A matchup of two 0-3 teams will be played in front of as many as 13,300 fans and could come down to which team can better protect its oft-pressured quarterback. On Sunday, that could be Houston on the way to a shootout victory at home.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
In the clear with COVID-19 (maybe)
No Vikings player or staff member tested positive for COVID-19 this week, after news of positive cases in the Titans organization (the team’s previous opponent) caused the Vikings to shut their facility for two days. Their game in Houston remains on as scheduled, though it’s still too soon to say the team is completely in the clear.
From division playoffs to 0-3, times two
Sunday’s game is a matchup of two teams that came into the year with high expectations after wild-card wins last year but have found themselves on the brink. The Texans, who traded DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson this offseason, started with losses to the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers.
Kubiak returns home
Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is a Houston native who led the Texans to their first-ever playoff win during his eight seasons as the team’s head coach. He returns to Houston in a regular-season game for just the second time since the Texans fired him in 2013.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings’ defensive front vs. Texans QB Deshaun Watson
Houston’s fourth-year quarterback is one of the game’s best at extending plays and making teams pay when he does. The Vikings have likely spent the week preaching the importance of keeping Watson in the pocket and forcing him to go through his progressions, and they’ll need to master that approach again a week later against Russell Wilson.
Vikings RT Brian O’Neill vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt
Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has primarily lined up at left end for the Texans, meaning O’Neill will see plenty of him Sunday. The Vikings will have to determine how much help they devote to Watt, and how much they want to run in his direction; they’ve gained more yards off the right end of the line than anywhere else.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
28.3: Percentage of his dropbacks on which Watson has been sacked this season. That’s the third-highest rate in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
They can win their matchup with the Texans’ struggling offensive line and force Watson into mistakes without giving him room to escape, while giving Dalvin Cook another big workload that puts Kirk Cousins in advantageous situations against Houston’s secondary.
THE TEXANS WILL WIN IF …
Watson gets time to throw against a Vikings pass rush that hasn’t been very disruptive this season, and the Texans can spread out a Vikings secondary that will be without Mike Hughes once again.
Prediction: Texans, 34-31