San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Houston Texans (6-4)
SERIES HISTORY: Fifth meeting. The Chargers lead the series, 4-1.
The first game the Chargers played under coach Mike McCoy was against the visiting Texans in 2013. In a preview of what has derailed the Chargers this year, San Diego squandered a big lead. The Chargers led 28-7 in the third quarter, only to fall 31-28. That snapped a four-game winning streak the Chargers had over the Texans, which included two games at Houston. The Chargers' previous excursion to the Lone Star State resulted in a 29-23 triumph in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Battling a hangover from their trip to Mexico City, the Houston Texans must focus on a visit by the Chargers and stay in the thick of the AFC South race.
On the cusp of a surprising victory over the AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders, the Texans coughed up a seven-point lead with a fourth-quarter collapse and fell 27-20 in Mexico City. Instead of establishing a two-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South, with a head-to-head victory in hand, the Texans dropped to 4-3 in the AFC and set the stage for a dogfight for the division title down the stretch.
Since their spirited fourth-quarter rally to beat the Colts on Oct. 16, the Texans have been outscored 41-9 in the fourth quarter of their last four games. Given the ongoing struggles of the offense, it's unjust to saddle the Texans' defense with the blame for their late-game issues, but what is true is that Houston has wavered when those tense moments have arrived.
The Texans' offense will try to build on QB Brock Osweiler's solid performance in the loss to the Raiders, but a running game is needed to take pressure off him.
Defensively, the Texans remain an upper-echelon team, ranking 12th in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. But the manner in which they surrendered the lead to Oakland continued a recent trend that warrants attention and a reversal.
The Chargers often remain in many games due to the presence of QB Philip Rivers, although his interceptions ruined their chances against the Dolphins just before the team's bye. The defense is getting a boost from DE Joey Bosa, a candidate for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Texans QB Brock Osweiler vs. Chargers DE Joey Bosa. Osweiler has been doing a solid job of escaping pressure and avoiding sacks. He has been sacked only 18 times and hit 60. Bosa has four sacks but gets a lot of pressure on the quarterback and is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year despite missing early games with contract dispute.
--Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph. Rivers is a strong-armed gunslinger who has the confidence and accuracy to put the football wherever he wants to. A two-time Pro Bowl player, Joseph is a savvy veteran.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers ILB Denzel Perryman. Perryman is no stranger to the spotlight, but it hits him with a different shade on Sunday. He is among the team's best run stuffers, but it is not known whether his hamstring will hold up. It has cost him the last two games, and the loss of nose tackle Brandon Mebane will make Perryman's job even more difficult.
INJURY REPORT: San Diego -- Out: LB Jatavis Brown (knee), TE Asante Cleveland (concussion, knee), CB Brandon Flowers (concussion). Questionable: WR Travis Benjamin (knee), WR Jeremy Butler (ankle), LB Tourek Williams (hamstring). Houston -- Out: RB Alfred Blue (calf), RB Tyler Ervin (ribs), LB John Simon (chest), WR Jaelen Strong (ankle). Questionable: RB Jay Prosch (hamstring).
FAST FACTS: Chargers QB Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season and eighth overall, which would tie him for third-most all-time. In Week 10, he threw for 300 yards for the 50th time in his career, ranking eighth all-time and just one behind Dan Fouts' franchise record of 51. ... Texans RB Lamar Miller is having a career year, averaging 82.4 yards per game on the ground, good for sixth in the NFL and well above his career-high of 68.7 set in 2014 with the Dolphins. Through 10 games, he has carried the ball 192 times for 824 yards, nearly identical to his 16-game totals of 194 carries for 872 yards last season.
PREDICTION: Although the Chargers are usually not an easy opponent, the Texans certainly have enough incentive to get back in the win column after losing a game they easily could have won against the highly rated Raiders.
OUR PICK: Texans, 32-21.