The teams: The Green Bay Packers (2-3) vs. the Houston Texans (5-0).
The time: 7:20 p.m. CDT Sunday.
The place: Reliant Stadium, Houston.
The TV coverage: WTMJ (Ch. 4 in Milwaukee), WMTV (Ch. 15 in Madison) and WGBA (Ch. 26 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, with Michele Tafoya reporting from the sidelines.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 70-39 (including 5-3 in the postseason) in his seventh season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. Houston’s Gary Kubiak is 53-50 (including 1-1 in the postseason) in his seventh year as the Texans’ coach and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The all-time regular-season series is tied, 1-1. The Packers won the 2004 meeting in Houston, while the Texans won the 2008 meeting at Lambeau Field.
The rankings: The Packers’ 21st-ranked offense is No. 20 in rushing and No. 15 in passing. Their 16th-ranked defense is No. 17 against the run and tied for No. 16 against the pass. The Texans’ 14th-ranked offense is No. 6 in rushing and No. 20 in passing. Their third-ranked defense is No. 9 against the run and No. 4 against the pass.
The line: The Texans are favored by 4 points.
The injury report:
Out – WR Greg Jennings (groin), S Sean Richardson (hamstring).
Questionable – TE Jermichael Finley (shoulder), DT B.J. Raji (ankle), TE D.J. Williams (hamstring), CB Davon House (shoulder).
Out – S Quintin Demps (thumb/forearm).
Probable – LB Mister Alexander (Achilles’), T Shaun Cody (back), WR Lestar Jean (knee), DE Antonio Smith (ankle), RB Ben Tate (toe), CB Alan Ball (ankle), G Antoine Caldwell (ankle/foot), RB Arian Foster (knee), WR Andre Johnson (groin), CB Johnathan Joseph (knee), RB Justin Forsett (thigh), K Shayne Graham (calf), S Shiloh Keo (neck), OLB Jess Nading (foot), G Wade Smith (foot).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Time for a turnaround: The last time the Packers weren’t favored in a game was on Dec. 19, 2010, when they traveled to New England with backup quarterback Matt Flynn starting in place of a concussed Aaron Rodgers. In advance of that game, McCarthy uttered the memorable quote, “We’re nobody’s underdog.” This week, the quote was slightly different in the wake of last week’s surprising loss to Indianapolis, but no less memorable.
“You knuckle down in practice and just hide the urgency and awareness. You don’t overreact. I’m not a panicker,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s a punk mentality, frankly. I think it’s a loser mentality. It’s time to increase the urgency. We have a great opportunity on Sunday Night Football. We’re excited to play this team. This is a good team. They’re undefeated. We know how that feels. We know what that position feels like. But we’re going down to Houston to win a football game. That’s what we’re focused on. We got off to a great start today.”
Punk mentality may be a new one, but there’s another phrase that’s well-worn: Must win. The Packers are reluctant to use such a phrase, but at 2-3 and not having had a tour de force performance in ages – remember that 19-game winning streak to end 2010 and start 2011 – the Packers not only need a victory but need to play to their level of expectation, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers on down. It will be interesting to see what kind of start they get off to and whether they can sustain it if they come out like gangbusters.
“A lot of times when you win, it cures a lot of ills. You pass things over and nobody’s really as critical as when you’re losing,” said veteran center Jeff Saturday, who suffered through a 2-14 season with the Colts last year but had a nine-year run of double-digit victory totals before that. “But there’s such a thin line between winning and losing, and it really is all about details. And when I look back, that’s kind of the difference. And Mike made a point of it: Truthfully, that’s football. It’s the details, it’s the small parts of the game that magnify themselves when it matters.
“Offensively, obviously we’re not clicking the way we want to click, and you do a disservice to yourself if you act like that’s not the case. You realize that you have the ability to do it, you just have to trust that you are going to do it. I think anytime you panic or get overly concerned in one area, it ends up backfiring. From an offensive standpoint, we’ve got to go back to the fundamentals of what make us a good football team, and those are to be sound, make good decisions, to run the football, to protect Aaron – all those things you talk about starting in training camp.”
Keeping up with the Joneses: The James Jones Philosophy, if there is such a thing, has always been a simple but effective one: Make the most of your opportunities. And that’s something the sixth-year wide receiver has done this season, with Jennings in and out of the lineup with his groin injury and Jones being the primary playing-time beneficiary. He enters Sunday night with 20 receptions for 237 yards and a team-best five touchdowns on only 30 targeted passes, which ranks third on the team.
“That's my motto. Coming into every season, we've been looking at the same guys in the face every season: Finley, Nelson, Jones, Jennings, Driver, Cobb. You never know when you're going to get it and you've got to make the most of your chances,” Jones said. “I pride myself on that. We all pride ourselves on that. In our room, we say you've got to make the most of your chances and that's what I'm trying to do.”