With a division title still within reach and only a handful of games remaining in the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens will need to bounce back quickly from a painful loss in their last game. The Houston Texans have had a few extra days to cope with a tough and damaging defeat of their own from the previous week.
The Ravens begin their healing process with Monday's visit to Reliant Stadium, where the still-contending club takes on a Texans team that's had trouble getting out of tailspin that's being going on for more than a month.
Baltimore entered last week's play in control of the AFC North race and appeared poised to distance itself from its chief competition for the division crown, the Pittsburgh Steelers, when the two bitter rivals squared off in Week 13. The Ravens were ahead for the majority of that game and held a four-point advantage with under 3 1/2 minutes to play, but a game-changing turnover led to late touchdown that gave the Steelers an uplifting 13-10 win and sole possession of first place.
The momentum-shifting moment occurred when blitzing Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that the Steelers recovered on the Baltimore nine-yard line. Less than a minute later, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger connected with running back Isaac Redman for the go-ahead points.
The Ravens now trail the Steelers by 1 1/2 games in the standings with just four to play in the regular season, and have one more loss within the division than their hated foes. Pittsburgh increased its lead with a 23-7 win over hapless Cincinnati on Sunday.
Baltimore is still in good position in regards to making the playoffs, presently owning a 1 1/2-game lead on a three-team pack consisting of San Diego, Indianapolis and Miami for the AFC's second Wild Card spot.
The same can't be said about the Texans. A midseason downturn that's produced five losses in a six-game span has Houston in a familiar position entering the stretch run -- on the outside looking in of the postseason picture.
The Texans, who have never advanced to the playoffs in their nine-year existence, are now 2 1/2 games behind surging Jacksonville for the AFC South's top spot after being dealt a 34-24 Thursday night defeat at Philadelphia in Week 13.
Houston put forth a determined third-quarter rally to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit in that contest, scoring 14 unanswered points to forge ahead, but its troublesome defence surrendered two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes that sealed the team's fate.
The Texans have now allowed 29 points or more in each of the five losses during their current swoon and have held an opponent under 24 points only once this entire season.
That poor track record may bode well for a Baltimore offence that's seeking to break out of a mild recent slump. The Ravens mustered just 269 total yards against the Steelers, one week after gaining a lackluster 92 rushing yards in a 17-10 win over Tampa Bay.