The Texans (8-7) host Tennessee (5-10) in a Week 17 matchup this weekend. These two teams went to overtime in Nashville the week before last, as Houston triumphed with a Ka'imi Fairbairn 54-yard field goal. Here are five things to watch when they kick off inside NRG Stadium at noon CT on Sunday.
1) Welcome back, C.J. – After missing the last two weeks with a concussion, quarterback C.J. Stroud is back in action. The rookie practiced all three days this week, and was cleared from the concussion protocol on Thursday.
After the time away, Stroud said he got right back into action without a hiccup.
"It felt like my groove kind of got back," Stroud said. "Hopefully I will come back and do as well or as better as I've been doing. That's the plan, and I hope that that comes true. Excited for those next couple of games and this opportunity."
Nobody in the NFL is better at throwing the deep ball this season than Stroud. On passes of 20 air yards or more, he's atop the league in completion percentage (60) and passer rating (143.8), and has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception.
That ability to get deep strikes is one thing that's especially impressed Tennessee defensive coordinator Shane Bowen.
"He's making a lot of really good throws for them," Bowen said. "The thing that stands out is the play extension and keeping his eyes down the field. He hit a ton of plays."
Right tackle Charlie Heck has started and played every snap at right center the last two games, so this will be his first bit of game action blocking for Stroud. He explained how Stroud's return helps lift spirits.
"We're feeling good," Heck said. "It's a boost for us having C.J. back there. C.J. means so much for this team and this city. We know he's going to go out there and make plays."
2) Run game redux – Of the three 100-yard games for Devin Singletary in 2023, the last one came at the Titans. He carried 26 times for 121 yards, and also caught four passes for 49 yards in the win. Getting that sort of production on the ground again is something the Texans are seeking.
Since Week 9, only Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers (743) and the Rams' Kyren Williams (601) have more rushing yards than Singletary's 572 in that span. He's averaging 16.3 carries for 78 yards per game, with a 4.8 yards per carry average.
3) Defensive line shuffling – The Texans defensive front might look a little different this week versus last. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard exited Sunday's loss to the Browns with an ankle injury and didn't practice this week.
Defensive end Will Anderson, Jr., meanwhile, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but was a limited participant on Friday afternoon.
Defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins (ankle) and Maliek Collins (hip) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, but were limited participants on Friday.
Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke acknowledged the fluidity of the defensive front heading into the matchup with Tennessee.
"There's a lot of moving pieces up front for this game in terms of who is healthy and who is going to be available," Burke said.
Defensive tackle Teair Tart, meanwhile, joined the Texans off waivers last week and was inactive against Cleveland. He might be able to go this Sunday, however, against his former team.
"Obviously, he's got a little chip on his shoulder this week," Burke said. "I think this front lends itself to guys being able to play. We try to make it as simple and direct for the guys up front in terms of being able to come up and play."
4) Defending against Derrick – The Texans defense turned in a performance for the ages against Titans running back Derrick Henry in the first go-round. He carried 16 times for just nine yards, and caught four passes for a yard.
The 0.6 yards per carry was a single-game career low for the All-Pro back, and it was a stark contrast to the hot streak he was on against the Texans leading up to that performance. He'd brutalized Houston for a combined 1,018 rushing yards in the five previous matchups, and rumbled for 10 touchdowns.
Two of linebacker Christian Harris' eight tackles in that game were for a loss, and the second-year defender described what he and the Houston defense must do to Henry and company this week.
"It's the same focus every week," Harris said. "You evaluate the film and you try and go in there with a plan of dominating the run game and making a team one-dimensional. It's a great running back that they have in Derrick Henry."
Head Coach DeMeco Ryans was proud of the defense's effort against "a phenomenal player" two weeks ago, but was also quick to emphasize that Sunday presents a new challenge.
"For us, each game is a new game," Ryans said. "What happened last game, it really doesn't matter. You have to show up every game. We can't rest on what we did last game. We got to show up with the right mentality, we have to play the right way."
5) Limit Levis – All signs are pointing to Will Levis getting the start for the Titans at quarterback. He did so against the Texans, but injured his ankle in overtime of the Texans' win there. After missing last Sunday, he practiced this week and Head Coach Mike Vrabel reportedly said the rookie will start at Houston.
He guided the Tennessee offense to a touchdown on the opening drive of the game two weeks ago, but the next 10 possessions ended with eight punts, an interception and a field goal. Houston also sacked him seven times.
Levis also scrambled four times for 25 yards, and his willingness to run is something Harris both respects and relishes.
"I like to hit," Harris said. "So it's exciting for sure, but it's kind of cool to see a guy have confidence and at this level, be willing to sit there and take those shots for his team."