Here are five things to watch when the Texans (10-5) take on the Tennessee Titans (8-7) at Reliant Stadium on Sunday on Fan Appreciation Day presented by FOX Sports Houston. Kickoff is at noon CT.
The Titans lead the all-time series 13-6.
1. Momentum vs. meaning: The Texans are locked in to the third seed in the AFC playoffs, so they technically don't have anything to play for on Sunday. They could rest starters for parts or all of the game to keep them fresh and prevent injuries, but they also want to get momentum for the playoffs. They've lost two in a row after winning a franchise-record seven consecutive games and clinching the AFC South title.
Head coach Gary Kubiak said the Texans are approaching this game like any other, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see certain players get limited or very little reps. Since the Texans didn't get a bye week for the playoffs, this would be the only chance for the likes of Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, T.J. Yates, Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith to rest before the playoffs begin.
That could mean valuable playing time for veteran backups like quarterback Jake Delhomme, who hasn't played since 2010 with the Cleveland Browns, and running back Derrick Ward, who has played sparingly this season behind Foster and Ben Tate.
No matter who plays or how much, the Texans will most certainly be playing to win. Aside from the momentum factor, they would eliminate the Titans from the playoffs with a victory. Tennessee could get in as the No. 6 seed -- which would mean a return date to Houston next weekend -- by winning and getting a lot of help elsewhere. The Texans expect to see a spirited effort from a team they beat 41-7 at at LP Field in Week 7, the largest margin of victory in team history.
2. Playoff tune-up: Barring an unforeseen setback, Texans All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson will return after missing the last three games with a left hamstring injury. Kubiak said Friday that Johnson will be on a play count as he gets a tune-up for the playoffs.
"Put it this way: It won't be 30 or 40 (plays)," Kubiak said. "Let's put it that way. It's important to Andre (to play) because as a player, when you miss that much time, what's it been, nine weeks of football, you don't just hop back out there. So he knows he just needs to go out there and get his wind and feel good and get hit again and all those things that go with playing the game.
"For us to get to the point where he looks like he's going to be able to go on Sunday, I would say that was a big step forward because we were wondering if that was going to happen."
Johnson missed six games earlier this season with a right hamstring injury. In his first game back (Week 12 at Jacksonville), he had only two catches for 22 yards. He said he didn't feel like himself in that game but felt much better the next week, when he had four catches for 97 yards against Atlanta before injuring his left hamstring late in the third quarter.
"I just want to get back into the flow of playing a game," Johnson said. "It's been a while since I've played, so just trying to get back into the flow, get back to the game feeling and I think show fans that I'll be ready to play for the playoffs, so it will give them something to be excited about."
3. Wade's return: Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is also returning to action this week. Phillips will coach from the press box after taking a two-week medical leave of absence for surgery on his kidney and gallbladder.
The Texans went 0-2 without Phillips, losing 28-13 at home to the 4-8 Carolina Panthers and 19-16 on the road to the 1-13 Indianapolis Colts. Defense was hardly the main culprit in the two losses, but the Texans allowed an average of 71.5 yards and a total of 17 points on four fourth-quarter drives.
"It's awesome to have him back," rookie linebacker Brooks Reed said on Wednesday. "He just has that personality where no matter what goes wrong, he's always calm and I think that is kind of contagious throughout."
Phillips, 64, has improved the Texans' defense from 30th to second in his first season with the team. The Texans are giving up 96.2 yards and 9.7 points less per game than in 2010, leading the NFL in improvement in both categories. The Texans' per-game yardage improvement (376.9 to 280.7) is the second-best historically since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
4. CJ1K?: Titans running back Chris Johnson needs 14 rushing yards for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Based on recent history, it's not a given that he'll get there.
The Texans limited the explosive Johnson to 18 rushing yards on 10 carries in Week 7 at Nashville, and he had a career-low five yards on seven carries (0.7 avg.) in his last game at Reliant Stadium in 2010. Johnson has, however, topped 130 rushing yards in each of his three other meetings with the Texans since 2009.
With 986 yards (4.0 average), Johnson is on track to finish with the lowest rushing total of his four-year NFL career. The three-time Pro Bowler had 1,228 yards (4.9 avg.) as a rookie, led the league with 2,006 yards (5.6 avg.) in 2009 and ran for 1,364 yards (4.3 avg.) in 2010.
5. Milestones within reach: The Texans can improve upon their franchise record by winning their 11th game of the season. They can tie a franchise record (2007, 2008) with their sixth home victory of the season. They can finish 5-1 against the AFC South, which would be the best division record in team history.
Foster needs 99 rushing yards to pass Domanick Williams (3,195 yards, 2003-05) as the franchise's all-time leading rusher. He needs 159 yards from scrimmage to reach 2,000 for the second consecutive season. He could lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage for the second consecutive season, as he trails Baltimore's Ray Rice (1,869) by only 28 yards.
Tate needs 155 rushing yards to reach 1,000. He has four 100-yard games, including a 104-yard effort against the Titans in Week 7. His season-high is 116 yards, but he's averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin needs 3.0 sacks to break the franchise single-season sack record of 14.0 set by Mario Williams in 2007. It's unlikely, but Barwin did have 4.0 sacks against the Jaguars in Week 12. One sack on Sunday would move him past Williams (12.0, 2008) for second-most in a season in team history.
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones needs 10 kickoff return yards to become the first Texans player, the 21st player in NFL history and the fifth active player to record 1,500 receiving yards, 1,500 punt return yards and 1,500 kick return yards. Jones needs 23 receiving yards to surpass 500 for the second consecutive season and 86 to better his career-high total of 562 from last season.
Tight end Owen Daniels needs one catch to reach 300 in his career. He needs 23 yards to reach 700 for the third time in his career and first time since 2008.
Rookie defensive end J.J. Watt needs one fumble recovery to tie the franchise single-season record (3). Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates needs 92 passing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
Kicker Neil Rackers needs one point to reach 250 as a Texan and one field goal to break the franchise single-season record of 29 set by Kris Brown in 2008.