The Seattle Seahawks have been up to the challenge so far this season.
The Seahawks' next hurdle is picking up a victory in Houston, where they battle the Texans looking for the first 4-0 start in franchise history.
Seattle has bookended a big victory over the rival San Francisco 49ers with expected wins against Carolina and Jacksonville. But Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll deserves some credit for preventing his club from having a let down last Sunday against Jacksonville.
The 'Hawks were coming off a 29-3 thumping of the defending NFC champion Niners and didn't take their foot off the gas in a 28-point triumph over the Jaguars. Russell Wilson matched a career high with four touchdown passes and was a spectator by the end of the 45-17 rout. He threw for 202 yards and was picked off once while losing a fumble before giving way to Tarvaris Jackson.
"It was huge win for us," Wilson said. "Offensively we made a statement. Guys made tremendous plays, communication was great."
Sidney Rice and Zach Miller caught two touchdown passes each and Golden Tate led the Seahawks with 88 receiving yards on five catches.
Seattle improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006 and has won each of its past eight regular-season games, outscoring its opponents by a 279-87 margin. That run has quickly elevated the Seahawks to the top of the class in the NFC.
"Well, we don't shy away from the challenge," said Wilson. "I believe that we have such great competitors in our locker room and just our coaching staff believes in us. We believe in them. The way they prepare us, like I always said to the guys, 'The separation is in the preparation.' And we have to prepare the right way. Every week, we go into it, it's a championship mentality.
Added Wilson of the upcoming meeting with the Texans, "This game's going to be a huge game. It's one of the teams that obviously a quote-un-quote Super Bowl contender and is a team that's got a lot of talent and everything."
Houston was unable to make this a meeting of unbeaten teams as it was hammered 30-9 in Baltimore last weekend. The Texans had rallied to win each of their first two games, but couldn't overcome 17 straight points scored by the Ravens in the second quarter.
Up 6-0, Matt Schaub had an interception returned 37 yards for a score by Baltimore linebacker Daryl Smith and the Ravens followed a stalled drive by the Texans with an 82-yard punt return for a score.
"Over a four-play sequence, we give them 14 points," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's where the game turned, and we were playing catch-up all game long."
Schaub ended 25-for-35 passing for 194 yards in the setback. Houston, which was flagged for 14 penalties for 113 yards, trailed at halftime for the third straight game and managed just 107 yards of offense in the second half.
The Texans got three field goals from Randy Bullock while getting denied its second straight 3-0 start.
This will mark the third meeting between the Texans and Seahawks, with each team having previously won at home.
Seattle took the first meeting 42-10 on Oct. 16, 2005, while the Texans came through with a 34-7 triumph on Dec. 13, 2009 in Houston.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This matchup will pit the NFL's current top-two defenses against each other. Seattle is ranked No. 1 at 241.7 yards allowed per game and is yielding an NFL-best 9.0 points per game.
Houston is second at 249.0 YPG, but is 24th in scoring defense (27.3 PPG).
Schaub will have to quickly shake off his costly pick-six against a talented Seahawks defense that features a pair of talented corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner as well as safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
Browner missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury before playing against the Jaguars, while defensive end Chris Clemons played for the first time since suffering a major knee injury during last year's playoffs.
Schaub threw for 365 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and one pick in his only meeting with the Seahawks and knows he has a tough challenge ahead of him.
"They're very good. They're good across the board," he said of the Seattle defense. "They're fast, big, physical, especially in the secondary, which is unusual. They cover a lot of ground. They challenge you, so we've got to be up to that task."
Seattle has 10 takeaways already this season, tied for the second most in the NFL, and Sherman has logged five interceptions and a pair of touchdowns in his last seven games. Chancellor has a pick in each of his last two games and defensive end Michael Bennett has posted 2 1/2 sacks over his last two games.
A telling sign of this defense was how disappointed it was to yield 17 points to the Jaguars.
"Yeah, it's good that their standards are set very high and they played really well for a long time and then Jacksonville was able to make some plays and move the ball down there," said Carroll.
"We love the attitude of our guys. They've been together enough now, they know what they want to get done and how we're trying to get it done and so they have very high expectations."
Houston has plenty of playmakers on its defense, including defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing, who played at USC under Carroll.
Watt has a sack in each of his last two games and three on the season, while defensive end Antonio Smith has notched four career sacks versus Seattle.
Cushing, meanwhile, leads the Texans with 24 tackles to go along with 1 1/2 sacks and an interception he returned for a score.
"He's a tremendously competitive, aggressive kid. Incredible all-around athlete," Carroll said of Cushing. "Really one of the best players we ever recruited. He had such a great all-around ability that he could do a ton of things. The fact that he's continuing to do it is no surprise to me. He's a great team member."
Cushing and Watt will try to disrupt the red-hot Wilson, who is 10-1 over his last 11 games with a 117.3 passer rating in that span. Seattle currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 28.7 PPG and is eighth in offense at 379.7 YPG.
"He's one of those dual threats that the league is moving to now," noted Texans corner Johnathan Joseph. "He can throw the ball down the field obviously he can extend plays with his legs and kind of create a different mismatch with the option read at the quarterback position."
Both Schaub and running back Arian Foster (190 rushing yards, 1 TD) have really yet to get it going this season, while wide receiver Andre Johnson has been forced out of the past two games due to injury.
He suffered a shin injury last weekend and is day-to-day, likely a game-time decision versus Seattle.
Johnson still leads Houston with 25 receptions and 258 yards, while rookie DeAndre Hopkins has notched 18 catches for 243 yards to lead all rookies.
"He's (Hopkins) playing well. He's doing a lot of good things. He's making a lot of mistakes too. He's a rookie. We're trying to get him cleaned up from that standpoint, but he's obviously a big contributor to what we're doing right now. He should only get better with the more he plays," said Kubiak.
Like Wilson said, this game certainly features a "Super Bowl contender" but that club is on his sideline. Seattle is off to a fast start and is getting the type of defensive effort that wins games and allows Wilson and the rest of the offense to play loose.
That is not the case for Houston, which dodged some bullets in the first two weeks before getting a reality check against Baltimore.
On the bright side for the Texans, they don't have to make the tough trip to Seattle, but that is about where the good things end this week for the club.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 20, Texans 16