AFC North: Curtis Painter

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Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.
As we put a close to the NFL exhibition schedule, here's where the AFC North led the league and AFC in preseason statistics:

Longest run from scrimmage: Adonis Thomas, Browns, 64 (led AFC)

Passing touchdowns: Curtis Painter, Ravens, 6 (led NFL)

Receiving yards: Antonio Brown, Steelers, 204 (AFC)

Receiving touchdowns: Antonio Brown, Steelers, 3 (NFL)

Total offense: Ravens, 390.5 (NFL)

Points: Ravens, 108 (AFC)

Pass attempts: Ravens, 189 (AFC)

Passing yards per game: Ravens, 275.5 (AFC)

Points: Justin Tucker, Ravens, 29 (AFC)
Click here for the complete list of Baltimore Ravens roster moves.

Significant move: The Ravens surprisingly kept linebacker Sergio Kindle, their top draft pick in 2010, purely on his potential as a pass-rusher. Kindle's lasting impression from the preseason was a roughing-the-passer penalty in the finale that allowed the Rams to convert a third-and-22. Never showing any burst, Kindle didn't record a sack in the preseason and finished with four tackles. With Terrell Suggs out indefinitely with an Achilles injury, the Ravens probably don't want to part with anyone who can help pressure the quarterback. Kindle hasn't been the same player since falling down two stairs and fracturing his skull before his first training camp. On his reaction in making the team, Kindle said, "Jump for joy and do a back flip if I could. Wouldn’t want to land on my head though." ... Baltimore also released Curtis Painter and chose to go with Tyrod Taylor as its backup quarterback. Painter, who threw six touchdowns this preseason, threw countless interceptions in training camp.

Onward and upward: Undrafted safety Omar Brown is a likely target to return as a member of Baltimore's practice squad. He lacks ideal size for the position (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) but he has a knack for being around the ball. Brown had arguably the best preseason on the team, finishing third with 10 tackles, recording three fumble recoveries, intercepting one pass and recovering an onside kick. The Ravens need depth at safety because of the uncertainty surrounding Sean Considine, who has sustained two concussions in two weeks.

What's next: Don't be surprised if the Ravens look for an upgrade on the offensive line. Their depth at tackle is questionable with backups Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood. Reid has been limited all summer with a calf injury, and Harewood surprisingly made the team after spending the past two years on injured reserve. The Ravens also may look to add a defensive lineman. The team could move rookie defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson, a seventh-round pick, to the practice squad.

AFC North backup QB outlook

August, 29, 2012
You're not going to see a lot of the starting quarterbacks in Thursday's preseason finales. Some starters won't play at all. It's a smart move because the last thing you want is to get your quarterback hurt in a game that's primarily for the fringe players trying to make a roster.

The preseason finale will feature extended looks at the backup quarterbacks, too. Here's how the safety nets at the game's most important position are shaping up heading into the final preseason game:


Backup battle: This is the one place in the division where there really isn't one. Bruce Gradkowski will be the backup. In fact, he'll be the only quarterback on the roster besides starter Andy Dalton. Gradkowski has had another solid preseason, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.9 quarterback rating.

Who should win: Going way out on a limb and say Gradkowski.


Backup battle: Colt McCoy really separated himself from Seneca Wallace in the third preseason game. McCoy went 7-of-9 for 74 yards and one touchdown. Wallace completed 3 of 6 passes for 29 yards and one interception. Head coach Pat Shurmur named McCoy the starter for Thursday night.

Who should win: While some still think McCoy is getting traded to Green Bay, I see him staying in Cleveland. He's proven to be better than Wallace and he's cheaper to keep than Wallace.


Backup battle: Curtis Painter has outplayed incumbent Tyrod Taylor this preseason. Painter, who played under quarterback coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis last season, has completed 54.1 percent of his passes, throwing four touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 95.2. Taylor has connected on less than half of his throws (47.9 percent) with two touchdowns and one interception for a 70.5 rating.

Who should win: If this competition is based on performance, Painter would win based on the preseason. I'm still going with Taylor, who has been the better quarterback in practice. The Ravens coaching staff won't be able to forget the numerous interceptions thrown by Painter in training camp.


Backup battle: The Steelers are in the best backup quarterback situation in the division with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, two veteran quarterbacks who can win games when Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt. The Steelers let Charlie Batch take over for Roethlisberger in Week 2 and he completed 7 of 10 passes for 84 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger last week and he went 5 of 8 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Who should win: Leftwich clearly won the job with his preseason performance last week. It looks like this could be the end for Batch. This is his 11th season with the Steelers, which is the second-longest current tenure of any quarterback with one team behind Tom Brady.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Troy Smith is not giving up on his dream of playing quarterback in the NFL after getting cut by the Steelers nearly two weeks ago.

Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2006, said a few teams contacted him the day he was cut, but he doesn't know where he'll play again.

"We'll just keep plugging and plugging," Smith told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Plain Dealer reported that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told Smith he thought he could start in this league and wanted to let him go early enough to catch on with another team. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who drafted Smith in the fifth round in 2007, said Smith can "definitely" play in the NFL.

Hensley's slant: Time appears to be running out for Smith. He wasn't going to be the No. 2 quarterback for the Steelers, who have Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. But it could be tough for him to catch on to another team. The Dolphins passed on him last August, and despite Newsome's positive comments, the Ravens didn't re-sign him.

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer posted some historical statistics that "might make you cringe." Perhaps the most cringe-worthy is this one: Of the 28 teams that were in the NFL in 1983, every franchise has made back-to-back playoff appearances except the Bengals. The expansion Texans and Panthers have never made consecutive trips to the postseason. Even the Browns, who weren't in the league for three seasons, went to the postseason in five straight seasons (1985-89). Hensley's slant: The Bengals have actually enjoyed a good amount of success recently. They've been to the playoffs three times since 2005, the same amount as the Cowboys over that span. The problem has been maintaining consistent success.

BROWNS: The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the bounty investigation, including Browns linebacker Scott Fujita. The suit calls commissioner Roger Goodell "incurably and evidently biased." This comes after the players' appeals were shot down by Goodell. "The investigation and arbitration process that the Commissioner's public relations machinery touted as 'thorough and fair' has, in reality, been a sham," the lawsuit stated. Hensley's slant: Fujita only has himself to blame when it comes to the process. He was on the NFLPA executive committee that signed off on Goodell's powerful role in the new collective bargaining agreement. I'm guessing many players are going to regret giving Goodell so much authority.

RAVENS: In trying to land the backup quarterback job, Curtis Painter is adjusting to a new playbook and new teammates. But he isn't dealing with new faces everywhere. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell was Painter's head coach last season when both were with the Indianapolis Colts. “Anytime you come into a new situation and have a little bit of familiarity, to have a player or a coach you know, it definitely helps out,” Painter told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. “Having him as the quarterbacks coach and being in that room, we’ve obviously had a relationship. So, that makes it an easier transition." Hensley's slant: Painter's ties to Caldwell might have helped him in beating out Dennis Dixon and Kyle Boller in an offseason tryout, but Painter hasn't received any guarantees, especially when you look at his contract. He signed a one-year, $615,000 deal that doesn't include a signing bonus. Still, the battle between Painter and Tyrod Taylor will be one of the interesting ones to watch in Ravens training camp.

Veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb said last week there's an "an 80 to 90 percent chance" he'll play this season. According to the 35-year-old quarterback, there are three teams that he's considering, although he declined to name them. As ESPN's Adam Schefter pointed out, it could take an injury in training camp before a team considers McNabb.

I have my doubts whether McNabb, who has played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, has anything left. In six starts for the Vikings last season, he threw four touchdown passes and lost five times. It also doesn't seem like McNabb has drawn the interest of his former longtime coach Andy Reid, which should worry teams because Philadelphia needs a No. 2 passer.

Here's how I assess his chances with the AFC North teams:

BENGALS: Not happening here. Cincinnati is set at backup quarterback with Bruce Gradkowski. He is familiar with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's system (he previously played under Gruden in Tampa Bay) and he led a come-from-behind victory in the season opener last year. McNabb's name won't be brought up in any conversation.

BROWNS: It's easy to draw a connection here with McNabb's ties to coach Pat Shumur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. But bringing in McNabb would add an unwanted distraction for a team looking to start a new era with rookie first-round pick Brandon Weeden. I've never had a problem with keeping Colt McCoy as the backup because he doesn't have a disruptive personality. If McNabb was such a good mentor, the Vikings wouldn't have cut him in early December.

RAVENS: This is one spot where I could see some potential if the Ravens are feeling uneasy about their backup spot later this summer. When Joe Flacco missed the final day of mandatory minicamp for the birth of his son, backup quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Curtis Painter were awful. During one team drill, Taylor and Painter each had an interception returned for a touchdown. Plus, after leading the Ravens to the playoffs the past four years, Flacco wouldn't be threatened by the addition of McNabb.

STEELERS: Don't see much of a fit here. The Steelers already have two experienced backups in Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, and Pittsburgh has a familiarity with both. In ranking the backup quarterback situations in the division last month, I talked about how the Steelers have the best insurance policy at this position in the AFC North. Leftwich has started 49 games (24-25 record) and passed for 10,260 yards and 58 touchdowns. Batch is 5-2 as a spot starter since joining the Steelers in 2003.
I took some criticism for my ratings for the AFC North backup quarterback situation last week. But it looks like most fans in the division agree with my assessment for the most part.

In a SportsNation poll that drew 9,611 votes, here are the final results for the best backup quarterbacks in the division: the Steelers (Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch) received 61 percent; the Browns (Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace) took in 19 percent; the Bengals (Bruce Gradkowski) were at 14 percent; and the Ravens (Tyrod Taylor and Curtis Painter) were last at 14 percent.

Now, here were my confidence ratings for backup quarterbacks: the Steelers ranked first at 71, the Bengals were second at 63, the Browns were third at 46 and the Ravens came in last at 18.

The two major factors in my ratings were experience and recent success. Leftwich has started 49 games (24-25 record) and passed for 10,260 yards and 58 touchdowns. Batch is 5-2 as a spot starter since joining the Steelers in 2003. That's why the Steelers have clearly the best insurance policy at that position.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have one backup who has one completed pass in the NFL (Taylor) and another who was benched last season after failing to win in eight starts (Painter).
A big theme this week on the division blogs has been the state of the backup quarterback position for each team.

Now, it's your turn to weigh in on the subject. Which AFC North team has the best insurance policy when it comes to quarterbacks?


Which AFC North team has the best backup quarterback situation?


Discuss (Total votes: 9,611)

BENGALS: Bruce Gradkowski. He has a less-than-stellar 6-14 record while starting for three teams. But Gradkowski did lead the Bengals to a come-from-behind win over the Browns in last season's opener after replacing an injured Andy Dalton.

BROWNS: Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. McCoy went 4-9 last season as the starter and finished as the NFL's 25th-ranked passer. Wallace has a 1-8 record as a starter the past three seasons.

RAVENS: Tyrod Taylor and Curtis Painter. Taylor has completed one pass in three brief appearances. Painter played last season under new Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, where he was benched after failing to win in eight starts.

STEELERS: Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Leftwich has started 49 games (24-25 record) and passed for 10,260 yards and 58 touchdowns. Batch is 5-2 as a spot starter since joining the Steelers in 2003.

Go ahead and register your vote, or let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Ravens: Backup QB plan

June, 6, 2012
NFC Backup QBs: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Assessing the Baltimore Ravens' backup quarterback situation if Joe Flacco is injured and misses time.

The Ravens haven't been consistent in the amount of importance they've placed on the backup quarterback position recently. Baltimore went from having one of the most experienced and expensive backups in Marc Bulger in 2010 to a rookie sixth-round pick in Tyrod Taylor last season. Taylor has completed one pass in three brief appearances. To be fair, this spot has been irrelevant on the Ravens, because Flacco hasn't missed a start in his four-year career (73 starts, including the playoffs) and has proven to be among the most durable quarterbacks in the league. The Ravens added more veteran depth by signing Curtis Painter this offseason, although it's unknown whether he'll beat out Taylor for the No. 2 spot. Painter played last season under new Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, where he was benched after failing to win in eight starts.

Confidence rating (out of 100) if Flacco goes out for extended period: 18.
Ravens fans can relax: there's not going to be a Kyle Boller reunion.

The Ravens signed quarterback Curtis Painter instead of Boller and Dennis Dixon, according to NFL Network. Painter is expected to compete with Tyrod Taylor to be the team's backup to Joe Flacco.

While Boller isn't returning to Baltimore, there is a reunion taking place. Painter rejoins new Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who was the Indianapolis Colts' head coach last season. Painter made eight starts for the injured Peyton Manning last season but did not win a game before being benched.

I thought Painter was the front-runner for the job because of his connection to Caldwell. Based on potential and experience, he should have been last on the list.

It's understandable that the Ravens passed on Boller. Bringing back Boller would've been a public relations nightmare because he flopped as a first-round quarterback.

What I'm scratching my head over is the Ravens not signing Dixon. He's 27 and athletic. He has much more potential than Painter.

In the end, it probably doesn't matter whether it's Dixon or Painter or Taylor. Flacco has yet to miss a start in his NFL career.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

It appears that I'm not the only one who thinks the Browns should take Alabama running back Trent Richardson. His college coach, Nick Saban, feels Richardson would be a great fit for Cleveland.

"He'd be great in the community, he'd be a great player for them and he's somebody that I think a lot of young people could really relate to for the kind of person he is, the example he sets," Saban told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "If they wouldn't be excited, they really should be."

At Alabama's pro day, Saban talked about Richardson to Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who was an assistant under Saban at Michigan State for three seasons.

"He's one of the lowest-maintenance great players I've ever had the opportunity to coach," Saban said.

Hensley's slant: I'm not among those buying reports that the Browns are deciding between wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson has the toughness to play in this division and the elusiveness to spark the Browns' offense.

BENGALS: Wide receiver Jordan Shipley is still recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee that occurred in September. He hopes that he'll be able to practice when minicamps begin on May 22 and is confident he'll be ready for training camp this summer. “I’m planning on doing all the workouts with the guys," Shipley told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Some days I feel really good and other days I feel close. At this point in the process, it is based on how you feel that day. Some days I am 100 percent.” Hensley's slant: The Bengals didn't add a wide receiver in free agency, which means Shipley has a shot at the No. 2 job if he can get healthy. But the odds of him winning that spot decreases significantly if the Bengals draft a wide receiver in the early rounds.

RAVENS: The team will work out three quarterbacks on Thursday: Kyle Boller, a 2003 first-round pick by the Ravens; Dennis Dixon, the Steelers' third-string quarterback last season; and Curtis Painter, who started eight games for the Colts last season before getting benched. The Ravens are likely to sign one of the three quarterbacks based on the workout results, according to the Baltimore Sun.“Everybody competes for every spot every year, every practice, and [backup quarterback] Tyrod Taylor is no different,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said earlier this month.”But we like him a lot.” Hensley's slant: If the Ravens want the backup with the most upside, they should sign Dixon. If they are looking for the most experienced backup, they should go with Boller. But don't discount Painter, even though his 2011 stats were horrible. He played last season under Jim Caldwell, who is now Baltimore's quarterbacks coach. That might give the edge to the 27-year-old Painter.

STEELERS: Steelers free-agent offensive tackle Max Starks said his recovery from ACL surgery is ahead of schedule and he's getting his strength back. He suffered the injury in the playoff loss at Denver. Starks posted on his Twitter account that he will "be playing for someone this season, but I know it won't be until I'm 100% structurally sound. I'm on pace to be ready by Mid July for play!" Hensley's slant: Starks saved the Steelers last season when he returned, and he would probably be a fallback option for the team again this season. My take is the Steelers are looking to get younger on the offensive line and will take a tackle at some point in the draft. But, if Starks is healthy enough to play, he would be a upgrade over backup Jonathan Scott.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

It's Ravens-Steelers week and there's a lot at stake once again in this rivalry. The winner takes control of the division and ... wait, what about the Bengals?

That's right. The Who Dey Nation is unexpectedly crashing the AFC North party this year. The Bengals (5-2) are tied with the Ravens for second place in the division, trailing the first-place Steelers (6-2) by a half-game. The same Bengals that began the season ranking last in ESPN's power rankings.

For those who still don't believe, Cincinnati has won four consecutive games for the first time since 2009. For those who still aren't impressed, the Bengals won their first West Coast game since 2003.

Whatever your opinion, you can't dispute that the Bengals are relevant in November again. There's a growing belief in the locker room that can be judged by the expanding vocabulary. According to the team's website, the P-word can now be heard from players.

“I think we set out not to do anything less,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the playoffs. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re going for team wins any way we can get them.”

The Bengals will find out whether they're playoff caliber when they play at the Titans (4-3) before hosting the Steelers and taking a trip to the Ravens.

Here's a look at what the local columnists are saying about the AFC North teams following Sunday's games:

BENGALS: The Bengals are 5-2 because they've taken advantage of a favorable schedule, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-25. Daugherty wrote: "The achievement comes with its own asterisk. The QBs they've beaten are a veritable Who's Not Who. Raise your hand if you'd start your dynasty with Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert, Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. But we quibble. A 5-2 record should not demand style points, especially not around here."

BROWNS: The Browns have scored over 17 points just once this season. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto thinks the no-huddle is a no-brainer for Cleveland. Pluto wrote: "There are no quick fixes, not with two inexperienced guards, two running backs in the trainer's room, and no receiver who demands double coverage. But maybe a faster pace will help."

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes the Ravens' momentous rally just hides another below-average performance. Preston wrote: "The Ravens staged their greatest comeback in franchise history, rallying from a 21-point deficit to defeat Arizona Sunday, but that was about the only good thing you could say. They won. That's it. They won. They beat one of the worst teams in the league, and had to rally from three touchdowns down. Go ahead, jump up and down. Break dance if you want. Lift your champagne glass, but there is not much to celebrate."

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic was impressed with the way the Steelers physically dominated the Patriots. Kovacevic wrote: "They chased Tom Brady as if endorsement deals were hanging from his neck. They made Wes Welker eat grass within a millisecond of catching the football. They rode big tight end Rob Gronkowski like a bucking bronco. And they apparently caught defensive genius Bill Belichick wholly unprepared for, of all gimmicky schemes, the underneath routes of tight end Heath Miller. The Steelers, finally, after eight games, are the Steelers again."

Wrap-up: Steelers 23, Colts 20

September, 25, 2011
Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: It wasn't as easy as many expected, but Pittsburgh did just enough to improve to 2-1. The Steelers are in a three-team tie atop the AFC North with the Ravens and Browns.

Thumbs up: Ben Roethlisberger once again showed why he is one of the best clutch quarterbacks. On the game-winning drive, he completed 3 of 4 passes for 39 yards and scrambled for 11 yards to get the Steelers in range for Shaun Suisham's 38-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game.

Thumbs down: Pittsburgh struggled all game to protect Roethlisberger. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both forced fumbles in the first half, which led to a field goal and a 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

First takeaway: The Steelers defense finally forced a turnover this season, and it was a timely one. James Harrison stripped Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter, and Troy Polamalu returned it for a 16-yard touchdown to take a short-lived 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

Banged-up line: Pittsburgh had three starters on the offensive line leave the game, including the entire right side at one point. Right guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Marcus Gilbert both had shoulder injuries and were replaced by guard Ramon Foster and tackle Trai Essex. When left tackle Jonathan Scott was forced out late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury, Gilbert had to come back into the game.

What's next: The Steelers play at Houston, which wraps up a stretch of three road games in the first four weeks of the season.