The Houston Texans earned the first playoff berth in franchise history in 2011, as they went 10-6 and won the AFC South, and also added a playoff win in the Wild Card round against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Having quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson back healthy after both missed significant time last season makes even further improvement possible in 2012, and a deep playoff run looks possible even with the loss of DE Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills in free agency.

Here's what the regular season schedule looks like for the Texans in 2012.

Week 1- vs. Miami
Week 2- @ Jacksonville
Week 3- @ Denver
Week 4- vs. Tennessee
Week 5- @ New York Jets (Monday Night)
Week 6- vs. Green Bay
Week 7- vs. Baltimore
Week 8- Bye
Week 9- vs. Buffalo
Week 10- @ Chicago
Week 11- vs. Jacksonville
Week 12- @ Detroit (Thanksgiving Day)
Week 13- @ Tennessee
Week 14- @ New England (Monday Night)
Week 15- vs. Indianapolis
Week 16- vs. Minnesota
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Week 17- @ Indianapolis

The Toughest Stretch

From Week 3-7, prior to their bye week, the Texans have tough road games against the Denver Broncos and New York Jets along with what are sure to be difficult home games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and AFC South rival Tennessee Titans. How they perform during that stretch stands to set the stage for how the season will unfold, for better or worse, and they have a chance to prove themselves against playoff-caliber competition fairly early in the season.

Another tough stretch will come from Week 12-14, with three straight road games against the two 2011 playoff teams (Detroit Lions, New England Patriots) and the division rival Titans again. A good showing in those three contests should allow the Texans to build momentum for a solid playoff run, as they will again have a chance to compete against tough teams.

The Easiest Stretch

The Texans look likely to ease into the playoffs late in the season, assuming they make it to the postseason, with two games against the Indianapolis Colts surrounding a game against the Minnesota Vikings during the regular season's final three weeks. Those two teams combined to win five games in 2011, and both franchises are essentially rebuilding at this point. Houston should be able to easily overmatch both the Colts and the Vikings, and may even have an opportunity to get key players some rest heading into the playoffs.

Overview And Prediction

Houston will be showcased on national television three times as of now, including twice in a three-week span from Week 12-14. That seems like not quite enough for a team that is considered among the contenders to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC right now if their key players remain healthy, but if the Texans are able to make the playoffs for a second straight year their national profile should be raised significantly.

I predict the Texans will again win the AFC South in 2012, this time with an 11-5 record, and they will be in the mix to have a first-round bye as well.