The Texans (9-5) hit the road for the final time in the regular season for a Week 16 matchup with the Buccaneers (7-7). A win at Tampa Bay would clinch the AFC South title for Houston. Here are five things to watch when the two squads kick off on Saturday at Noon CT inside Raymond James Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Texans pass-catchers vs. Tampa secondary – When healthy, Houston has a distinct advantage over most if not all teams when it comes to the receiving corps. All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills are three dynamic receivers who can each stress an opposing secondary. Combined, they present an array of matchup problems.
The Buccaneers have played better lately against the pass, and haven't allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 280 yards during a four-game win streak. But on the whole, the Tampa defense has allowed 276.8 passing yards per game, which is 30th in the NFL.
Having a full complement of weapons to throw to is something quarterback Deshaun Watson doesn't take for granted.
"Really just a lot of guys making different plays and more opportunities for our offense to be more explosive," Watson said.
Limiting the damage Hopkins can do is a mighty challenge in the eyes of Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. He holds Hopkins in the highest regard as a receiver.
"In the League, in my opinion, he's top two," Bowles said. "I don't know who the other one is, but he's one of the best in the League, obviously. His work ethic, him seeing single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage, competing, his hands, everything he does, he strives to be the best at."
Hopkins now has 1,142 receiving yards this season, coupled with seven touchdown catches. Hopkins said the Buccaneers will be a challenge.
"That's a good defense we're going against," Hopkins said. "So we've got to come out and play. Just focus and take it play-by-play."
Fuller and Stills, meanwhile, average 14.2 yards per catch between the two of them. They've combined to snare seven touchdowns.
2) Back to Tampa - Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, III is returning to face his old team. Further, he's returning to his hometown. Hargreaves played his high school ball at Wharton before his collegiate career at Florida. He was a first round draft choice (11th overall) for the Buccaneers in 2016. The Texans snapped him up off waivers in November.
The defensive back said he doesn't "have any ill will" toward the Buccaneers. He's also looking forward to lining up versus Jameis Winston and the offense.
"I'm excited to go back and play against those guys," Hargreaves said. "I'm excited to compete and it's going to be a good time."
Hargreaves time in Tampa might be helpful when it comes to helping the Texans defend against the Buccaneers offense.
"I've practiced against those guys for four years," Hargreaves said. "I've been to plenty of camps with them. I don't know them like the back of my hand, but I have a pretty good feel for them, and I'll share some information."
Winston said Hargreaves will be ready to go when returns home.
"I've got a tremendous amount of respect for Vern," Winston said. "It's going to be a huge game for him. Just coming back in Ray J, this is his hometown. So I know he's excited. He's going to play really good football on Sunday."
Since joining the Texans, Hargreaves has recorded 17 tackles and a pair of pass breakups in four games.
3) Take advantage – Winston has thrown for 300 or more yards in 10 of the last 12 games this season, and he's rung up a combined 914 passing yards in the last two contests. In seven games this year, he's thrown multiple interceptions, and he's been picked off a total of 24 times in 2019. He's also been sacked 43 times this season.
Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is quick to point out the great successes can't be overlooked, despite the mistakes that may sometimes occur.
"900 yards in two games is not bad," Crennel said. "Sometimes people can live with a pick or two if you can throw for 900 yards."
Hargreaves, who played alongside Winston in Tampa Bay, agreed.
"He can light it up," Hargreaves said. "I've always know that, playing with him. He's dynamic. They're going to throw the ball all over the field. We've got to do a good job in the secondary to slow them down. He turns the ball over, that's no secret. So hopefully we can get our hands on some balls."
Defensive end Charles Omenihu closed out last Sunday's win over the Titans with a sack, his third of the season. Facing Winston is a different hurdle, though, because of the quarterback's size. Omenihu said the Texans defense needs to do all it can to bring him to the ground.
"That's a big dude," Omenihu said. "He's about my height, probably about 240, and he doesn't go down easily at all."
4) Winston's weapons – The Buccaneers will be without receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, a duo that combined for 2,490 yards and 17 touchdown catches this season. Each had at least 1,100 receiving yards, and both averaged over 15.5 yards per catch.
Without those big play threats, Winston and the Tampa Bay offense will likely lean more heavily on the tight ends and running backs in the offense. Crennel said O.J. Howard, who's gone for 13.3 yards per catch this year, will likely get some attention.
"Howard is a good tight end," Crennel said. "He has good knowledge of the passing game, he runs good routes, and I think that he will be one of the ones that, if they decide to involve the tight ends more, that he will be involved more because he does a good job in the passing game."
5) Shaq Attack – On the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers have a talented front seven that's spearheaded by Shaquil Barrett. He's already at an NFL-leading 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles on the year, along with 16 tackles for loss.
"They line him up in different spots," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's a very difficult guy to handle. He's got really good athletic ability. His skillset is similar to Von Miller's. I mean, he can bend, he can rush, he can get around the corner really fast."
For Barrett, facing off against Watson brings a new approach to how he'll rush the quarterback.
"He's athletic," Barrett said. "Can run and has little shake moves and jukes and all that stuff, so it's going to be hard. I've got to slow down when I'm going to the quarterback."