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NFL Preview - Houston (5-8) at Tennessee (5-8)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Ali-Frazier II. Leonard-Duran II. Holyfield-Tyson II.
And this weekend...Johnson-Finnegan II. Or maybe not.
The AFC South's premier sluggers could square off for a second time in 2010 this Sunday in Nashville, when Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan get back together for the first time since being engaged in a one-sided throw-down in a Nov. 28 game at Reliant Stadium.
Reacting to game-long aggressive play and chatter from his abrasive foe, Johnson yanked off Finnegan's helmet and hit him three times during the fourth quarter of the Texans' 20-0 win in Week 12. Both were ejected and each man was fined $25,000 by the league for the brawl.
Johnson and Finnegan have downplayed the incident since, and neither is campaigning for a rematch come Sunday afternoon, when the dually-disappointing 5-8 teams will square off.
"I don't think you ever know personally exactly what's going on out there between two guys, but [both Johnson and Finnegan] always play hard and they're always getting after each other and they challenge each other and they both rise to the challenge," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said, "That's what makes them both great players."
A win for the Texans would give them a series sweep of the Titans for just the second time since 2002, when the new Houston franchise began play after the city's previous entry, the Houston Oilers, fled north to Tennessee and eventually became the Titans.
Houston and Tennessee are tied for the bottom rung on the division ladder, three games behind first-place Jacksonville and two in back of second-place Indianapolis.
The Titans have lost six straight since a 5-2 start, while the Texans are 1-6 since a 4-2 beginning. Tennessee started 0-6 last season and wound up 8-8.
"People were talking about us highly," Titans safety Michael Griffin said. "To see us go from a (5-2) record and haven't even won a ballgame since, I don't even know [the last time they won] it's been so long, that's crazy. Last year we started out real slow, and it seems like we just reversed it this year. We started out quickly, and we reversed it."
Tennessee has won 12 of 17 all-time meetings with the Texans but as mentioned above, dropped a 20-0 decision to its fellow AFC South members at Reliant Stadium three weeks ago. The teams have split the season series in each of the previous two campaigns, with Houston earning a 34-31 victory at LP Field last year and the Titans holding serve with a 31-12 home triumph in 2008.
The Texans have swept a home-and-home set with Tennessee just once in their nine-year existence, claiming both matchups in 2004.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is 12-5 lifetime against the Texans, while Kubiak is 3-6 against both Fisher and Tennessee as a head man.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans are unquestionably among the league's elite offenses, earning top 10 status in all major categories, including points per game (24.3, 9th overall), total yards (381.9 ypg, 6th), passing yards (252.9 ypg, 7th) and rushing yards (129.0 ypg, 7th). The Titans, meanwhile, haven't matched that success on the other side, though they are 12th of 32 teams in scoring defense (20.4 ppg). Elsewhere, Tennessee is 24th in total yardage allowed (364.9 ypg), 26th in passing yardage allowed (244.3 ypg) and 21st in rushing yardage allowed (120.6 ypg).
With his 393 passing yards in last week's 34-28 overtime loss to Baltimore, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub passed David Carr to become the franchise's career leader in that category. His 62 pass attempts against the Ravens were also a career high. In his past three games against the Titans, Schaub has eight touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 112.0 passer rating. Speaking of superlative numbers, with his 100 rushing yards against Baltimore, Texans running back Arian Foster (1,330 rushing yards) topped Steve Slaton's single- season franchise mark from 2008. Foster is aiming to become the second undrafted player since 1967 to lead the NFL in rushing yards, following Kansas City�s Priest Holmes in 2001. Foster leads the league with 13 rushing touchdowns as well and needs one more to surpass Domanick Williams' 2004 single-season mark for the Texans. Foster had 143 rush yards in the Week 12 win over Tennessee. On the outside, receiver Johnson looks for a fifth straight game with a touchdown catch against the Titans. He is averaging 135.8 receiving yards per game in his past nine December outings.
Tennessee defensive end Jason Babin had a sack in his only career meeting with the Texans, his one-time team, and has a career-best 10 sacks so far in 2010.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Tennessee's offense has slid to middle-of-the-road status or below in the league rankings, placing 15th in scoring (22.4 ppg) and 14th in rushing yards (113.2 ypg) while dropping to 28th in total yardage (297.2 ypg) and 30th in passing yardage (184.0 ypg). That said, Houston's done little better stopping its foes, as a 30th-place ranking in scoring defense (27.3 ppg), 29th in total yardage allowed (378.4 ypg) and 32nd in passing yardage allowed (279.9 ypg) proves. The Texans are sixth in the league at run defense (98.5 ypg), largely because of the comparatively few attempts against them on the ground.
Titans veteran quarterback Kerry Collins is climbing the statistical charts. The former Penn State star is 331 passing yards shy of becoming the 12th quarterback in NFL history to reach 40,000 for a career. He threw for 216 yards on a 21-of-33 effort with two touchdowns and a 90.0 passer rating in his last start against Houston, and tied a season best with three touchdown throws in last week's 30-28 loss to Indianapolis. That output got him to 200 for his career. In the backfield, running back Chris Johnson averages 8.5 yards per carry in home games against Houston on 32 career carries. In 15 career games against AFC South foes, he's gone for an average of 97.3 yards per game. Additionally, the Tennessee back is just 50 receiving yards away from 1,000 for his career. On the outside, in-season pickup Randy Moss is 95 yards from passing Tim Brown for fourth place on the league's all-time list for receiving yards, while fellow wideout Kenny Britt has seven touchdown catches in the nine games he's played this season. Tight end Bo Scaife scored a career-best two touchdowns against the Colts last week, while rookie return man Marc Mariani -- a seventh-round choice in April's draft - leads the league with a 15.2 yard average on punt returns.
For the Texans, cornerback Glover Quin established a franchise record with three interceptions in the earlier meeting with the Titans. Meanwhile, end Mario Williams -- a former No. 1 overall draft choice -- needed just 1.5 sacks to reach 10 for a third consecutive season. Problem is, he's now out for the year after Houston put him on injured reserve this week with a groin problem.
Not surprisingly, considering their offensive track record and this week's matchup, the Texans are ripe with possibilities for fantasy points. Schaub, Foster and Andre Johnson are slam-dunk starters for those with ownership, while tight end Owen Daniels returned from injury last week to provide a fantasy spark. Kicker Neil Rackers is a viable selection as well. For Tennessee, it's just Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Rob Bironas on the strong options list.
There's nothing left to play for in terms of the postseason for two of the league's most disappointing teams, but Kubiak might still have a slim chance to hold onto his job with a strong finish. Couple that with the Titans' incrementally worsening meltdown from a 5-2 start. and it seems Houston is the more-talented lesser of two evils.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 28, Titans 17
12/16 13:33:25 ET