MEXICO CITY -- Though Houston Texans players and coaches have said they are especially excited for Monday night's game because it is in Mexico City, they also know this is an important contest against the 7-2 Oakland Raiders.
At 6-3, the AFC South-leading Texans currently are the conference's No. 3 seed, and a win over the Raiders could help them with potential playoff positioning and tiebreakers if they hold on. If they beat the Raiders, the Texans would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over two teams in the AFC West, as they already have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I think it's a good thing that the NFL is trying to expand internationally, but we're going up there to win a game," Texans running back Lamar Miller said. "We've still got that same mentality to just try to get a W."
If the Texans are going to beat the Raiders, Miller probably will be a huge part of the reason why. Here are five things to watch Monday in Mexico City:
1. Will Texans' running game continue to lead way? When Houston is not getting good production from quarterback Brock Osweiler, Miller and the running game have stepped up to help the offense get started. The Texans have shown they are a run-first team, doing so on 40.2 percent of plays this season -- ninth in the NFL. Houston is without running backs Alfred Blue (calf) and Jonathan Grimes (illness) against Oakland, but could get Akeem Hunt involved again this week. He had 52 yards on eight carries against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
2. Will Texans have more than two receivers healthy? Head coach Bill O'Brien said earlier in the week that the status of rookie receiver Will Fuller is a game-time decision because of a knee injury. Fuller did not play last Sunday against Jacksonville, leaving Osweiler with essentially two receivers to target -- Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins and third-round pick Braxton Miller. Osweiler threw for just 99 yards, and Hopkins and Miller combined for six catches and 58 yards. If Fuller is not available again, Osweiler probably will continue to lean on the running game and his tight ends, as he has for most of the season.
3. What will Texans get from Osweiler? In last Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, Osweiler threw for two touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over for the first time this season. Osweiler has struggled this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes and averaging 5.61 yards per attempt. The Raiders' defense is allowing an average of 8.0 yards per attempt, so Osweiler could have a breakout performance. On the other hand, Raiders defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack faced Osweiler last year when the quarterback was with the Denver Broncos and sacked him five times.
4. Can defense continue to stop run? After struggling to start the season, the Texans' defense has improved against the run. In their last two games, the Texans have allowed 58 and 80 yards rushing. O'Brien said he thinks inside linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing have played well enough to improve in that area and that the outside linebackers have done a good job of setting the edge.
5. Can Texans have repeat no-turnover game? The Texans didn't turn the ball over in Jacksonville, a first for them this season. Osweiler has nine interceptions in nine games, but he was able to take care of the football against the Jaguars, and the Texans also were able to force two takeaways. "The most important stat is the turnover-takeaway stat," O'Brien said. "No doubt about it. We've got a hundred percent ball security and do the best we can to try to take the ball away."