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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Vikings


Here are five things to watch when the Texans (12-2, 5-0 AFC South) face the Minnesota Vikings (8-6, 3-2 NFC North) in Week 16 at Reliant Stadium on Fan Appreciation Day presented by FOX Sports Southwest. Kickoff is on Sunday at noon CT.

The Texans would clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a victory.

1. All Day: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson leads the league with 1,818 rushing yards and is within striking distance of the NFL single-season rushing record. After tearing his ACL and MCL late in the 2011 season, "All Day" is a leading candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP awards.

A native of Palestine, Texas, and first-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2007, Peterson needs 294 yards in his final two games to break Eric Dickerson's NFL rushing record (2,105) set in 1984. He has 1,313 rushing yards (164.1 per game) over the last eight games, the best eight-game stretch in a season in NFL history.

Peterson has 100-plus rushing yards in eight consecutive games, including two 200-yard games in the last three weeks. He has carried the Vikings to an 8-6 record despite Minnesota having the 32nd-ranked passing offense in the NFL. The Vikings average 168.1 passing yards per game and 160.2 rushing yards per game.

2. MegaWatt: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has 19.5 sacks, tied for the NFL lead with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith. He is 3.5 sacks away from breaking Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record (22.5) set in 2001.

The second-year star from Wisconsin had 10 tackles, three sacks and three other tackles for loss last week to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season. He is the first player in NFL history with 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in a season, and he leads the Texans in tackles (74), tackles for loss (33) and quarterback hits (38).

Watt, who was named the Texans' 2012 MVP on Friday by a vote of his teammates, has forced a fumble in three consecutive games. He has also two fumble recoveries in a Defensive Player of the Year (and possibly NFL MVP)-caliber season.

Watt averages 1.4 sacks a game this season, which more or less puts him on pace to tie Strahan's record. He has been remarkably consistent all season, recording at least half a sack in 11 of 14 games. He has six games with two or more sacks, including two three-sack games in the last four weeks.

3. 3rd's the charm: Wide receiver DeVier Posey and guard Brandon Brooks, the Texans' two third-round picks in the 2012 draft, are both emerging as significant contributors late in their rookie seasons.

Posey had a career-high three catches for 48 yards last Sunday against Indianapolis. That came a week after he notched his first-career catch, a 19-yarder late in the fourth quarter of the Texans' Monday night loss at New England. Posey played sparingly early in the season after missing 10 games as a senior at Ohio State because of NCAA suspensions. Now that he's more comfortable in the playbook, his natural ability (6-1, 206, 4.37 speed) is starting to take over.

Brooks has gradually gotten more playing time in the last several weeks. He was inactive for the first 10 games of the season while rookie Ben Jones and Antoine Caldwell rotated at right guard, a position Brooks was expected to compete for in training camp. He was active for the first time at Detroit in Week 12 and got two snaps on offense as a third tackle.

With Caldwell sidelined by a hamstring injury in Week 13, Brooks played 15 of 73 offensive snaps (21 percent) at right guard while Jones started and took the remaining 58 snaps. Brooks played 26 of 69 snaps (38 percent) at New England and 20 of 69 snaps (29 percent) against Indianapolis. Kubiak said this week that Brooks was a "difference-maker" in short-yardage situations against the Colts and that the Texans needed to give him more playing time.  

4. Johnson nearing milestones: Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson needs one catch to become the 25th player in NFL history with 800 career catches. He needs seven catches to reach 100 for the fourth time and 140 yards to reach 1,500 for the third time.

Johnson currently has 799 receptions in 136 career games. If Johnson catches at least one pass in his next five regular season games, he will become the second-fastest to 800 receptions in NFL history. Only Marvin Harrison reached the mark faster, doing so in 131 career games.

Johnson topped 11,000 career receiving yards last Sunday at Reliant Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts in the 136th game of his career. He was the third-fastest to reach 11,000 in league history, behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and Torry Holt (131 games).

Johnson, 31, has 93 catches for 1,360 yards in his 10th NFL season. He's on pace for 106 catches and 1,554 yards. If he gets to 1,500 yards, he would tie Marvin Harrison for the second-most 1,500-yard season in NFL history behind only Rice (4).

Johnson has 43 100-yard receiving games in his career and three 150-yard games in the last five weeks. He has 1,002 receiving yards in his last eight games.

5. Reed's return: Brooks Reed is expected to return to the starting lineup on Sunday, which will give the Texans a stout three-man rotation at outside linebacker. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called Reed "a force" against the run and opposing tight ends, which will certainly come in handy against Peterson and the Vikings.

A second-year pro out of Arizona, Reed has missed the last three games with a groin injury. He participated in practice each day this week and is listed as probable. With Reed back in the lineup, Connor Barwin will likely start on the weakside with rookie Whitney Mercilus backing him up. Barwin moved from the weakside to the strongisde after Reed's injury, which elevated Mercilus into the starting lineup.

Mercilus has 6.0 sacks, tying Reed's 2011 team single-season rookie record. Reed has 2.5 sacks in 11 games after recording 9.5 sacks last season in the regular season and playoffs combined. Barwin has 3.0 sacks after leading the Texans with 11.5 in 2011.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that Reed will not be able to play 70 snaps in his first game. That means Barwin will still take some reps on the strongside as the three outside linebackers rotate to keep each other fresh.

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