GLENDALE, Arizona - Barring Week 1, this season has been brutal for Houston Texans fans. Unfortunately, this week has the potential to pour a whole lot of salt on their wounds as they head to the NFL's only undefeated team to face two former faces of the Texans franchise.
Cynical as this may seem, the Texans will have to pull off a near-miracle to come away from this game with a positive result. Impossible? Of course not, nothing ever is in professional sports. But highly unlikely? You know the answer to that ...
It starts with the injuries and inactives.
Texans veteran starting center Justin Britt is active for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals and returns to the starting lineup after being sidelined for a road loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Britt was replaced in the starting lineup by Justin McCray due to a bruised and slightly hyperextended knee that bent backward against the New England Patriots, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
A former Pro Bowl alternate with the Seattle Seahawks, Britt signed a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason and emerged as the leader of an overhauled offensive line. Britt could provide a steadying influence in the middle of the line to help rookie quarterback Davis Mills and the Texans' running game.
Center Cole Toner was elevated from the practice squad just in case.
Texans wide receiver Danny Amendola returns to the lineup from a strained hamstring and is active for the first time since getting hurt against the Cleveland Browns and missing the past four games, all losses.
Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins (foot) and wide receiver Chris Conley (neck) are active along with defensive linemen Ross Blacklock, activated this week from the reserve-COVID-19 list after missing three games, and Charles Omenihu, a healthy scratch for the past three games.
Meanwhile, the Texans deactivated quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is the subject of trade discussions and has 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints with no charges filed, for the seventh game in a row. The Texans' other inactives are cornerback Jimmy Moreland, tight end Brevin Jordan, running back Scottie Phillips, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson (back, herniated disc), wide receiver Davion Davis and center Jimmy Morrissey, who was signed this week off of the Las Vegas Raiders' practice squad.
RECORDS: Texans (1-4), Colts (1-4)
ODDS: To say the odds are against Houston would be an understatement for the ages. The Texans are 17.5-point underdogs. Over/under is 43.5 points.
STAT: This marks just the fifth time these teams have faced off and the first time since 2017.
The last time these two teams met, Bruce Arians and Bill O'Brien were in charge with the latter coming out on top with the Texans winning 31-21 led by a quarterback named Tom Savage.
Houston's leading receiver that day was none other than DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with 76 receiving yards and a touchdown. Now a key member of this impressive Cardinals offense, Hopkins' monumental and head-scratching trade last year still stings for most Houstonians.
Only three players remain on Houston's books from that Texans team: Linebacker Zach Cunningham, kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, and long-snapper Jon Weeks.
FUN FACT: Maybe all is not lost ... Looking back for examples of 6-0 teams losing to 1-5 teams is tough given that, naturally, this is a rare occurrence. But not unprecedented.
For example, back in 1994, the San Diego Chargers were 6-0 and the only undefeated team in the NFL. Their first defeat of the season? The 1-5 Denver Broncos. Okay, that team had future Hall of Famers John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, and Steve Atwater on the roster - but right now any crumb of hope is better than nothing.
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KEEP AN EYE ON: Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances they landed in, Houston's rookies have had a relatively strong season and regardless of Sunday's result, should be watched for progress.
Quarterback Davis Mills is mid-tier among rookie QB's so far, which given all others to play were first-rounders really isn't a bad result.
Wide Receiver Nico Collins looks like he could be a real player, and slotted back into the lineup nicely last week after a brief stint on IR. With another week of training under his belt, hopefully, this can be the game where he breaks out.
Defensive tackle Roy Lopez still ranks fourth in the NFL in run-stop win rate with 46 percent which makes him the highest-ranked rookie.
Elsewhere, linebacker Garrett Wallow has played 60 percent of Houston's special-teams snaps so far but is yet to forge much of a role on defense. Meanwhile, tight end Brevin Jordan has yet to take a snap amongst a crowded positional group.
WELCOME ADDITIONS: Thankfully, only two of the players listed on the injury report this week aren't expected to play - one of which comes as no surprise.
QB Deshaun Watson will be inactive for obvious reasons - and the trade rumors and "hate'' talk will continue for obvious reasons, too - while defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has been ruled out due to a herniated disc.
With Johnson out, watch for the status of defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, who has been a healthy scratch the last two weeks. There have been plenty of rumors surrounding his absence and status moving forward, but had played relatively well earlier in the season and would be a welcome addition with Johnson out.
Starting center Justin Britt looks set to return after missing last week due to a knee injury, while wide receiver Danny Amendola will also make a comeback having not played since Week 2 due to a strained hamstring.
HOUSTON'S KEY TO VICTORY: Pray?
In all seriousness, Houston's priority has to be to clean up the mistakes. They have shot themselves in the foot far too many times the last few weeks, as the players themselves will tell you. Missed tackles, penalties, risky passes, blown blocks, missing your keys ... all have cost them dearly. If they can shore up some of their fundamental mistakes, and perhaps even establish a run game, they may have a shot.
GAME TIME: 3:25 p.m. CT, Sunday, Oct. 24
LOCATION: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV/RADIO: CBS, Sports Radio 610, 100.3 The Bull, Mega 101 FM
THE FINAL WORD: This week's game will be an emotional one for many. DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt were the crowning jewels in the Texans' crown for many years and key components in their 2019 team which was arguably one of the best the franchise has seen.
Now they find themselves at the heart of the league's hottest team and surely a Super Bowl run.
This will feel like a 'what could have been' kind of weekend.