Houston Texans (5-9) at Denver Broncos (3-11)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Beuerlein
PREDICTION: Texans 38-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: Broncos QB Tim Tebow completed just nine passes in his first career start, but showed his big-play potential with his arm and legs. Now he takes aim at the league's worst pass defense. It's an important opportunity to prove he has the mechanics and accuracy to move the ball through the air when mismatches dictate. Texans RB Arian Foster leads the NFL with 1,345 rushing yards entering Week 16, but has been slowed by ankle and hip injuries. Coach Gary Kubiak said his team looked slow last week and the Texans have been a poor first-half team much of the season.
FAST FACTS: Foster is trying to join Priest Holmes as the only former undrafted rookies to lead the NFL in rushing. ... The Broncos have already tied the franchise record for losses in a season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Receiver Andre Johnson has been playing hurt all season because of the high ankle sprain he suffered in the second game. It's caused him to miss one game, which makes him a long shot to accomplish something no other receiver has achieved.
Johnson has 86 catches for 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns going into Sunday's game at Denver. He needs to average 142 yards a game to become the first receiver in NFL history with at least 1,500 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Johnson's injury has made him a game-time decision. He's following his same routine. He doesn't practice during the week. He rests and receives treatment. Then he plays on Sunday. If the injury is aggravated, he leaves the game and gets a shot in his ankle before returning.
Johnson's only goal every season is to make the playoffs. That hasn't happened in his eight seasons. This season, he became the first receiver in history to have at least 60 receptions in each of his first three seasons.
Johnson would like to reach 1,500 yards, especially if it helps the Texans beat Denver and Jacksonville to finish 7-9. But it's a long shot.
Johnson will be covered on Sunday by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who's having another outstanding season. Bailey makes it difficult on every receiver, so don't expect Johnson to have the kind of performance that'll put him within reach of that magical 1,500 number going into the last game against the Jaguars.
Champ Bailey is at a Master's level when it comes to possessing the background to discuss the merits and weaknesses of NFL defensive coordinators.
Bailey since his rookie season with the Washington Redskins in 1999, morphing into his Denver Broncos career beginning in 2004, has played under 10 different defensive coordinator in his 12 NFL seasons
His personal list: Mike Nolan (twice, for two different teams); Ray Rhodes; Kurt Schottenheimer; Marvin Lewis; George Edwards; Larry Coyer; Jim Bates; Bob Slowik; and Don "Wink" Martindale, the current head of Denver's defense.
A betting man likely put money down that Bailey next season will experience an 11th new assistant, whether it's with the Broncos or another team, as he's poised to hit free agency.
In fact, Bailey's expecting change, either way.
Denver (3-11) ranks 25th or lower in 11 of the 19 defensive categories tracked by the league. The categories in which Denver doesn't fall into the lower 20s have to do with special teams, like punting averages and field-goal percentages.
And the statistic that jumps right off the page is Denver's league-high 415 points allowed with two games remaining, well within reach of the Broncos' franchise-worst yield of 473 set in 1963.
But Bailey this week put in his two cents relating to the current and future regimes about casting Martindale aside due to the horrid numbers: Don't do it.
"I'll tell you one thing, it ain't him - you can quote me on that. It's definitely not him," Bailey said in Martindale's defense. "He listens to his players. He knows football in and out. It's the way he allows us to play. And I just like his approach to the game. And he lets me do what I do. So if I could have a guy like that the rest of my career that would be great."
The Broncos have some other pressing matters to address before it gets to the future of the assistant coaches. There's a front-office remodeling about to take place. The new coach must be installed, and interviews conducted to see which, if any, holdover coaches remain on staff.
Bailey said keeping Martindale "absolutely" would have a considerable effect on his decision-making process as it pertains to staying in Denver, since, while the losing frustrates him, the environment within the franchise and city is one that he embraces.
But the veteran player also knows the writing may be on the wall, too, given the overall circumstances surrounding the team and Martindale.
"Some of the things that have happened on the field have been a result of mental mistakes by us and has nothing to do with Wink and his play calling," safety Brian Dawkins said. "He's a guy we believe in. When he tells us specific things going into the game, a lot of times those things show up. It's up to us to cut back on the mental mistakes, which we didn't do a good job of. We made way too many mental mistakes this year."
--QB Matt Schaub led the NFL with 4,770 yards passing in 2009. He has 3,807 with two games left, putting him on a pace for 4,318. Last season, Schaub threw 29 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He's worked hard this season to be more careful with the ball. He has 11 interceptions to go with 22 touchdown passes.
--DE Mark Anderson has played well off the bench since he was acquired after Chicago waived him. He has four sacks, tying defensive end Antonio Smith for the second most behind the injured Mario Williams (8.5). Anderson has seven quarterback hits and has played the run well.
--K Neil Rackers isn't practicing for the second consecutive week. The coaches want him to rest a hamstring injury he suffered while trying to make a tackle against Baltimore. Rackers will kick against Denver. In his first season with the Texans, Rackers is 37-of-37 on extra points and 22-of-25 on field goals for 103 points.
--CB Jason Allen has been a nice addition to the beleaguered secondary since being acquired after Miami waived him. He has two interceptions with the Texans, giving him five for the season. He still gets beat too often, but he's made some plays, including some in clutch situations. He comes off the bench and plays outside while Glover Quin moves into the slot. Allen also provides rookie Kareem Jackson with a lot of breathers.
--DE Mario Williams underwent successful surgery in Philadelphia to repair the sports hernia that forced the team to place him on injured reserve. Williams played with pain until he couldn't do it any longer. Interestingly, with Williams either injured or on IR, the Texans have recorded eight sacks in the last two games.
--S Brian Dawkins practiced for a second straight day and should return to the starting lineup after a three-game absence.
--RB Knowshon Moreno continues to experience sore ribs but after Thursday's walk through it was determined he felt good enough to try and practice. His availability has to be considered day-to-day at this point.
--QB Kyle Orton's disappointment over being benched over the last three games is evident. But coach Eric Studesville said everything was "open and honest," in communicating the plan. Studesville, though, wouldn't confirm that Tim Tebow will be the No. 1 QB for the season finale, as Orton professed he's been told.
--WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle) continues to receive treatment but hasn't appeared to cut sharply in the drills open to the media.
--PK Matt Prater attempted to kick Wednesday but again experienced discomfort in his injured groin. It appears Steven Hauschka may replace Prater for the third straight week, unless Prater significantly improves over the next few days. Prater sat out Thursday's workout.
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