At least this time, the Tennessee Titans know what they're getting into.
The Houston Texans can flat-out play.
When they want to.
As per their usual, consistency, or lack thereof, has plagued this otherwise talented franchise. They followed their best-ever 5-3 start with a tough loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and now find themselves in "do-or-die" mode.
Both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee are resurgent as of late; Monday night's matchup—along with the Jags' success or failure on Sunday—will go a long way in determining who the runners up to the Colts will be in the increasingly interesting AFC South.
For the Titans to emerge victorious, they'd be wise to hedge their bets and assume that the Texans of Week Two will show up.
Chances are, this battle will hinge on defense. Tennessee's offense can keep pace in most shootouts, but isn't really strong enough on defense to come out on the winning end of such contests (see: Titans vs. Texans, Week Two).
So, how can the Titans, who will no doubt find a way to get their points, keep the potentially explosive Texans in check?
In essence, they should play the pass. To heck with the psychology of "but what if they run?" The Texans' ground attack is downright anemic this year and Tennessee's rush defense, in spite of their other woes, has been decent (when not facing the Jags' Maurice Jones-Drew, of course).
Odds are, they won't get burned by daring the running game.
On the other, parallel side of the ball, the burning question remains: can Houston stop Titans' running back Chris Johnson? All year long, teams have been stacking the line to stop him, knowing the limitations of Tennessee's passing game.
And yet he still is on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards. A while ago, he was merely a bright spot on a bad team. But, in light of the Titans' recent winning streak, the MVP murmurs are beginning (but more on that later this week).
Even if the Texans manage to bottle him up as a rusher and "limit" him to, say, 70 or so yards, he still remains a volatile and dangerous receiving threat.
In addition, Vince Young poses a whole new set of challenges for opposing defenses. Now, does he necessarily make it any harder for those defenses? Well, frankly it depends on which Vince shows up.
But if he plays like he has been recently, then things bode well for Tennessee.
On Monday, two teams on the way up will square off. At the end of the day, one will go home to their proverbial drawing boards with their spirits deflated.
With both offenses clicking and displaying their fair shares of explosiveness, the smarter, more tenacious defense will win. Look for mistakes and turnovers to play a large role in this matchup.
It will all come down to whoever allows the least big plays. On Monday, simple fundamentals will take center stage.