13 Ravens opponents in 13 days: Houston Texans

In eager anticipation of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will take a daily look at one of the 13 opponents on the Ravens’ regular-season schedule. Today is the Houston Texans.

The Week 3 matchup between the Ravens and Houston Texans will be one of the most-anticipated games on the team’s 2013 schedule, and it’s not just because it is an early AFC showdown or because the Ravens will be looking to make a statement after the Texans embarrassed them last season. Seven months after finally winning his first Super Bowl with the Ravens, Ed Reed, if healthy, will be back in Baltimore as a member of the Texans. So you can count on this being an interesting week leading up to what should be a good game.

Recapping 2012: Led by a dominant defense and a balanced offense, the Texans won their first five games and 11 of their first 12. But their secondary got exposed down the stretch and Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster was not as effective. The Texans ended up finishing 12-4, and after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round, they were dominated by the New England Patriots in a 41-28 game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The Texans ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense in 2012.

Cha-cha-changes: The signing of Reed, who flirted with the Texans for several days before the deal was sealed, was the most significant free-agent addition for the Texans, who haven’t had much roster turnover. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin and versatile fullback James Casey, who both signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, were the most notable losses in free agency. Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins highlighted Houston's nine-player draft class, and the Texans are hopeful he can be a legitimate receiving threat opposite Pro Bowler Andre Johnson.

The skinny: While questions remain about whether Matt Schaub is a good enough quarterback to get the Texans over the hump, they figure to be one of the top contenders in the AFC again this season. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 20.5 sacks in 2012, leads a stout defense that is difficult to play against. And if the Texans get Foster going early -- he has given the Ravens problems in the past -- and get off to an early lead, they are tough to beat.

Recent history: The Ravens won their first six meetings against the Texans, including a divisional-round win at M&T Bank Stadium in the 2011 playoffs. But the Texans got off that schneid in a big way last October, beating the Ravens, 43-13. That game quickly snowballed for the Ravens, who were down by three scores before they could blink. That loss and its fallout ended up being a turning point of sorts for the Ravens, though.

Degree of difficulty: The Ravens may still be trying to jell on defense -- they will have a lot of new faces and all -- when Reed and the Texans come to town in Week 3, but since the game is at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will likely be favored to win. They will have to work for it, though. I’ll say the degree of difficulty will be a solid seven out of 10.