Four weeks into the NFL regular season, some teams have seen things go exactly according to plan while others have seen their worst nightmares come to fruition.
Two teams on opposite sides of that spectrum, the undefeated Houston Texans (4-0) and the injury-ravaged New York Jets (2-2), will meet at the 50-yard-line in Monday night's nationally televised contest.
Houston lands in New Jersey a confident group, having rolled over a Tennessee Titans squad that had no business being on the field with the Texans, who enjoy a three-game lead in the AFC South.
The Jets, having lost All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis and starting wide receiver Santonio Holmes for the season in each of the past two weeks, are hoping to not make it three weeks in a row that they lose a key member of the team for the season.
And they can certainly use the win after a miserable performance against the San Francisco 49ers last week that saw them get crushed 34-0.
Let's take a look at what you need to know prior to watching both teams—and volatile Jets' head coach Rex Ryan—make their 2012 Monday Night Football debuts on the night that Jets' greats Mark Gastineau and Wesley Walker are inducted into the team's Ring of Honor.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ.
When: Monday, Oct. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Listen: KILT 610 AM (Houston) or WEPN 98.7 FM (New York)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Texans (-8) per CBS Sports
Over/Under: 41.5 per CBS Sports
All-Time Series: Jets lead 5-0; last played on 11/21/10, a 30-27 Jets' victory.
Injury Report (per CBS Sports)
FB John Connor (hamstring), questionable for Monday
WR Stephen Hill (hamstring), questionable for Monday
WR Santonio Holmes (foot), out for season
TE Dustin Keller (hamstring), questionable for Monday
CB Darrelle Revis (knee), out for season
LB Mister Alexander (knee), questionable for Monday
S Quintin Demps (forearm), out for Monday
WR Lestar Jean (knee), questionable for Monday
RB Ben Tate (toe), questionable for Monday
What's At Stake?
It's hard to call this a must-win game for the Jets, who at 2-2 sit in a three-way tie for the lead in the AFC East along with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, but this is as close to a must-win that they have faced thus far.
The team didn't look bad against the 49ers last week, they looked awful. A number of starters, including QB Mark Sanchez and LB Bart Scott, need strong performances to turn down the volume on the noise coming from the fans and media about whether they are deserving of the playing time that they get.
For Houston, it's another chance to show the country that they are one of the premier teams in the league, continue to refine their game and move one step closer to the AFC South crown—and the top overall seed in the playoffs.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Andre Johnson
After a monstrous opening-week performance that saw him pull down eight receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown, the 31-year-old Johnson, celebrating a decade in the NFL this season, has been kept relatively quiet.
Over the past three weeks, he's caught eight passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.
The Jets defense allows only 198 yards per game through the air, tied for fourth best with the 49ers. But that was with two-and-a-half weeks of Darrelle Revis shutting down half of the field.
Antonio Cromartie is a fine corner, but he's no Revis.
With a heavy dose of Texans RB Arian Foster against a team that has allowed 691 yards on the ground so far in 2012—that's nearly 173 yards per game—the Jets are going to be forced to use safety LaRon Landry up near the line of scrimmage more often than he'll be able to play over the top against Johnson.
Johnson has the athleticism, height and talent to take advantage of a one-on-one situation, and with the Jets having no real semblance of a pass rush—their seven sacks puts them in a three-way tie for 25th place, along with the Buccaneers and Raiders—Texans QB Matt Schaub will have all day long to get the ball to the team's all-time leading receiver.
What They're Saying
Jets coach Rex Ryan wasn't mincing words after the team's performance last week:
Yet Ryan remains confident in his players and his team's chances, as he told the Newark Star-Ledger's Mike Vorkunov:
I think we are a very talented group. I don’t think there’s any question. Some of our talent may look different. I think we have a very talented offensive line, for instance. Now we’re not going to be talented if you’re gonna test them in the 40 (yard dash). It’s a talented group that way. We have some young defensive linemen that I think are very talented. Their future is it’s going like this but I need to get them here quick. They may not be here yet but we need to get there with that group. So I feel great about our talent.
While he wouldn't deny that it'd be nice to have players like the Texans' Johnson and Schaub on the Jets, he believes that Texans coach Gary Kubiak would want some Jets on his own squad—and that he believes the Jets can still win this season:
There’s no question he’d like to have some of our guys. The way I feel, there might be some players in this league I’d trade for, no question, but I wouldn’t trade this team. That’s who we are, that’s my mentality. I think we have the group right here to get it done. And that’s how I’ve always felt and that’s what we’re going to show."
(Whether Tebow starts or not) is a question that will be asked more frequently if this progresses because this is unacceptable playing.
Conversely, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak praised his team's defense to reporters (h/t Sports Illustrated):
You score 14 points on defense, four sacks total, three turnovers, when you're doing that type of stuff, it's special, We forced quite a few punts as a defensive football team this year, got to be up there at the top. They're playing well, and they're doing it because they're playing together and playing very hard.'
Texans' DE J.J. Watt, who has broken out with seven-and-a-half sacks through the first four games of the season, isn't content with his performance—or with the team's (h/t Sports Illustrated):
Yeah, (we can be) a lot better. When I watch the film, there are a lot of things I can correct and a lot of things that I watch and want to improve on every single game. I'm just working on improving little things every week, so hopefully by the end of the year I'm playing my best football yet ... I'm obviously not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not having fun and playing good ball because I know that, but I'd be lying if I said I was playing my best ball.'
Jets' Key Player: QB Mark Sanchez
Sanchez, who has been under fire since the arrival of Tim Tebow in training camp, will have every move he makes under the brightest spotlight and biggest magnifying glass of his career.
Woody Johnson's comment shouldn't be taken lightly—ESPN New York's Rich Cimini implied as much, citing two unnamed sources who say that Johnson will push Rex Ryan to start Tebow if Sanchez continues to struggle.
It's almost unfair to put Sanchez's job on the line, considering that he's missing his best wide receiver, could be without his starting tight end (and the second-best receiver on the team, sorry Antonio Cromartie) and is going up against a defense that rushes the passer as well as anyone in the league.
Sanchez will need to make smart, quick decisions with the ball and throw the ball with conviction and accuracy early if he hopes to silence the doubters, at least for another week.
Should he lead the team to as inept a first half as he did last weekend against the 49ers, he may be holding a clipboard in the second half.
Texans' Key Player: Arian Foster
He's the best running back in the game, and on paper at least, Foster should have a field day against the Jets' porous run defense, who have allowed a whopping seven touchdowns on the ground through the first four games of the season.
Rex Ryan is no doubt going to throw a number of different looks at the Texans offensive line in an attempt to confuse the blockers and limit Foster's running room.
Establishing his dominance on the defense early will be a key to the Texans' success, as Foster can not only break big plays, but he'll also help set up play-action for Matt Schaub and allow him to attack a beat-up Jets secondary.
Prediction: Texans 31, Jets 7
The Jets are simply overmatched against the best team in the NFL right now. The defense has no answers for Arian Foster and it's going to be incredibly difficult for their offensive line to keep J.J. Watt in check all night long.
It wouldn't be shocking in the least to see Tebow-time begin in earnest to start the second half.
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