NFL Houston Texans

5 Toughest Games for Houston Texans

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5 Toughest Games in 2013

Matt Schaub
Greg M.Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It's been whispered all across the NFL, and will be lingering in the back of the minds of every opponent they'll face this year. Owner Bob McNair and defensive end J.J. Watt have all but guaranteed it. Other players have dropped hints here and there, and head coach Gary Kubiak is putting on his best Gregg Popovich or Bill Belichick impression and remaining cautiously optimistic.

That's right. The Houston Texans will be competing for the Super Bowl in 2013.

With the return of a healthy Brian Cushing, an NFL defensive MVP in Watt, the addition of future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed and the renewed determination of Antonio Smith, the Texans' defense could be among the top five in the league. The offensive side of the ball isn't looking too shabby either, with Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels and Andre Johnson all healthy and a great addition in DeAndre Hopkins.

Last season, the Texans started off amazingly at 11-1, but you could see the stress lines in the team even before they reached that point. Cushing had gone down earlier that season with a torn ACL, and most of the linebacker corps was just as hobbled. Foster was fighting through several injuries, and backup Ben Tate just couldn't get it together for 2012 after putting up almost 1,000 yards in 2011. The team finished the season with a 1-3 stretch, and bowed out in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Hopefully health issues are out of the way this year after the injury-riddled preseason the Texans had, and they'll be able to improve upon the franchise record 12 wins they had last season. But there are some significant roadblocks on the way to the Super Bowl, as the Texans face all four NFC West teams, and a bevy of other NFL elite. Here's the top five toughest games on the 2013 Texans schedule.

Cooper Welch is a Houston Texans writer for Follow him on Twitter @cooperwelch1991, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Texans have split the season series the past three seasons, they've yet to ever beat the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. They travel to Indiana on December 15 hoping to end that 0-11 streak.

Andrew Luck was extremely impressive last season, throwing for 4,374 yards with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He completed 54.1% of his passes for an impressive 65.0 QBR.

Reggie Wayne was the only receiver on the Colts' roster last year that was of any note, but the Colts added Darrius Heyward-Bay to the depth chart this season, making both Wayne and Luck that much more dangerous.

Running back and pretty much the entire Colts' defense are huge question marks for the Colts this year, and they also don't have either Bruce Arians or the inspiration of Chuck Pagano's leukemia battle this season. I'd say that this season, the Texans should be able to win in Indiana for the first time.

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4. Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans have only faced the Seattle Seahawks twice in the 13 years of the franchise, and have split the series 1-1.

The Seahawks were an extremely good team last year behind a terrifying defense, very good play from Russell Wilson in his rookie year, and continued great performances from Marshawn Lynch. Wilson threw for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and Lynch had 1,590 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Wilson is entering his sophomore year, which traditionally means the "sophomore slump". He could struggle a little this year, as teams have had more time to scout him and game plan for him. Even so, Lynch has steadily improved for the Seahawks, putting up over 3,000 yards over the past three seasons and 29 touchdowns.

Richard Sherman had eight interceptions for the Seahawks last year, tied for second in the NFL. Overall, Seattle was the fourth best defense in the league last year, which could present a very difficult challenge to the Texans. This is one game that I won't be convinced of the outcome until after the game is over.

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3. Denver Broncos

Arian Foster
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos improved dramatically in 2012 with the addition of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning (I don't think that's much of a surprise to anyone). This year, they took a few steps back on the defense, but improved even more on the offensive side of the ball with the addition of Wes Welker.

In 2012, Manning put up some of the best numbers of his career, with 4,659 yards passing, 37 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He did that with Eric Decker and Demariyus Thomas as his top two receivers.

Now don't get me wrong here, Decker and Thomas are good players and contribute a lot to their team. But there's a reason that Welker will be a Hall of Famer. 8,580 yards, 38 touchdown receptions, 442 first downs and just two lost fumbles over his career put him among the top 10 receivers in the league over the past decade. He's also incredibly determined to get that first Super Bowl ring, which should really light the fire under the Broncos.

But as good as the offense could be, there's just as much potential for the defense to struggle. They lost Elvis Dumervil, Joe Mays, D.J. Williams and Tracy Porter to free agency, and Von Miller has been suspended for the first six games this season.

Still, they also added Kevin Vickerson, Stewart Bradley, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency, so there's potential for the Broncos to repeat their NFL second-best point differential (+192 last season).

I never bet against Manning when I can help it, but if the Texans are healthy by the time they reach this game (December 22) then I feel like it's a game they could win.

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2. New England Patriots

Tom Brady & Matt Schaub
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It's very likely that the New England Patriots could be the second biggest challenge for the Texans in 2013. The Patriots have lost only once to the Texans in five meetings, and every loss since 2003 has been by at least 20 points.

Tom Brady will have another terrific year, as he's only had three season where he didn't eclipse 2,000 yards passing in his 14-year career.

Stevan Ridley was a revolution for the Patriots last season, putting up 1,263 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns. He and Shane Vereen should really tear up the ground for New England this year.

Losing Welker and Aaron Hernandez will definitely hurt, but the addition of Danny Amendola and a healthy Rob Gronkowski will help assuage the pain. Julian Edelman should make major contributions too.

Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones have huge ceilings for the Patriots defensively, and they led the league in tackles last season.

The Texans struggle with the Patriots every time they face them, so this game will definitely be a challenge. The fact that it also comes on December 1 could mean this will be a game for home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

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1. San Francisco 49ers

Justin Forsett
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are the biggest challenge on the schedule for the Texans, hosting them in one of the final games at Candlestick Park on Sunday, October 6.

The Niners had the third-best defense in the NFL last season, and of course also made it much further into the playoffs than the Texans did, playing in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.

Colin Kaepernick is entering his first full season as a starter, and the Niners' future definitely hangs on his performance. In 13 regular season games last season, Kaepernick put up over 1,700 yards passing and another 415 rushing, and added 15 touchdowns with 10 turnovers. In the postseason Kaepernick put up 798 yards passing with four touchdowns, and 264 rushing yards with three touchdowns.

The Niners are probably the deepest team in the NFL at every position on offense except wide receiver. Anquan Boldin is a big addition to the team, but he's not big enough to replace the loss of Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree.

They're set at tight end and running back though with Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.

NaVorro Brown was tied for second in the NFL with 148 total tackles, and Aldon Smith was just one sack behind the Texans' J.J. Watt.

If the Texans can beat the Niners this season, I really do think that the Texans could be in contention for the Super Bowl this season.