After being hammered by the New England Patriots last Monday night, the Houston Texans suddenly find themselves in a tough race in the AFC South.
That's because the upstart Indianapolis Colts have surprised many by winning nine games. They have done it behind the brilliance of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and veteran wideout Reggie Wayne.
Here are the best matchups in this Sunday's critical divisional tilt.
Reggie Wayne vs. Jonathan Joseph
Undoubtedly the marquee matchup will involve receiver Reggie Wayne and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
Wayne has been magnificent this season. The 34-year-old has played a key role in helping Luck's development.
He has hauled in 94 of the rookie's passes, many of them astonishing, highlight-reel catches. That's helped Wayne accumulate 1,220 yards and score four touchdowns.
As much as he has helped Luck, Wayne has also managed to create space for his youthful supporting cast. The likes of Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen have all benefited from the attention paid to Wayne.
The highlight of the Washington Redskins trip to the Cleveland Browns, won't be the quarterback duel between Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden.
No, it will be the matchup between rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson. They were selected at opposite ends of the draft, but they have both impressed in the pros.
The Browns traded up to take Richardson with the third overall pick. The ex-Alabama star was considered the most complete running back in 2012's draft.
Morris meanwhile, had to wait until the sixth round to hear his name called. The Redskins were probably a dream destination.
That's because head coach Mike Shanahan specialises in producing 1,000-yard runners in the pros. Morris has emerged from obscurity to become Shanahan's latest late-round find at the position.
He is dominating the more high-profile Richardson statistically. Morris has rushed for 1,235 yards in 13 starts. He is averaging 4.9 yards a carry and has seven rushing touchdowns to his credit.
One short week after manhandling their AFC rivals the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots have another potential playoff team in their sights.
Not having won a Super Bowl for seven long seasons has been a constant thorn in Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichicks side. His studious view on the game has won him many plaudits, and at times angered others. No doubting though the relationship and understanding he has with his quarterback Tom Brady is nothing short of a winning one. They are arguably the best Head Coach/QB tandem the game has seen.
In that seven year span, New England have of course come close. Twice being out=though and out=played by the pair of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning of the New York Giants. These losses do nothing more than spur the Patriots duo on.
They’ve hit a tremendous roll at present, dominating teams by scoring big. Over 50 points twice, and 40+ on four other occasions. Some say they have to score huge as they are a little suspect on defense, but when called upon that part of their game has stood up well in close games.
One pretender to their AFC crown this season is the Texans.
The Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) still have their destiny in their own hands, but after last week’s devastating buzzer-beating loss to the Cowboys in Ohio that snapped a four game winning streak, a win in tonight’s game against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles is a must for Marvin Lewis’s men if they are to reach the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
One of the major obstacles the Bengals must overcome is complacency – throughout their history, the Bengals simply haven’t been able to be complacent as they’ve barely ever been good enough to beat anybody, though they boast a 4-3 winning record against the Eagles in Philadelphia and own the all-time series 7-3-1. The Eagles showed last week with their walk off victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay that while they might not have any playoff aspirations remaining after a seven game slide, they have a lot of talent, and many of their playing and coaching staff are now performing with their jobs on the line, such as Andy Reid, the longest tenured coach in the league, and backup quarterback Nick Foles who has shown brief flashes in relief of the injured and clapped out, concussed Michael Vick.
This is a game I've been looking forward to for months. I've picked the Texans quite a bit this season. Despite being one of the best teams in the NFL, they continue to cover point spreads as a favorite. That mettle will be put to the test this week when they travel for a tough road game.
MarketsThe look-ahead line had the Patriots favored by -5. After the weekend they re-opened them at -4.5. Fast forward to today and we've seen somewhat of a surprising move on New England. Right now the line sits at -5.5 (odds from SBRforum).