Texans square off against Cardinals’ J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins Oct. 24

By the time the Texans square off against two of the most decorated and popular players in franchise history, they’ll already have gained some knowledge about their ability to compete against elite talent.

The Texans face three playoff teams – the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts – before facing defensive end J.J. Watt, cut at his request this offseason, and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, traded a year ago in arguably the most controversial transaction in franchise history, and the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 24 on the road.

Before dealing with a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Watt and an All-Pro wide receiver in Hopkins and quarterback Kyler Murray, the Texans, 4-12 last season, open the regular season Sept. 12 at NRG Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars and strong-armed rookie quarterback and top overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence.

With a new coach in David Culley and a new general manager Nick Caserio, who has dramatically overhauled the roster, the Texans are a 1 ½ point underdog against the Jaguars. The Texans, a third-place team a year ago when coach Bill O'Brien was fired following an 0-4 start, haven’t lost to the Jaguars in three seasons, sweeping the annual series each year against an AFC South team that went 1-15 last year. The Texans are 14-5 all-time at home against Jacksonville.

That strong track record was with Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, though. Watson, the NFL passing champion a year ago, has requested a trade and his future is complicated further by 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.

The Texans’ opponents went a combined 137-135 last season and includes six playoff teams (Bills, Seahawks, Browns, Colts, Titans, Rams. The Texans face four of the top 10 scoring defenses from last season: Rams (1st, 18.5 points per game), Dolphins (sixth), Patriots (seventh) and Colts (tied for 10th). They also face four of the top 10 scoring offenses: Bills (second, 31.3 points per game), Titans (fourth), Seahawks, (eighth) and Colts (ninth).

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans

Under a 17-game schedule, the Texans’ lone prime time game is Sept. 23 in a Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers, running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Sam Darnold.

The Texans play the Browns, who defeated them last year, on the road again Sept. 19.

The Texans’ bye is set for Nov. 14, the 10thweek of the NFL regular season. This marks their third Week 10 bye out of the past four seasons.

Before the bye, the Texans play the Miami Dolphins on the road. The Texans are 8-1 all-time against the Dolphins, who are an improving team under coach Brian Flores.

The Texans’ regular-season finale is set for Jan. 9 at NRG Stadium against the Tennessee Titans and powerhouse running back Derrick Henry.

On Oct. 10, the New England Patriots visit NRG Stadium. The Texans beat the Patriots a year ago. Caserio earned six Super Bowl rings as the primary lieutenant to coach Bill Belichick. Now, the architect of the Texans’ rebuilding roster faces his old team. The Texans have won two consecutive games against New England for the first time in franchise history.

The Texans’ other home games are against the Los Angeles Rams, who feature All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Chargers, led by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, the Titans, New York Jets, Colts and Seattle Seahawks, who feature one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL: Russell Wilson.

The Texans’ final road game of the season is Week 17 against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Texans’ three-game preseason schedule includes the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting NRG Stadium Aug. 28 after starting the preseason on the road against the Green Bay Packers before traveling to face the Dallas Cowboys in the second week of the preseason.

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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