While the modern NFL has many mechanisms in place to encourage parity in its teams and foster a good competitive environment, there are times when truly great teams slip through the cracks and are blessed with talented players and a schedule that consists of average to mediocre teams (I'm looking at you, 2012 New England Patriots). Luckily enough for the 2013 Texans, despite having a first place schedule (courtesy of winning the AFC South), they still have one of the six easiest schedules in the entire National Football League next season.
Wait a minute...no, they don't. Let's take a look at who the Texans are playing in 2013 and really determine how easy this thing is going to be.
Indianapolis Colts (2012 record: 11-5)
Not only does Indy get Andrew Luck for another full offseason, but they also have a ridiculous $43 million in cap space to work with. Will they go out and get Greg Jennings to go with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton? Sure, why not. Could they go out and get Paul Kruger as their new Will linebacker if they want to move on from Dwight Freeney? They sure can. How about a new guard or two, their biggest offseason need? Kevin Boothe and Andy Levitre are certainly there for the taking.
Indy already had a roster get to 11-5 and most people wouldn't even consider them extraordinarily talented. With a good free agency period and an even better draft (the Colts' 2012 class ended up easily being the best in the NFL, getting significant contributions from six rookies), the Colts could very easily make the jump into the 12-4/13-3 range and challenge for the AFC South crown. At minimum, I think they stay where they are and make another trip to the playoffs.
Projected record - 11-5
Tennessee Titans (2012 record: 6-10)
We all like to laugh at the Titans, but the reality is that this team is very talented. CJ2YPC has seen better days, Jared Cook will enter free agency, and Kenny Britt is too busy being arrested or injured to play football, but they have a young quarterback who, when having a good day, can sling it with anyone in the league. Their defense was a massive pile of crap in 2012, but I don't expect that to continue in 2013. Jerry Gray is by no means a "good" coordinator, but with the pick-up of a stud defensive end and a couple safeties that are worth the uniform they put on, I could realistically see this defense becoming at the very least average in 2013 (which would be on par with their offense). Average rosters beget average records.
Projected record - 8-8
Jacksonville Jaguars (2012 record: 2-14)
I'm not going to lie - Gus Bradley scares me. There's a lot of talk around my office about this guy being the next (and slightly crazy) Jon Gruden. One colleague even so went to proclaim the future AFC South is going to "be a bloodbath." I don't like those words. I don't like them one bit.
The last thing Houston needs is a guy who is a proven talent evaluator (if Seattle's roster has anything to show for it) and a proven coach taking over the little brother of the division. Sure, Blaine Gabbert might be terrible, but you know who isn't terrible? Matt Barkley and Geno Smith. A new regime in Florida means that many less years that we get to play Gabbert, which means that many less years that we can count this one as a win in February. I don't think the Jaguars will be close to contending this year, but I would not put it past them to pull a "2012 Panthers" and make every single one of their games maddeningly close. Crap.
Projected record: 6-10
Denver Broncos (2012 record: 13-3)
Projected record: 12-4
New England Patriots (2012 record: 12-4)
Projected record: 11-5
Oakland Raiders (2012 record: 4-12)
The Raiders are undergoing one of the biggest rebuilding projects in recent memory. You really can't point to a single position group outside of running back that doesn't need some sort of help. With Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego all in that division (San Diego isn't a world beater, of course, but at least they can beat Oakland), the AFC South and NFC East and the Steelers on the schedule, and having to go to Houston for this game, I would put them right around 5 wins and call it a year.
Projected record: 5-11
St. Louis Rams (2012 record: 7-8-1)
Andre v. Innegan - Redux. To be honest I am not looking forward to playing the Rams next season, even at home. Their defense is absolutely loaded with talent (I mean, have you seen that front four?), and they are just a receiver and a couple offensive linemen away from having a respectable offense. They are in the best division in football, so I don't expect their record to portray how good this team really is.
Projected record: 9-7
Seattle Seahawks (2012 record: 11-5)
Ugh. I say again....ugh. Why do we have to play this damn this year? Seriously, it's not even fair. If you told me that the NFC representative in the Super Bowl comes out of the NFC West for the next five years straight, I would completely believe it. Hell, I would be shocked if the Seahawks don't make it the big game in the next five years with the roster they have put together up in Washington. It remains to be seen how their defense will operate after the departure of Gus Bradley, but it is their offense I am truly afraid of. Good offensive line + Marshawn Lynch + Russell Wilson running circles around everyone = Brett does not have fun watching the game.
Projected record: 11-5
Kansas City Chiefs (2012 record: 2-14)
I have a theory that the Chiefs will pull a Colts and go from worst to a wild card berth. That roster is simply too talented not to have success. With a new quarterback (Alex Smith, perhaps?) and proven coach Andy Reid at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised by a 9 or 10 win season in Missouri. Playing against the AFC West doesn't hurt either.
Projected record: 8-8
San Diego Chargers (2012 record: 7-9)
I am convinced that Norv Turner cost the Chargers at least four games last season. They should have been a wild card contender, but instead were a laughing stock (sound familiar?). With Denver's ex-DC now heading the program, I don't expect such idiot game management decisions to repeatedly cost this team success again in 2013. Drafting a left tackle, guard, and cornerback is a priority for this club; lucky for them they should be able to nab Lane Johnson or Eric Fisher with the 11th pick, Barrett Jones or Larry Warford in the second, and any number of corners that "made a lot of money at the Senior Bowl" in the third. Problems, solved.
Projected record: 9-7
Baltimore Ravens (2012 record: 10-6)
Am I the only one who thinks the Ravens implode in 2013? Ray Lewis is retiring, Ed Reed is probably gone, Kruger is probably gone, Haloti Ngata is thinking about retiring because of injuries, Anquan Boldin might be a cap casualty, and Joe Flacco will eat up so much cap space that they won't really be able to sign anyone new. I honestly think that Baltimore sold their soul for this Super Bowl in the form of paying everyone at once to make a run before people retire, and now it is going to come back to bite them. Welcome to rebuilding, Mr. Newsome.
Projected record: 6-10
Arizona Cardinals (2012 record: 4-12)
Similarly to the Chiefs, this team is just a quarterback and a couple offensive linemen away from being pretty good. If I was a betting man, I'd say they throw all sorts of money at Alex Smith when he gets cut, draft a left tackle and left guard, and then go be competitive-ish in the division. I don't know if it will benefit them as much as with other rebuilding teams considering that said division contains three other legit playoff contenders, but at least they won't be a top 5 pick.
Projected record: 7-9
San Francisco 49'ers
Okay so let's get this straight: They just went to the Superbowl, have the best offensive line in football, arguably the best defense in football, arguably the most electrifying quarterback in football, AND they have 14 draft picks? F--- this division. Seriously, f--- them. I'm done.
Projected record: 13-3
So at the end of the day the projected record for our opponents is 116-92, or a .557 win percentage, which would be easily the hardest schedule of the year were it played last season. The only thing that gives me solace is that every one of these very good to elite teams that the Texans are playing are circling Houston on the calender just as much as we are circling them. It's looking like 2013 is indeed going to be a knock down drag out fight for the ages. I say again...ugh.