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McClain: My wish list for Texans' nationally televised games

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John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

Every year when the schedule comes out, the first things I check are the Texans' first and last games as well as any prime time appearances. Then I look for games in the 3 p.m. window that may reach most of the country. I also find AFC South games, and, finally, the bye week. Then I begin my game-by-game analysis.

Because the Texans were surprisingly successful last season and expectations are so high this season, I'm pumped about seeing the new schedule when it comes out soon.

Who will be the Texans' opening and closing opponents? How many prime time games will the Texans have? Will they play on Thanksgiving or Christmas? When will they tangle with AFC South opponents? And when is their bye week?

Why the Texans are poised for prime time

What a difference a year has made when it comes to the excitement level surrounding the Texans' schedule release.

Even though 2023 was Head Coach DeMeco Ryans' first season, and C.J. Stroud was going to be the new starting quarterback, nobody predicted how good the Texans were going to be. Certainly not the NFL schedule-makers.

Based on last season's schedule, the league didn't think much of the Texans' appeal to fans around the country, so there were no nationally televised games and none at 3 p.m. But whoever decided to make Texans vs Colts, the last game of the season, a TBD (to be determined) time and date ended up looking like a genius.

The Texans and Colts were moved to prime time and played for the division title in a game won 23-19 by the Texans. Houston's 10-7 record earned them their first AFC South title since 2019. That game at Indianapolis, as well as the wild card bombardment of Cleveland and the divisional loss at Baltimore, gave the Texans three consecutive nationally televised games to close their season.

Now, because the Texans received so much positive exposure during that three-game closing stretch and NFL fans' level of excitement when it comes to the team, Head Coach DeMeco Ryans and his group should get their hard-earned and much-deserved recognition on national television and on one or more of the league's streaming services.

The Texans will try to successfully defend their division title, but their first-place schedule is challenging, to say the least. They're tied with Green Bay for the fourth-toughest schedule. Opponents' winning percentage last season was .526.

The Texans play five defending division champions, seven playoff teams and 11 games against teams that had winning records. But their schedule features a lot of exciting and interesting matchups that make these games even more attractive.

I'll be surprised if the Texans go from zero prime-time games to five, but I could be wrong. Here are the games that I'm the most pumped about covering.

McClain's most anticipated games

The Cowboys, of course. Even though the NFC games don't count as much as division and conference games, it's Dallas. Nobody gets fans worked up like the Cowboys. Texans' fans froth at the mouth at the possibility of beating Dallas.

Ideally, I'd like to see the Texans travel to AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving – the second of three games on that Thursday.

Now, I'd be thrilled to see new wide receiver Stefon Diggs compete against Buffalo, his former team, in a prime time game at NRG Stadium. Diggs vs. the Bills! I would imagine there'd be a lot of interest in seeing the Texans' wideout against his former teammates.

How about the Texans playing at home against the Ravens or Dolphins? The Texans need an opportunity to try to avenge their divisional round defeat at M&T Bank Stadium. They've never defeated Lamar Jackson, and a nationally televised confrontation against Baltimore might end their jinx. Perhaps Stroud would get the upper hand on Jackson.

Miami was the fastest and most explosive team in the NFL last season. Put the Texans' receivers vs. the Dolphins' receivers, and the talent level would be guaranteed to captivate fans around the country. Stroud and Tua Tagovailoa could let it rip.

The Texans have a daunting road schedule besides their game against Dallas. Will the NFL have them in a prime time game at Arrowhead Stadium against the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs? Stroud, the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2023, taking on Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the NFL and one of the best in history... if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, right?

What about the Packers? Green Bay is a fun place to play. Fans love to watch the Packers in December and January when snow can turn Lambeau Field into a winter wonderland. The game would feature Stroud vs. Jordan Love, two young, talented quarterbacks who could be on the verge of superstardom.

Some NFL observers believe the Texans could play the Jets on national television at MetLife Stadium. Whether you love or hate Aaron Rodgers, he's always interesting, not to mention a lightning rod for criticism.

No matter how many nationally televised games the Texans receive, odds are that one of them will be against an AFC South opponent, either Jacksonville or Indianapolis.

Okay, my preferences – in order – are the Cowboys, Bills, Ravens, Chiefs and Packers. I can live with a prime time game against the Jaguars or Colts because I know one's coming. Now that I've shown you my wish list, it's time for me to see yours.

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