2017 Houston Texans game-by-game predictions

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans enter the 2017 season as back-to-back AFC South champions, but their road to a third might be more challenging given how the division has improved. The Texans will return most of their defense that lead the league in total defense in 2016 and will add three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who missed most of last season because of injury. But, the team's success will largely hinge on quarterback Tom Savage -- or any other quarterback Houston might acquire -- not only staying healthy, but his ability to improve the passing game that struggled so mightily in 2016.

With that in mind, here's a game-by-game prediction of how the 2017 season might go:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

The Texans will start the season with cornerback A.J. Bouye's homecoming, where he might get to go against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, like he did for four years in practice. The Texans will open at home for the eighth time in nine seasons and start off with a win. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 14, at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Texans have lost to the Bengals only once in the past eight meetings. Their success will continue with an early season matchup on Thursday Night Football. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

The Texans and the Patriots have become familiar opponents. Even though Houston kept it close in the divisional playoff game, it won't get its revenge. The Texans have lost six straight games at Gillette Stadium, dating to 2006. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

When the Titans played in Houston last season, the Texans had their best offensive game of the year. They'll get the win at home again and start 2-0 in the division. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:30 p.m. ET

This is the fourth time the Texans have played the Chiefs in the past three seasons. The Texans barely beat the Chiefs in 2016, thanks to four field goals from Nick Novak. It should be a similarly close game this time, and Houston will continue its strong start with a victory. Record: 4-1

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

The Browns are rebuilding, and even with two first-round picks -- including No. 1 overall -- it won't be enough to beat the playoff team from 2016. This could be a very interesting game if Cleveland keeps Brock Osweiler and he makes his return to NRG Stadium. Record: 5-1

Week 7: BYE

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Texans struggled on the road last season, going 2-6, with the wins coming against two divisional opponents. Given the success Seattle generally has at home, it would be tough for the Texans to put up enough offense to beat Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Record: 5-2

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

The Texans beat the Colts on Sunday Night Football when they played at NRG Stadium last year, needing overtime and a late flurry from the offense to win. Indianapolis hasn't done a lot to improve this offseason, and Houston will pull it out at home, where it had a lot of success in 2016. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Los Angeles Rams, 4 p.m. ET

The Texans will make their second trip to the West Coast in three weeks but this time will get the win. The Rams were 4-12 last season, and aren't expected to be much better in 2017. Record: 7-2

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m. ET

The Cardinals had a down season in 2016, but they have the talent to bounce back. This will be a close game, but Carson Palmer will outduel Savage. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Monday, Nov. 27, at Baltimore Ravens, 7:25 p.m. ET

This Monday Night Football game will be a matchup of two excellent defenses. But give the edge to the experienced quarterback in Joe Flacco, who will lead the Ravens to a victory at home. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

The last two offseasons, the Titans have done a lot to improve and close the gap between them and the AFC South champion Texans. The Texans split two with Tennessee last season -- each team winning at home -- and there will be a repeat in 2017. Record: 7-5

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1 p.m. ET

Much like the Browns, the 49ers are in a rebuilding mode. The Texans' defense will dominate whoever is starting at quarterback for San Francisco in this game. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

The Jaguars are the most-improved team in the division for the second consecutive offseason, but it remains to be seen if that will translate on the field. The Texans will take both games again this season. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Monday, Dec. 25, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:30 p.m. ET

The Steelers have one of the few offenses that can really attack the Texans' defense. This will be a huge prime-time game and Houston will show it still has some work to do to be among the elite teams in the AFC. Record: 9-6

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

After starting franchise history unable to beat the Colts in Indianapolis, the Texans have now won at Lucas Oil Stadium for the second straight season. They won't sweep them for the second year in a row, and will end their season with a loss. Record: 9-7