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Texans find a friendlier schedule in '09

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The Texans' 2009 schedule, which was released on Tuesday, is highlighted by home games on opening weekend against the New York Jets, on Monday night against the Tennessee Titans and in the season finale against the New England Patriots.

The first half of the Texans' schedule is friendlier than the slate they opened with last year. Houston plays three of its first four games at Reliant Stadium, where they went 6-2 last season. And Houston is rewarded with another nationally-televised Monday Night Football game.

"We're totally opposite as far as going on the road three of the first four last year because we will be home that first month three times," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's a nice way to start, and then obviously you have to go back and balance up, so three of our next four are on the road.

"Then, you look at the middle of the season. We've got four big division games in a row with the bye sandwiched in there. That'll be a big point in our season, a big month. Having Tennessee on Monday night, as I've said before, I think players have to earn the right to play on Monday Night Football. They gave us an opportunity last year and our guys responded, so that's a big game."

{QUOTE}For many players, it will be the biggest game of the year.

"Tennessee is always a big rival for us," right tackle Eric Winston said. "It's always a sellout here at home, but having that as a Monday night game and knowing the atmosphere here against Jacksonville last year, I think it's going to be Jacksonville times two.

"The Titans are going to be a really good team again this year, and it's going to be our chance to solidify ourselves with the start we want to have – to solidify ourselves as a playoff contender."

To make the playoffs, the Texans will have to navigate a crucial stretch beginning in Week 9 when they play four consecutive AFC South games, including two contests against the Indianapolis Colts and a MNF game against the Titans.

"That is going to be a huge three-game swing," Winston said. "You've got to think you have to win all of those. You need three wins like that, but especially against who they are: two against the Colts and one against the Titans. You hate to say worst-case scenario, but even 2-1 in that stretch right there in three games would be huge for us, especially when you look down towards the end of the schedule and see how you need to springboard yourself off of the bye week."

This season, Houston will match up against opponents from the NFC West and AFC East divisions. Most of those games probably will be played in favorable weather.

"We're going to play 11 games in perfect weather because eight of them are at home and three of them are in domes, if I'm right," Kubiak said. "You've got five opportunities for (bad) weather there, and going to Miami late in the year, it's obviously not hot. And the times that we're going to go to Buffalo and to Cincinnati, we've got a chance there early in the season, so it doesn't look like there are any games that you would say, 'It's going to be very warm here or very cold there.' That's also something that we did face last year - really because of the hurricane (Hurricane Ike) more than anything - that we won't be facing this season."

The Texans will play six games against 2008 playoff teams and eight games against teams that finished last season with winning records. Those opponents posted a combined record of 129-126-1 last season for a winning percentage of .506, which makes the Texans' schedule the 15th-toughest in the league based on last year's results.

Houston also will get a look at seven teams holding top-10 picks in the 2009 NFL Draft, and four teams with new head coaches: the Jets, Colts, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams.

"In the NFL, all schedules are tough," Kubiak said. "A lot of things, you never know how they're going to unfold as far as injuries to the people you're playing or your football team, but it's an exciting schedule for our football team. It's pretty consistent as far as when we play. We're basically a Sunday football team throughout the season except for the Tennessee game. But the key is right now that we've got to start getting ready for the Jets, so we'll start doing that."

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