Ranking the Texans' toughest early games, sans Tom Brady

Facing Jimmy Garoppolo instead of Tom Brady makes the Week 3 game at New England a bit easier. But it's still a difficult place to play for any visitor. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- We've discussed previously the boon given to the Texans in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 's four-game suspension. Now that Brady is ending his fight to overturn his suspension and not attempting to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texans will certainly not face Brady when they take on the New England Patriots in Week 3.

That was the toughest game on the Texans' schedule in the first half of the season. As it isn't anymore, let's rank the five most difficult games the Texans will play before their Week 9 bye week.

  1. Week 2, vs. Kansas City Chiefs: This might be a controversial pick, but a combination of factors will make this the toughest game in the first half of the Texans' schedule. The Chiefs became a bit of a nemesis for the Texans last season on the strength of a defense that wreaked havoc on the Texans' offense and particularly quarterback Brian Hoyer. The second meeting in the AFC wild-card round was the most painful for the Texans, who lost 30-0. Kansas City's defense returns mostly intact from last season and they'll be facing the Texans as all the new pieces in Houston's offense are still coming together.

  2. Week 5, at Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater built on a strong rookie season in his second year with his completion percentage and passer rating rising. The Vikings gave him another weapon by drafting Laquon Treadwell out of Mississippi. A road game against a playoff team is never easy.

  3. Week 7 at Denver Broncos: The defending Super Bowl champions will look quite a bit different this year without their top two quarterbacks from last season. Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler found a new gig. But that defense is still going to be fearsome with Wade Phillips leading it. They lost defensive lineman Malik Jackson, a risk they took by franchising outside linebacker Von Miller. This will be a revenge game for Osweiler, whether he admits it or not, but the Broncos will also want to show they've survived without him.

  4. Week 6, vs. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck's health played a major role in the Colts' struggles against the Texans last season. Both games involved minor disasters for the Texans at quarterback. In Houston, the Texans waffled between Ryan Mallett, who started the game, and Hoyer, who finished it. In Indianapolis, starter T.J. Yates suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Brandon Weeden, still new to the team, finished the job. It was a milestone victory for the Texans and one that helped them return to the playoffs, but they got an assist. Had Luck been healthy when the Texans visited, the Texans' first-ever victory over the Colts might not have happened.

  5. Week 3 at New England Patriots: Sure, Brady won't be there to torture the Texans this time, as he has in seven out of the eight games he's played against the Texans in his career. But this is still a game in New England and another early game for a Texans offense that will still be figuring itself out.