Schedule Release  

 

NFL schedule: Pack-Texans could be Super Bowl XLVII preview

In addition to it being Schedule Release Day, it's also Tax Day. Leading up to the latter, people always seem to have a case of the "We-gonna's." We gonna do them when we get our W-2's ... We gonna do them in late March ... We gonna do them tomorrow..

NFL organizations and players do a similar thing when they see their schedule:

• We gonna win that game. We always handle those guys. Child, please.
• We gonna beat them at their place. They don't match up with us.
• We gonna ... Wait. I don't wanna go to freakin' London!

When I got my first glimpse of the 2012 NFL schedule Tuesday morning, one game jumped off the page: Oct. 14. Sunday Night Football. Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans.

Could it be "Super Bowl Night in America?" Here's a strong case for Packers-Texans at Reliant Stadium in Week 6 being a precursor to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans next February.

Who in the NFC is stronger than the Packers? I'm on record as saying the New York Giants have as good as shot as anyone. The defending champs are the Packers' primary competition. But are the Giants -- or the 49ers, Bears or anyone else -- better than Green Bay? No way.

The Packers had a subpar running game last season and a defense that couldn't play any worse. Cornerback Tramon Williams took a Sam Bradford-esque step back last season. Dom Capers' defense didn't have the services of one of Green Bay's best players, Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, all year. Lastly, they can't be any worse in yards allowed. They were 32nd. There are 32 teams in the league.

And yet they still went 15-1. When Green Bay faces the Giants this time around, the offensive line should be at full strength, unlike in the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Packers' wideouts hold on to the ball, things should go differently.

Meanwhile, 2011 certainly would have gone differently for the Texans if Houston hadn't gotten leveled by the same injury bug that struck the Packers two seasons ago. Yet even without Andre Johnson for most of the season, Arian Foster at the beginning and Matt Schaub when it mattered most, Houston damn near made it to the AFC Championship Game.

The pundits will say that was just one year. Or that the loss of Mario Williams will deplete Super Bowl hopes. Bunk and bunk.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was brought in by Houston management in 2011, helping take the Texans from 6-10 to 10-6 and the defense from 30th overall to second. That was without Williams, who was on IR for the lion's share of the season. A team can make a quantum Lombardi leap quickly, and the Texans don't need the pricey Williams to do it. Brooks Reed, a strong rookie last year, should be fine.

If there is a chink in the Houston armor, it's losses in the locker room. Two leaders, tackle Eric Winston and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, are gone. That hurts, although Rashad Butler, a capable pass blocker, is expected to take over for Winston.

If looking good on paper is worth something, Packers-Texans Week 6 is gold. Watching the Texans' defense get after Aaron Rodgers should be fun and perhaps will foreshadow February's Superdome Super Bowl.

Here are a few other potential Super Bowl matchups that will play out in the regular season:

Harrison: 12 for '12
Elliot Harrison counts down the top 12 games to look forward to in 2012, including a few rematches from the playoffs. More ...

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots, Week 15. This Sunday nighter is quite simply the top contender to Packers-Texans as the best possible Super Bowl preview. Both teams were in their conference championship games last year.

New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, Week 16. Same deal as 49ers-Pats, in that both of these teams were in the conference title game last season. Joe Flacco's protection was decent last season, but this is a game that Cam Cameron must give Ray Rice touches, unlike in Jacksonville and Seattle last season.

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears, Week 10. Saying the Texans have a good shot to make the Super Bowl is hard enough. Going with the Bears in the NFC? Jay Cutler must stay healthy, while Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher can't lose any more steps. The window is there, but it's closing.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys, Week 15. A lot of events would have to break right for these storied franchises to meet in Super Bowl XLVII, starting with Tony Romo playing a little more clutch in spots, and getting some help. That said, these two organizations have played in three very competitive Super Bowls. Another would be just plain fun.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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