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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Patriots


Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are vying to become the first teammates since 1998 to lead the league in passing and receiving yards in the same season.

Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (8-7) take on the New England Patriots (10-5) on Fan Appreciation Day presented by FOX Sports Houston at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff for the regular-season finale is at noon CT on Sunday.

In the hunt:For the first time in team history, the Texans are still alive in the playoff race in the last week of the regular season.

"We've never been in this situation before," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "We know what's at stake, and we'll have to find a way to go out and win. That's the biggest thing."

If the Texans do win, they'll need some help to make the playoffs. Two of three teams among the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos also would have to lose.

The Ravens play at Oakland (5-10), and the Broncos are at home against the Chiefs (3-12). Both games kick off at 3:15 p.m. CT. The Jets host the Bengals (10-5) in primetime at 7:20 p.m. CT.

It's safe to say that Texans players will be glued to the TV if they beat the Patriots, who have won three Super Bowls since 2001.

"We need to be sitting there at 3:30 on Sunday having played a good football game, and we'll go from there," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got to take care of our business."

To play or not to play:Because the Patriots clinched the AFC East last week and will be either the AFC's third or fourth seed, it's unclear how much their key starters will play on Sunday. Belichick has been predictably coy this week about his plans for the likes of Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Randy Moss.

Brady told the media that he wants to play all four quarters and that Belichick told him, "You'll play; don't worry about that." The *Boston Globe *has speculated that Brady may play only a quarter. Brady has an assortment of injuries, and he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008 on a collision with Bernard Pollard, who was then a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Patriots' injury report might provide a clue as to Belichick's plans. Two players are listed as questionable, which means there's a 50-50 chance that they will not play: nose tackle Vince Wilfork (ankle) and defensive end Ty Warren (foot).

A whopping 10 players are listed as probable, defined as a "virtual certainty player will be available for normal duty." Among them are Moss and Welker with "non-injury" designations, and Brady (right shoulder, right finger, rib injuries).

League-leading passing duo:Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub are vying to become the first teammates since 1998 to lead the league in passing and receiving yards in the same season. The feat has been accomplished only seven times in NFL history.

Johnson has 1,504 receiving yards, 168 ahead of Welker for the league lead. He's primed to become the only receiver other than Jerry Rice to lead the league in yards in consecutive seasons. Last week, Johnson already joined Marvin Harrison as the only receivers in NFL history with back-to-back 1,500-yard campaigns.

Schaub leads the league with a career-high 4,467 passing yards. That's 62 more yards than Peyton Manning and 79 more than Drew Brees. He's on pace for 4,764 yards, which would be the sixth-highest total in NFL history. And Schaub is 364 yards away from passing Kurt Warner (4,830 yards in 2001) for the third-most single-season passing yards of all-time.

Johnson was selected as a starter for the 2010 Pro Bowl. Schaub is a second alternate.

Foster/Moats:Kubiak said this week that rookie running back Arian Foster has a "good chance" of starting on Sunday. An undrafted free agent from Tennessee, Foster ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries last week at Miami.

Foster and Ryan Moats will get the majority of the carries, according to Kubiak. Moats had 62 yards from scrimmage last week and leads all active Texans players with 373 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season.

The Texans have the league's 31st-ranked rushing offense, averaging 88.7 yards/game, but they outrushed the Dolphins 126-60 with Foster and Moats leading the way. Another solid performance by the two running backs could give the Texans something to think about when they evaluate the running game during the offseason.

"We'll evaluate it from the whole season," Kubiak said. "Ryan's been kind of doing what Ryan does all along for us. Arian's stepped on the scene a little bit more here in the last couple of weeks. We'll take it all into account before we move forward."

Championship form: With all of the help needed for the Texans to make the playoffs, it might be easy to forget that they're playing one of the premier franchises in professional sports.

The Patriots are one of two AFC teams with a top-10 offense and defense. They rank second in the NFL in offense and eighth in defense, and their special teams, according to the Texans' Joe Marciano, is one of the best and deepest groups in the league.

New England's defense has allowed 10 points or less in three consecutive games. The offense gained 464 yards in a 35-7 rout of the Jaguars last week.

"I tell you what, you just turn on the film from last week against Jacksonville and you see, to me, a team ready to make a championship run," Kubiak said. "That's the way they're playing."

Brady is coming off of one of the best games of his career, a 23-of-26 (88.5 percent), four-touchdown performance with no interceptions. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Welker, who leads the league with 122 catches, and Moss, who leads the league with 13 receiving touchdowns.

"We're dealing with a monster – we're dealing with a lot of monsters," Pollard said. "That's what you want in this league. You want to compete and you want to compete day in and day out with the best. If we want to consider ourselves a playoff team and if we want to go out on top and want to get the respect that we want, a lot of people aren't going to give it to us, so we've got to take it."

Whether it's Brady under center or backup Brian Hoyer, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State, the Texans know they'll have their hands full on Sunday.

"This team last year lost Tom Brady and went 11-5," Kubiak said. "This is as deep a team, as good a football team that you'll play in this business. They're the benchmark. If we're not at our best, it won't matter. We'll have to be as good as we can be."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at ******* or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at _******_.*

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