By Dave Thomas
As the Oakland Raiders trek to Mexico City for next Monday evening's AFC battle with the Houston Texans, they will face a team that is leading the AFC South, albeit a division that is not exactly setting the world on fire.
Houston comes into Monday's game with a lead over both Tennessee (5-5) and Indianapolis (4-5), respectively. The Texans, winners over division foe Jacksonville this past Sunday, made the AFC playoffs a season ago, only to be dismantled at home in a first-round loss to Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Oakland rides into Mexico City with a mark of 7-2, now tied with Kansas City (7-2) for first place in the AFC West (the Chiefs technically lead having beaten the Raiders earlier this season). After their bye week, Oakland now plays four of its final regular season games away from the Bay Area, though they will be the "home" team versus Houston.
So, will the Raiders suffer from any rust coming out of the bye week? If not, will the time off have helped Oakland to get some banged up bodies back to near full strength?
Only time will tell, but the Raiders certainly do not want to have any major gaffes over the next seven games, especially with road trips to all three AFC West rivals.
Houston Comes Into Game At 6-3
For the Texans, a 6-3 record through nine games has them on top of a division that is less than spectacular this season.
With Indianapolis having a down season, Tennessee improving but not quite ready for primetime, and a Jacksonville squad that is not much better than Cleveland or Chicago, you have a recipe for mediocrity.
Given that scenario, Houston has been able to establish itself as the likely team to be in the division, though they are far from a lock.
Houston Relying On Miller To Take Some Pressure Off QB
Unless you're an NFL fan living under a rock these days, you likely know that first-year Texans' QB Brock Osweiler isn't exactly lighting up the league through nine games.
Coming over from Super Bowl champion Denver in the off-season, Osweiler has thrown for 1,818 yards and 11 touchdowns, though those nine INT's to date stick out like a sore thumb.
To take some of the pressure off the young quarterback, Houston has turned to running back Lamar Miller (168 carries, 720 yards, a pair of touchdowns) to carry some of the load.
When it comes to Houston's receivers, DeAndre Hopkins (482 receiving yards) and Will Fuller (372 receiving yards) lead the way, respectively. Hopkins, along with C.J. Fiedorowicz, each have accounted for three scores.
Texans Getting Various Contributions in Watt's Absence
With superstar J.J. Watt done for the season after only appearing in three games (back injury), Houston has turned to Benardrick McKinney (80 total tackles, 44 solo stops) to lead the way. McKinney's numbers far outpace even the second closest tackler on the team in John Simon (49 total tackles).
As a team, Houston will go into the meeting with the Raiders having the fourth overall ranked defense in the NFL, allowing just under 318 yards per game.
Texans 1-1 Versus AFC West To Date
In facing the AFC West this season, Houston is 1-1 to date.
The Texans beat Kansas City at home early in the season, followed by a loss in Osweiler's return to Denver. Houston will host San Diego Nov. 27.
For the all-time series (albeit a rather short one) between Houston and Oakland, the Texans hold a 6-3 advantage.
After facing Houston, Oakland will have back-to-back home games with Carolina and Buffalo, respectively.
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