The NFL schedule was released on Thursday and the Houston Texans don’t have an easy road back to the playoffs. In fact, they have the toughest.
According to 2017 win forecasts based on Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, the Texans will play against teams who are expected to finish the season with eight wins.
The reigning AFC South winners have the toughest road to start the season, facing three other division winners in the first eight weeks of 2017 — the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. Overall, Houston’s first-half opponents are projected to finish the season with an average record of 9-7.
Houston has a slightly easier path to the playoffs during the second half of the season, but it has to play a road game against each divisional rival — the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts — plus host the Pittsburgh Steelers over the five final weeks of the season.
The level of difficulty is multiplied by the Texans’ lack of a reliable quarterback.
Houston traded its 2016 starter, Brock Osweiler, to the Cleveland Browns, leaving Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as the only two passers left on the Texans roster. Neither looks much like a capable starting quarterback.
Savage has thrown 92 passes in two NFL seasons, completing 56 for 588 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Weeden, a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, hasn’t played a game since December 2015 and boasts a career 76 passer rating with a 31-to-30 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and the fact that Houston needs to roll the dice on one of two unproven commodities to navigate the toughest slate of games in the league doesn’t bode well for its future.
There hasn’t been at least a three-peat winner of the AFC South since the Colts ruled the division from 2003 to 2007, and with the way Houston’s schedule lines up, that streak likely won’t end any time soon.