Houston (5-6) travels to the Meadowlands to face the New York Jets (8-3) Sunday.
The Texans are fresh off one of the highest points of the season – a 31-21 comeback victory over Tennessee.
Jets quarterback Chad Pennington returned to practice Wednesday, but it is still unclear if he will get his first start in three weeks.
Pennington is recovering from a torn rotator cuff. Backup quarterback Quincy Carter piloted the team to a 2-1 record in his absence.
No matter who starts the Jets are one of the most efficient teams in football. The team is second in the league with a plus-14 ratio in takeaway/giveaway and is the second-least penalized team in football (60 penalties for 450 yards).
The Jets have turned the ball over only nine times this season.
A win in New York would be considered an upset and keep the Texans in playoff contention in the top-heavy AFC. The Jets, though second in the AFC East to New England, are not assured of a playoff spot just yet.
New York has beaten only one team with a winning record.* *
LAST WEEK:The Jets defeated Arizona 13-3 Sunday.
Carter completed 8-of-12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Kicker Doug Brien kicked two field goals.
The Jets defense was led by rookie linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who picked off a Shaun King pass at the New York 5-yard line and recovered an Anquan Boldin fumble to help preserve a close victory.
THE SERIES:The Jets beat the Texans 19-14 at Reliant Stadium Oct. 19, 2003.
Houston had a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but was held scoreless in the second half. David Carr had one last shot at the end zone with 4:27 remaining in the game, but missed Andre Johnson on 4 th and 4 from the Jets five.
TEXANS ON DEFENSE:With or without Pennington, the Jets are one of the most balanced offenses in the league. New York ranks seventh in the league in total offense.
Five receivers have more than 20 catches, with none having more than 34. Santana Moss leads the way in yardage with 656. Justin McCareins leads the team in receptions and touchdowns (3).
Running back Curtis Martin highlights the unit, having rushed for 1,171 yards and nine touchdowns in just 11 games this season. The Jets have run the ball on 361 of 666 snaps.
Martin and Barry Sanders are the only running backs in NFL history to begin their careers with 10-straight 1,000 yard seasons. Martin has passed Tony Dorset (12,739) in career rushing yards. He will pass Jerome Bettis for sixth all-time with 124 yards.
His 4.5 yards per carry average this season ties a career-high.
The Jets could use more production from tight end Anthony Becht, who has only 10 catches for 80 yards this season.
The Jets acquired McCareins via an off season trade with Tennessee and have quickly benefited from his presence. A fast, sizeable and smart receiver, McCareins caught four passes for 150 yards against the Texans last season.
He is also good in the clutch – 40 of his 47 receptions last season were for first downs.
Moss caught 74 passes for 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. He is on pace for similar numbers this year and is averaging 21.9 yards per catch.
Carter may be 2-1 as a starter, but Jets fans are more than ready to get Pennington back as the club's starter. He and head coach Herm Edwards came out early in the week and updated his progress.
He threw about 50 passes before the team's last game and is listed as "questionable" for this weekend's game.
"Everything feels good, I can make all throws," Pennington said Monday. "But I don't feel like I'm coming into training camp with six months off and just feeling fresh. You're at the latter part of the season now and none of my teammates feel fresh. You just prepare, get ready for game day and on game day you just go into such a deep focus none of that really matters any more."
Carter has piloted the offense effectively, throwing for 498 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on the season. But he has been sacked 12 times on 58 pass attempts.
The Jets have given up 46 sacks – last in the league. The offensive line has allowed 13 sacks in the last three games, including six to the 3-8 Cleveland Browns.
SPECIAL TEAMS:Return man J.J. Moses returned a kickoff 63 yards to give the Texans a chance for a win the last game against the Jets.
He should get plenty of special teams opportunities Sunday.
Jets punter Toby Gowin has punted the second most times in the AFC (61) and is the only punter in the conference with an average of less than 40 yards (38.3).
The Jets are 29 th in the league in net punting average.
Brien is a solid kicker. He has made 15-of-18 kicks the season and has made 81.1 percent of kicks over his 11-year career.
Moss, the primary punt returner, averages 6.9 yards per return.
TEXANS ON OFFENSE: Statistically, the Texans are one of the best offenses the Jets will face in 2004.
But Houston has had trouble against a Cover-Two style of defense and New York's defensive line may be the best in the NFL.
Defensive end John Abraham has 9.5 sacks on the year (just one-half sack off the league high). He was a first-round draft pick, along with defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson and defensive end Shaun Ellis.
Ellis signed a six-year contract extension Monday, the first step in keeping a unit that has 25 sacks together.
Vilma has started nine games at middle linebacker this season for an injured Sam Cowart.
Eric Barton has performed nicely at weak side linebacker. Rookie Mark Brown started on the other side for Victor Hobson last week at Arizona. Thus, the Jets are young, but talented in terms of linebackers.
Vilma has made 81 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defensed, one fumble recover and five special teams tackles this season.
New York is sixth in the league against the run, allowing just over 100 yards per game. The Texans struggled for must of the season in the run game, but Domanick Davis rushed for a season-high 129 yards against the Titans last week.
The Titans are historically good against the run. Davis is only the 11 th back to break the century mark against Tennessee since 1996.
The Jets coaching staff asked more of the defense when Pennington went down. The group has responded well through back-to-back wins. New York has allowed 461 yards of offense and just 10 points the last two weeks. The Jets also forced five turnovers.
The defense has allowed only 199 points this season – ninth in the league – and ranks eighth in opponents' time of possession.
Free safety Erik Coleman is the only rookie in a Jets secondary that ranks eighth against the pass. Veteran cornerback Terell Buckley plays in nickel situations and leads the team with three interceptions.
He is third among active defensive backs with 50 interceptions in his career.
Like the Colts, the Jets prefer a Cover-Two style of defense, which drops the safeties into zone coverage and occasionally leaves the linebacker to cover the middle-third of the field. New York does it particularly well since the defensive linemen get such good pressure.
Without a need to blitz a linebacker, the Jets can often drop eight players into coverage.
Running the ball will be key for the Texans.
"This is probably one of the most important games where we can't get into an obvious passing situation because their front four can disrupt the entire football game if you don't keep them off balance," Carr said.
To Houston's advantage, the Jets defense is one of the worst in the league in the red zone. Opponents have scored on 75 percent of their plays inside of New York's 20-yard line.