The Houston Texans are far better than the average team they've been in recent years, and the Buffalo Bills are far worse than the team that had the look of a surprise playoff candidate in the offseason.
In fact, with the trajectories of these two teams, this game is taking the shape of a blowout.
This year has been more unpredictable than any in recent memory, though, but the Bills have yet to inspire confidence against anything but below-average opponents.
Which matchups do the Bills have the advantage in? Will those advantages be enough for the Bills to pick up the win?
Catching Up with the Bills
It's been nearly two full weeks since we last saw the Bills, a 35-34 heartbreaker where the defense was gashed on several big runs by Titans back Chris Johnson, who had 10.8 yards per carry, an 83-yard scamper and scored his first two touchdowns of the season.
During the bye week, they watched the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots begin to pull away from them in the division race. At 3-4, this game has become a must-win. Unfortunately for Buffalo, it's one of their hardest tests of the season—perhaps even tougher than their trip across the country to face the San Francisco 49ers.
Time is running out for the Bills to prove that they have made any steps toward becoming competitive, as was believed all offseason.
Catching Up with the Texans
The Texans are in the unfamiliar spot of being one of the top teams in the conference, and after a beat-down at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, they got right back on track with a 43-13 drubbing of the Baltimore Ravens, whom many consider to be the second-best team in the AFC.
There's no one even close to Houston's level of talent in the AFC South, and the Texans are a full two games ahead of the Colts in the standings.
Key Matchup to Watch: Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller vs. Texans linebackers
The Bills are going to have to score a lot of points to win this game, and if we've learned one thing about them this year, it's that the offense functions at its best when their two-headed rushing attack gets plenty of chances with the ball.
Their best bet to temper the blitzing tendencies of the Texans defense is to run the ball effectively, or create mismatches with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the passing game. The Texans are without star linebacker Brian Cushing, who injured his knee in Week 5 against the Jets and was put on season-ending injured reserve. Tim Dobbins and Bradie James have received a majority of the snaps in his absence.
The advantage for the Bills just in terms of athleticism is self-evident. The Texans have performed well against running backs this year, and they rank 12th in DVOA against backs in the passing game, according to FootballOutsiders.com.
The Texans defense (sixth in scoring defense, third in total defense) is well on the opposite end of the spectrum from this terrible Titans defense (second-worst scoring defense, third-worst total defense in the NFL), but the running backs are the clear strength of the Bills offense.
The Bills have been able to get these matchups in the past and have created some big plays in that manner this season. If there is a weakness to be had in the Texans defense, it could be the linebackers in coverage.
Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game
The first sign that Williams wasn't 100-percent happy with his decision to go to Buffalo.
Bills Win If...
They need to score points, and the only way is if the Bills offense executes well against the Texans' blitz, which has been much easier said than done this year.
The matchup of Buffalo's running backs against the Texans linebackers will help, but there's more to it than that.
The blueprint has been set by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' stellar performance, in which he went 13-for-21 for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Texans when they blitzed and was sacked just twice (according to ProFootballFocus.com).
Rodgers attempted just seven of his 37 passes 20 or more yards downfield. Three of those deep throws were completed, all for touchdowns. Obviously, Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Aaron Rodgers. Fitzpatrick is not an accurate quarterback on deep balls and has only completed 25 percent of those throws (according to ProFootballFocus.com).
Green Bay's blueprint for success doesn't apply directly, but there are still some things the Bills can draw from. The Packers attacked the Texans with short and intermediate throws, and that bodes well for Fitzpatrick, who has thrown just 9.1 percent of his passes 20 or more yards downfield.
It's not just about getting the ball out quickly, which has been one of Fitzpatrick's biggest strengths as a quarterback. It's also about the wide receivers getting off jams. The Packers were able to get off the Texans' stellar press coverage, and that made Rodgers' job relatively easy.
The Bills do not have the same talent at quarterback or wide receiver that the Packers have, but even something as simple as sending a receiver in motion pre-snap could go a long way in getting receivers off the jam.
There should be plenty of short passes drawn in for Fitzpatrick, and if he can execute on those throws to beat the Texans' blitz, they should have a much easier time putting up points against this defense.
Texans Win If...
An asteroid doesn't hit the team locker room before the game?
Okay, in all seriousness, they win if their secondary has a good day.
We know the Houston Texans have an elite pass-rushing/blitzing front seven, but what the Bills do best is protect the quarterback (Fitzpatrick's been pressured on just 23.3 percent of his drop-backs this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com) and get the ball out quickly on short routes (the aforementioned 9.1 percent of his passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield).
With that in mind, it will be up to the secondary to get good jams at the line of scrimmage and to stick to their men to make life as difficult as possible for the typically inaccurate Fitzpatrick.
Not good for the Bills.
It's going to take their most well-rounded 60-minute performance of the year on both offense and defense, perhaps a big play on special teams and probably more than a couple of errors by the Texans for the Bills to pull off the road upset of the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
The Bills are one of the biggest underdogs this week, and a win would change the tone of their season in a huge way.
Getting there, though, will be the big challenge.
Texans 27, Bills 13
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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