NFL Preview - Houston (6-6) at Jacksonville (2-10)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Jacksonville Jaguars may indeed be a 2-10 football team, but to this weekend's opponent - the Houston Texans - they've got definite world-beating potential.
Indeed, even though the Jaguars are fifth from the bottom of the league in both points allowed (27.4 per game) and yards allowed (383.2 per week), Texans coach Bill O'Brien is preaching respect.
Jacksonville comes into Week 14 after a come-from-behind defeat of the New York Giants in a game it had trailed by 18 points at halftime, and fresh off a 2013 season in which it scored a pair of victories over the Texans - then coached by Gary Kubiak - as part of a late-season three-game win streak.
"I don't care what (Jacksonville's) record is," O'Brien said. "I really don't. It's not coach-speak. It's the truth. This team is a talented team, well- coached."
Problem is, the Jaguars don't score much. In fact, they'd only exceeded 20 points twice in 11 games before the defeat of the Giants saw them rack up 22 in the final 30 minutes - including a pair of defensive touchdowns.
Against Houston and MVP candidate J.J. Watt, it won't be an easy repeat.
The Texans have allowed just 23 points in their last two road games, which have yielded victories over Cleveland and Tennessee. Watt had two sacks in the 45-21 dousing of the Titans to bring his total to 11 1/2 for the season, and he caught a touchdown pass - his third of the season - while lined up in a goal-line formation. One of his would-be foes on Sunday, Jacksonville right tackle Austin Pasztor, won't play after suffering a ruptured right hamstring.
Watt has faced the Jaguars six times and has 5 1/2 sacks.
On the mend for Houston's defense is cornerback Kareem Jackson, who's questionable with a knee injury; and rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who's played just four games thanks to illness and myriad injuries. He's also questionable this week with a knee problem.
The No. 1 overall draft pick has seven tackles and no sacks in limited action, but he maintains the full faith and confidence of the coaching staff, according to O'Brien.
"I want to be real clear about this with him as it relates to us here and the Houston Texans," O'Brien said. "We think very highly of him. We know that he is going to be a really good player. He has been unlucky. He is a good kid. He is a good teammate and he is working hard to get back on the field."
If he plays, he'll aim for the inaugural sack against the player selected two picks after him, Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, who's been sacked 34 times overall and seven times last week. In spite of the pressure, the win over the Giants was a watershed for Bortles, who completed his first full game with no interceptions while amassing 194 yards passing, rushing for 68 and throwing a TD pass.
Bortles led an 11-play, 55-yard drive that yielded the winning field goal with 28 seconds to go.
"You could just see him wanting to take over the game, and his mentality," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "He didn't slide. When we needed a couple of extra yards, he went for it. That's what the guys are gravitating toward - his competitiveness, his focus and his taking advantage of opportunities."
His quarterback counterpart, Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick, is also trying to keep momentum.
The Harvard University product was benched for Ryan Mallett in early November, but regained the No. 1 status when Mallett was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. He completed 24-of-33 passes for 358 yards and threw six touchdowns in the rout of Tennessee, six days after turning 32.
Prior to losing his starting role, he had an 87.1 passer rating, 11 TD passes and eight interceptions.
"Maybe it helped Fitz to take a step back," O'Brien said. "You never want to see anybody get hurt like Mallett did, but maybe it helped Fitz to see how the offense was operated and he went in there and did a good job. The trick is, can we do it again?"
The Texans began the season with two straight wins, but had gone 3-6 over nine subsequent games before facing the Titans. They're still mathematically in the divisional title race, but can be officially excluded with a loss to Jacksonville and win by Indianapolis, which leads the AFC South.
The 45 points against Tennessee were a franchise record. Running back Arian Foster had 105 yards on the ground and Fitzpatrick connected with DeAndre Hopkins nine times for 238 yards and two touchdowns - just a week after scoring a season-low 13 points against Cincinnati.
"It comes down to consistency," O'Brien said. "It's really important. It's vitally important to go out there and have a great week of practice and I think that's what we did last week. Guys were really detailed and focused. That's what we have to do this week again."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Where Art Thou, 99?
A matchup with a phenomenon like Watt would have been difficult enough if the Jaguars had Pasztor in his typical place as the starting right tackle. But with him out, the primary responsibility for contending with Watt falls to either Josh Wells, a rookie free agent; or Sam Young, a fifth-year player who's been inactive for the last six weeks. Either way, Bortles might want to work hard on quick releases this week.
Make Ryan Be Ryan
Though Fitzpatrick had a dominant - and mistake-free - game last week, it's hardly a consensus view that the showing against a poor pass defense indicates a change from a career speckled with inconsistency. The Jaguars' 37 sacks are third-best in the NFL and the defense has forced eight fumbles in two games. Another effort like that could reveal more of the true Fitzpatrick under center.
It'd be easy to hear O'Brien talk about how legitimate a team the Jaguars are, then consider the fact that they're home and find enough reason to go ahead and pick them. But it's not that simple. The Texans still have the best player on the field in Watt, and more ammo on offense against a team that's got few true weapons and an inconsistent rookie quarterback. A surprise is possible, but not at all likely.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 31, Jaguars 23
12/07 09:11:14 ET