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McClain: Texans predicted to finish 11-6, win second-consecutive AFC South title

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.

That Texans' bandwagon is getting overloaded, and it's because so many networks and streaming services are jumping on and fighting for seats going into Head Coach DeMeco Ryans' second season.

The NFL schedule-makers think so highly of the Texans coming off their 10-7 record, AFC South Title and Wild Card playoff victory over Cleveland that they've been awarded four prime-time games, including three in a row, and a Christmas Day game against Baltimore that'll be streamed on Netflix at NRG Stadium.

The Texans kick off the season Sept. 8 where they finished the 2023 Regular Season – Lucas Oil Stadium against Indianapolis. In what proved to be their only nationally-televised game of regular season, the Texans beat the Colts to win the division.

The Texans' home opener on Sept. 15 is a Sunday night game against Chicago and rookie quarterback Caleb Williams, the first-overall pick in the draft. It's the first of four prime-time games that includes three in a row against the New York Jets (Oct. 31 at MetLife Stadium) on Amazon Prime, Detroit (Nov. 10 at NRG Stadium) on NBC and Dallas (Nov. 18 at AT&T Stadium) on ESPN.

The Christmas Day game against the Ravens – a rematch of Baltimore's home victory in the Divisional Round of the playoffs – is part of a double-header that includes Pittsburgh visiting Kansas City, the defending Super Bowl Champion that hosts the Texans on Dec. 21, a Saturday.

Interestingly, for the second-consecutive season the NFL has made the Texans' last game a TBD (to be determined). Last year, the league made the last game at Indianapolis a TBD, and it became a prime-time game that determined the AFC South winner.

Because they won the AFC South, the Texans play a first-place schedule. They're tied with the Packers (.526) for the fourth-toughest schedule in the league.

The schedule includes games against five defending division champions – Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, Lions and Cowboys. They play seven teams coming off playoff appearances, and they have 11 games against teams that finished 2023 with winning records.

Last season, the Texans were 6-3 at NRG Stadium and 4-4 on the road. They were 10-5 after an 0-2 start.

Now, let's get to my game-by-game predictions:

Sept. 8, Texans at Colts, noon

The Texans return to Lucas Oil Stadium. DeMeco Ryans would like to win another game, but there's going to be a problem: Anthony Richardson is going to beat them for a second-consecutive season.

Colts 24, Texans 23

Record: 0-1

Sept. 15, Bears at Texans, 7:20 p.m.

The Texans' home opener is a Sunday night game against the Bears and rookie quarterback Caleb Williams, the first overall pick in the draft. Will Anderson Jr., Danielle Hunter and Denico Autry will make him miserable with incessant pressure. C.J. Stroud outplays Williams in a decisive Texans' victory.

Texans 28, Bears 17

Record: 1-1

Sept. 22, Texans at Vikings, noon

The Texans' defense gets its second look at a rookie quarterback selected among the top- 10 picks. They defeated Caleb Williams for their first victory, and they'll beat J.J. McCarthy, too. In Danielle Hunter's homecoming, they'll leave Minneapolis with a crucial road victory.

Texans 23, Vikings 13

Record: 2-1

Sept. 29, Jaguars at Texans, noon

The Texans lost at NRG Stadium to the Jaguars last season. It won't happen again. C.J. Stroud shows Trevor Lawrence who's the best quarterback in the AFC South.

Texans 27, Jaguars 13

Record: 3-1

Oct. 6, Bills at Texans, noon

It's hard to believe Stefon Diggs' game against his former team wasn't scheduled for prime time. Diggs is going to get a lot of attention. He'll help his new team defeat his old team and quarterback Josh Allen. The Texans will have a four-game winning streak going into their Bye Week.

Texans 24, Bills 21

Record: 4-1

Oct. 13, Texans at Patriots, noon

For the third time in six games, the Texans go against a quarterback selected among the top-10 picks. This time it's Drake Maye (third overall). It's always been difficult for the Texans to win at Gillette Stadium but not this year. They increase their winning streak to five games.

Texans 29, Patriots 10

Record: 5-1

Oct. 20, Texans at Packers, noon

The Texans roar into Lambeau Field on an impressive winning streak. Packers' fans will get to see two terrific young quarterbacks -- C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love – put on impressive performances. But the Packers will break the Texans' winning streak.

Packers 31, Texans 30

Record: 5-2

Oct. 27, Colts at Texans, noon

The Texans get revenge for their opening loss at Indianapolis. Unlike last season when they won at NRG Stadium, the Colts will lose this game because C.J. Stroud will outplay Anthony Richardson.

Texans 24, Colts 20

Record: 6-2

Oct. 31, Texans at Jets, 7:15 p.m.

This Thursday night game will attract a lot of attention on Prime Video. Last season, the Texans played their worst game. With Zach Wilson playing perhaps the best game of his career, the Texans got crushed 30-6. C.J. Stroud suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the next two games. This season, Aaron Rodgers is back, and the Jets are trying to win the AFC East. They'll defeat the Texans in back-to-back seasons.

Jets 24, Texans 17

Record: 6-3

Nov. 10, Lions at Texans, 7:20 p.m.

Dan Campbell returns to his home state with lots of family members and friends in attendance for this Sunday night game. He also has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. So do the Texans, but the Lions win a shootout behind Jared Goff, the second highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

Lions 34, Texans 30

Record: 6-4

Nov. 18, Texans at Cowboys, 7:15 p.m.

ESPN televises this Monday night game that'll determine which team is the best in Texas and gets bragging rights. The last time the Texans played at AT&T Stadium was 2022 when they lost to the Cowboys by four points. The Texans are a much better team now. The Cowboys aren't. The Texans escape with a victory, and Metroplex fans will wish they had C.J. Stroud instead of Dak Prescott.

Texans 33, Cowboys 30

Record: 7-4

Nov. 24, Titans at Texans, noon

The Texans swept the Titans in 2023, which contributed to Mike Vrabel getting fired and Brian Callahan getting hired. They no longer have to contend with Derrick Henry. Callahan will meet the same fate as Vrabel did last season, a decisive defeat at NRG Stadium.

Texans 27, Titans 14

Record: 8-4

Dec. 1, Texans at Jaguars, noon

Believe it or not, the Texans haven't lost at Jacksonville since 2017. Their winning streak will be extended to eight games. The defense will throw a net over Trevor Lawrence, and he'll be outplayed by C.J. Stroud and his plethora of weapons.

Texans 31, Jaguars 13

Record: 9-4

Dec. 15, Dolphins at Texans, noon

The Dolphins come to Houston in contention for the AFC East title. They have the highest-scoring, most explosive offense in the NFL. This game will feature C.J. Stroud and his terrific receivers against Tua Tagovailoa and his exceptional receivers. The Texans will win because their defense will make more big plays than Miami's defense.

Texans 37, Dolphins 33

Record: 10-4

Dec. 21, Texans at Chiefs, 3 p.m.

A Saturday game televised nationally by NBC features a pair of playoff-bound teams. The last time the Texans won a regular season game at Arrowhead Stadium was in 2019. The last two times they played at Kansas City, including the Divisional Round of the playoffs after that 2019 Season, they lost to the Chiefs. This time, Patrick Mahomes will help them win again as they try to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls.

Chiefs 29, Texans 21

Record: 10-5

Dec. 25, Ravens at Texans, 3:30 p.m.

A Christmas Day game that comes on a Wednesday. The Texans have a five-game losing streak against the Ravens, who have a 12-2 advantage in this AFC series, including two playoff victories. The Texans finished last season with a loss at M&T Bank Stadium in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Baltimore hasn't lost to the Texans since 2014. The Texans have never defeated Lamar Jackson. He'll join new addition Derrick Henry in leading the Ravens to another victory.

Ravens 28, Texans 20

Record: 10-6

TBD, Texans at Titans

The Titans will wear their Oilers' uniforms again, and this time, the Texans will kick another late field goal and win for the second-consecutive season at Nissan Stadium.

Texans 20, Titans 17

Record: 11-6

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