-6 season the year before, and that's also the point. Teams fluctuate year to year and just because a team was either bad or good last year, doesn't mean they will be the same this season and that makes judging the strength of schedule before the season starts impossible and a pointless exercise.
Let's look at last season and illustrate further how the strength of a schedule can change in mid-season as compared to it's perceived strength in the pre-season. In particular let's look at the games against the Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Bengals. The Falcons were considered an automatic loss for the Texans in the pre-season with them coming off a 13-3 record and having an abundance of weapons on offense; the Texans beat them with a third string, 5th round rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. The Buccaneers were thought to fall off a little bit, but that game was still thought to be a tough one in the pre-season with the game at Tampa, and them coming off a 10-6 season; the Texans crushed them 37-9. Coming off a 2-14 season the Panthers were thought to be a lock win for the Texans, especially with the game in Houston, but the Texans defense fell apart and they lost to Carolina 28-13. Against the Bengals, the Texans still won obviously, but coming off a 4-12 record and starting a rookie quarterback, that game was supposed to be easy. However the Bengals were one of the top surprise teams in the league last season and that game went from an easy win, to the Texans winning on a touchdown with eight seconds left on the clock. The point of all that being, teams fluctuate. Some teams surprisingly fall apart, others win more than they're supposed to; it's impossible to base the current seasons strength of schedule off of team records from the year before.
For the sake of argument, let's pretend for a minute that you actually could accurately predict the strength of this years schedule by how good teams were in the previous season. Last season, the 2010 combined record of the Texans 2011 opponents was 132-124 (.516 win %). This season, the 2011 combined record of their 2012 opponents is 121-135 (.473 win %). Stating that the Texans schedule this year is a lot tougher than last season is false and those making that statement need to do their research. When you look at the schedule and see the Packers, Patriots, Bears, Lions, and Ravens, it seems daunting, but we were saying the same things last year with the Saints, Steelers, Falcons, and Ravens. Is it a tough schedule, yes, there are some very good teams on that list, but the Texans are also a very good team and we shouldn't assume a loss every time they matchup with another good team. Starting in 2002 as an expansion team, there has been a losing mentality and expectation of losing from the fans, but these aren't your older brother's Texans; it's time we adjust our expectations. The schedule is only tough if your team isn't good enough. The Texans should be very good this year, and fans of other teams should be the people counting their game against them as a loss.