The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Houston, Texas, but if the past few games have been any indication then the conference's elite teams aren't exactly quaking in their boots at the idea of making the trip.
After losing only one of their first 12 games, the Texans have now lost two out of three, falling in surprisingly convincing fashion to the Minnesota Vikings 23-6.
This defeat has to be an especially distressing one for head coach Gary Kubiak, as the game both accentuated the Texans' weaknesses and potentially created a new one that could devastate Houston's aspirations of making the trip to the Superdome.
That new issue involves starting running back and offensive centerpiece Arian Foster. The fourth-year pro left the game in the third quarter with what head coach Gary Kubiak called an "irregular heartbeat" according to ESPN. While Kubiak called the move "precautionary" and said that Foster was "fine," this late in the season the last thing the Texans need is the fulcrum of their offense sidelined.
What may be of more concern as the playoffs approach is that the Texans aren't running the ball very well even when Foster is in the game. Before leaving the game, Foster managed only 15 yards on 10 carries and has been held under 100 yards in three of the past four games. A Houston offense that was second in the NFL in yards per carry last year has dropped to 14th this season.
However, the biggest problem facing the Texans lies on the defensive side of the ball, which may seem odd at first glance given that Houston ranks a very respectable seventh in total defense.
With that said, though, the secondary once again let the team down on Sunday. The front seven did a solid job of containing Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, but loading the box meant that the defensive backs were on their own.
Houston's 28th-ranked pass defense responded by allowing 174 yards and a touchdown, which doesn't sound that bad until you consider that Christian Ponder was playing quarterback for the Vikings.
Oh wait, that happened too.
All this isn't to say that the Houston Texans aren't a very good football team, or that they're incapable of making a deep run into the playoffs.
Week 16 showed, however, that they're far from a juggernaut, and while fans of the team should be proud of what Houston has accomplished in the regular season, they should also be a little worried.
Because the rest of the AFC isn't.