The Texans (5-0) have lived up to expectations as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but after last week's ugly win against the New York Jets, there are certainly question marks, especially with über-important middle linebacker Brian Cushing out for the season.
The Packers (2-3), meanwhile, have struggled immensely out of the gate and look like they will struggle to simply make the playoffs. Still, Mike McCarthy's squad is a replacement ref and a missed field goal away from potentially being 4-1.
So, while Sunday night's matchup might not look like what it was cracked up to be six weeks ago on paper, this will still go down as one of the week's most important battles.
When: Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 93
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Houston (-3.5), according to Covers
Packers Injuries (via ESPN)
DT B.J. Raji, Ankle, Questionable
TE Jermichael Finley, Shoulder, Questionable
RB James Starks, Toe, Questionable
RB Cedric Benson, Foot, Out
WR Greg Jennings, Groin, Questionable
Texans Injuries (via ESPN)
LB Brian Cushing, Knee, Out
RB Ben Tate, Toe, Questionable
WR Lestar Jean, Knee, Questionable
S Quintin Demps, Arm, Out
What's At Stake?
The Texans are pretty much in cruise control to the playoffs considering they already have a three-game lead over the second-place Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. However, this game will be important in proving their defense is still elite without Cushing.
As for the Packers, the playoffs will continue to look less and less likely with each new defeat. Not only are they suddenly in a packed division (both the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears already have four wins), but the wild card looks like anything but a gimme. They could easily be battling every single team from both the NFC East and NFC West for the final two spots.
This isn't yet a must-win game for the Packers, but it's close.
Must starts: Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster
Fringe starts: Greg Jennings (health concerns), James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Houston defense, Green Bay defense
Stay away: Alex Green, James Starks, Kevin Walter,
Packers Player to Watch: Aaron Rodgers, QB
Usually when a quarterback has completed 69 percent of his throws for 261.4 yards per game and 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions, people aren't asking, "What's wrong?"
Ahh, the hardships of being Aaron Rodgers.
A-Rod, as the kids like to call him, has already thrown just two less interceptions than all of last year, his yards per attempt are at the lowest mark of his career as a starter, his touchdown percentage is the lowest since 2008 and his QBR is by far the worst of his career.
So whats wrong with arguably the best quarterback in the league?
The short version? It's hard to throw from your back.
Rodgers is being sacked at his highest rate ever and as a result is having to rush some of his throws, but this guy is too good not to start putting up gaudy numbers once again.
Texans Player to Watch: Arian Foster
Foster has some stiff competition for title of "best running back in the NFL" (hello there, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson), but there's no bigger workhorse.
Foster has had a little bit of trouble finding running room this year (4.0 yards per carry), but his 132 carries lead the league by a large margin. Not only is he a complete back capable of carrying the ball over 420 times in a season (which is what he's on pace for), but Foster can catch the ball out of the backfield, stand in and block, sound philosophical on Twitter and do just about everything else.
He's the running back every team wants.
There's no more dependable player in the league and, with Ben Tate hurting, expect to see a lot of Arian Foster on Sunday night.
What They're Saying
Fans are fretting over Cushing’s loss, but they should think about this: The Texans are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Kubiak’s run-oriented philosophy is the best thing that can happen to a defense.
With a 5-0 record and Green Bay and Baltimore coming to Reliant Stadium, the Texans can turn to their most indispensable player: Arian Foster, who had his best game this season with 29 carries for 152 yards and a TD in Monday’s 23-17 victory over the New York Jets.
Foster has become a workhorse back, averaging 26.4 carries a game. And that’s not counting the times he touches the ball as a receiver.
McClain goes on to note that more Foster means less turnovers. Less turnovers means less reliance on the defense, which even without Cushing is still plenty talented thanks to J.J. Watt and a menacing front seven.
While the loss of Cushing hurts, don't suddenly mistake this team for a pretender.
Key Matchup: Texans D-Line vs. Packers O-Line
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 21 times this year, second most in the NFL. Green Bay's sack-allowed percentage is 9.95, second worst in the NFL.
The Texans have J.J. Watt, who is not only the most dangerous defensive player in the league right now, but he just had a sack taken away from him, pushing his total down to 7.5 and making him more angry than he needs to be. They also have Brooks Reed and Antonio Smith, who both have two sacks. Their sack percentage is 8.70, fourth best in the NFL.
Just think of the carnage.
As we mentioned before, Rodgers needs some time to throw if he's going to get back to elite production. With the way things are going, he's more likely to ask the Packers to trade for Tim Tebow than he is to get that type of protection against Houston on the road.
With the crowd on their side, I just don't see the Texans being slowed down in their pursuit of Aaron Rodgers in the backfield. He's going to have a long day on his back. Throw in a suddenly shaky ground game and the Packers won't really be able to relieve that pressure.
Moreover, Arian Foster should be comfortable pounding away at Green Bay's defense, which is giving up 4.3 yards per carry (20th in the NFL).
Packers 14, Texans 28