This week the odds are stacked against the Minnesota Vikings, as they face a team which features a very good running game and an outstanding defense. The vast majority of the people in the NFL expect them to lose.
It feels really familiar.
Yes, just like in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers, nobody believes in the Vikings, save for themselves and their fans.
Here is something else familiar from that week: my game plan.
Yes, I'm saying the Vikings need to reach back deep to the early part of the year and get back to doing what they did in Week 3.
At least for the most part.
When the Vikings are on Offense
It's pretty obvious the key here is Adrian Peterson, even more than in Week 2.
I've been told by some that Peterson's effect against the Niners was minimal, but I continue to disagree. Peterson brought a physical style of play which set the tone for the game and signaled "we are here to win."
Did he have his best day? No. Three weeks into a season a majority of people felt he might not appear in, much less be effective, Peterson was still getting his feet under him.
But he ran hard, attacked the defensive front and had them going backwards. The offensive line keyed off him as well, playing a very tight game.
The offensive line (as well as the blockers at the tight end and fullback positions) is blocking even more effectively now and Peterson is having the season for the ages.
He needs to continue that if the Vikings have any semblance of a chance to win.
Inside, outside, upside down, however and wherever Peterson runs, he's going to have eight or even nine men stacked against him. That hasn't mattered so far, though the fifth-ranked Houston run defense is stout.
Still, Peterson will get his, and if he is effective, it will limit how long the Texans offense is on the field and is able to burn clock. Of course, the defense will need to do its job as well, but we'll get to that.
There's no weak spot in the Houston front seven, so unlike against the Chicago Bears, the Vikings can't just pick on a guy or two, apply pressure and squeeze.
The best idea is to just go right more often than not so they can avoid J.J. Watt.
On the other hand, if Jerome Felton, Rhett Ellison and John Carlson block like they have the last few weeks, Watt can be eliminated long enough to get Peterson outside and in the second level.
In fact, the reality is that the Vikings want to see the stacked fronts the Texans will bring as, once Peterson gets past the battle in the trenches, there is often a huge gap between the line of scrimmage and a defender.
Once Peterson gets past the front line, he can do a lot of damage.
The Vikings will take Peterson one on one with a cornerback or safety all day.
So once he gets past Watt, a stacked front means Peterson can be off to the races.
Speaking of Watt, back in Week 2, I said short, quick passes were the way to beat the amazing pass rush of the Niners. Watt is a huge threat to Christian Ponder and one of many reasons I say the Vikings need to keep the ball out of Ponder's hands as often as possible.
He has to pass though, so it's back to the short slants to Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright. Get the ball out quick, get it away from Watt and I would try to avoid rolling out in Watt's direction.
While the Houston secondary can be beat, unfortunately the Vikings don't match up well because they lack vertical threats and they don't pass block as well as they run block. Ponder lacks the time and weapons to attack the secondary.
Also, even if they manage to negate Watt on occasion, you have Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus and more along the front seven to contend with.
So get the ball out quick.
Finally, Ponder needs to make better decisions. He shoots out of the pocket earlier than he has to, forces the ball in between defenders when he should throw it away and is far too skittish in general. That's not the end of the world for a young quarterback after less than two full years, but it is the end of the team's playoff hopes if he does any of it Sunday.
We can argue whether Houston is the best of the AFC teams if you'd like, but they're more than good enough to take advantage of mistakes if the Vikings let them.
When the Vikings are on Defense
Over the course of the last month, the Vikings' ability to tackle has degraded to the point of near invisibility. Hopefully they've done a lot of tackling drills over the past week to correct that.
They'll need it against one of the best running backs in the league, Arian Foster.
So he's more than capable of making the front seven's life miserable.
Looking at the stats on Pro Football Focus, it seems that while Foster has the most consistent success running though the guards, he (and the line) have no consistent weakness. They appear to be comfortable (and effective) moving the ball right or left, off tackle or at the edge.
So the secondary is going to have to be on point and ready to assist the run defense, and they have to really step their game up.
Of course, even if you contain Foster, you have to contend with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels.
Johnson will be a handful for Antoine Winfield (if he's back), Chris Cook or Josh Robinson. Winfield is having a great season and can hang with Johnson, but it is tough to see him shutting the Texans wide receiver down. They can limit him to some extent though, and bring a safety over the top to help whomever is matched with him.
Daniels will require both attention from the secondary as well as an alert group of linebackers to make sure that he's covered if and when he crosses the middle.
Most importantly, when they get a shot at Schaub, they have to take him down.
The Vikings end up in the backfield and hit the quarterback plenty, but all too often they don't wrap them up; which results in a quarterback slipping away and frequently getting a pass off.
If they have the chance to take down the quarterback they have to finish. Not only does that put the offense back, limiting play options and making it easier to defend the following downs but it will throw the rhythm off as well.
I have some real doubts about the Vikings getting this done, which is a way I haven't felt through much of the season. This is a young team that can be terribly inconsistent, something they cannot afford to be this week.
However, two things offer some hope.
First, the team is very determined to get Peterson his record. They have been blocking so well the last few weeks it's insane. They want him to break it and they are focused on doing what it takes for him to do so.
That sort of focus can keep a young team from making dumb mistakes, as well as being the sort of thing which can carry a team to an unexpected win.
Secondly, this team plays its best football when nobody believes in them. They play best with a chip on their shoulder and the doubters at the gate.
They most certainly have plenty of both to fuel them this week.
I don't have them beating the Texans this week.
That isn't to say it's impossible.
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