The Houston Texans are riding high after an impressive win over the New England Patriots in Week 13, but they can't let up despite having control of the AFC South Division with four games left.
Two of those games are against the Tennessee Titans, who are a game behind Houston (8-4) and playing well. The temptation is to look ahead to that Week 15 matchup at the Titans, but that could cost the Texans against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Sure, the Broncos (4-8) are out of the playoff chase, but they're feeling good following the successful debut of rookie quarterback Drew Lock. They bring a lot of confidence into Houston.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien isn't worried about his team looking past the Broncos coming off their big win over the Patriots on Sunday.
"No, I mean, you turn on the tape, you watch Denver," O'Brien told reporters. "Got going on this morning with these guys. Guys are pros. It's all about Denver."
Lock threw two touchdown passes and also helped Courtland Sutton draw a 37-yard pass-interference penalty in the final seconds that set up Denver's game-winning field goal against the Los Angeles Chargers. Lock was playing in front of a friendly home crowd, but Sunday is the first road start for the University of Missouri product.
He's not rattled by the moment.
"I've played in this stadium in that bowl game (in the 2017 Texas Bowl)," Lock said. "Half of it was Missouri, and half of it was Texas, and it was extremely loud with only half the fans being opposing. Having to deal with the noise a little bit, playing at Alabama, playing at LSU, all those factors aren't that big, but I think just dealing with the noise and dealing with some under-center stuff."
The Broncos head into the game with a banged-up offensive line. Guard Ron Leary is in the concussion protocol, and his status for Sunday is unknown. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James (knee) is practicing in full for the second straight week, but he still sat out Sunday as he tries to overcome what CBS described as a mental hurdle with the injury.
Denver should also get linebacker Von Miller back after he sat out the game against the Chargers with a knee injury. He returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis. However, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe will miss the remainder of the season with a dislocated elbow suffered against the Chargers.
Wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) and former Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring/toe) were among the Texans limited at practice, but both are likely to play against Denver.
The Texans' run game has underperformed of late, putting more on the shoulders of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He came up with one of his best games of the season against New England and will go up against a Broncos secondary that includes All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
"He's come up big in important games throughout his life: high school, Clemson, Houston," O'Brien said of Watson after Sunday's win. "He's a great guy to coach. He's got great poise."
Harris will likely shadow DeAndre Hopkins, who had a modest (by his standards) five catches for 64 yards against the Patriots but threw a touchdown to Watson on a trick play.
The win over New England maintained Houston's outside chance at a first-round bye. The Texans would have to make up two games on the Patriots (10-2) in the final four weeks, but they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Houston would have to make up three games to surpass Baltimore, however, after the Ravens beat the Texans in Week 11.
--Field Level Media