The Houston Texans have an excellent opportunity to add another win to the best record in the AFC when they host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
At 6-1, the Texans are off to the best start in franchise history and their most recent performance was particularly impressive, as Houston trounced the visiting Baltimore Ravens by a 43-13 score on Oct. 21. The Ravens also entered that contest with a 5-1 record but Houston certainly staked its claim as the better team.
The 3-4 Bills, who like Houston are coming off a bye week, figure to be overmatched in many areas this Sunday but Buffalo hopes a fired-up Mario Williams can help tip the balance in its favor. Williams played for the Texans for six seasons after the franchise selected him with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2006 draft, but he left Houston after last season to sign a six-year deal with Buffalo.
Williams, Houston's all-time leader in sacks with 53, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist during his team's bye week but is ready to go this week at his old stomping grounds.
Although Williams, who has 3 1/2 sacks this year, has said he never wanted to leave Houston, the defensive end could be the target of boos this Sunday in South Texas. Former teammate and close friend Antonio Smith, a defensive lineman for the Texans, doesn't think that's such a good idea.
"You don't want to tick off a 6-foot-8, 300-pound man," Smith told Buffalo's team website. "He can do some damage. Most of the time when you hear the boos it does get you jacked up. All it takes then is for you to make one good play and could just have an explosion of energy."
Williams missed considerable time due to injury over his last two seasons in Houston, but the Texans haven't missed him this year thanks to second-year DE J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks this season. Watt, the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month in September, needs 4.5 more sacks to equal Williams' single-season franchise mark of 14.
Houston's only loss this season -- a 42-24 home setback to Green Bay -- came in the week before its blowout win over Baltimore. Another dominating performance this week could put that loss to the Packers even further in the rearview mirror.
After losing three of its last four games, the Bills aren't nearly as concerned with earning style points and a win of any kind against a team like Houston could help Buffalo get back on track before its too late.
One thing on Buffalo's side is history. The Texans are just 2-3 all-time against Buffalo and Houston has lost both of its home games versus the Bills.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Thanks in large part to a formidable rushing attack led by Arian Foster the Texans' offense is leading the NFL in clock management this season, averaging 35 minutes, 22 seconds of possession per game.
That does not bode well for a Buffalo defense that is dead last in the league with 176.9 rushing yards allowed per contest. Houston, meanwhile, is rated sixth in the NFL with a weekly average of 140.9 yards on the ground.
"It is a big challenge for us to stop the run," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said at his Wednesday press conference. "This is not just your normal running game. This is somewhat of a unique running game, the way they run the outside zone and the inside zone. The way they do it will be a real challenge for us."
Foster enters Sunday's game ranked fifth in the league with 659 rushing yards and the extra week off for the bye could be big for the two-time All-Pro. With a league-leading 168 carries no NFL running back has had a tougher workload than Foster this season.
"Anytime you got time off you're going to be fresh," said Foster.
While Foster is primed and ready to go, his backup Ben Tate could miss Sunday's game with a hamstring injury suffered in Week 7 against the Ravens.
"It's tough," said Tate, who has 178 yards on 43 carries this season. "A hamstring is something that you really don't want to push through because that's not an injury that you can necessarily tough it out. Especially at this position."
If Tate is unable to play this week then the task of occasionally spelling Foster will fall to Justin Forsett, who has averaged 5.2 yards on 23 carries this season.
Whether Tate or Forsett is the No. 2 on Sunday, stopping Foster is still the primary challenge for the Bills. If they're unable to do that then that could open up the field for Texans QB Matt Schaub and deep threat Andre Johnson.
"The scheme that they run, we know we have our work cut out for us," said Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. "They are a great team. Their record shows that. We are going to go down there with a huge job this week."
Conversely, the biggest task for the Texans' D this week will be slowing down Buffalo's two-headed rushing attack of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The Bills are ranked fourth in the NFL with 150.3 yards on the ground per game, but Houston has been stout against the run, allowing 83 yards per game.
The Texans are at their best when they're able to eat up the clock thanks to their formidable running game and Buffalo doesn't have the personnel to keep Houston from executing that game plan.
If Houston is able to slow down Spiller and Jackson on the other side of the ball and force Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them, then the Texans should cruise to a victory.
As for Williams, he may be able to get a sack or two against his former club but it's unlikely that his return trip to Houston will be a successful homecoming.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 28, Bills 14