DETROIT — The Houston Texans have put themselves in a position to be the NFL’s first team to seal a spot in the playoffs and to move a step closer toward earning home-field advantage in the AFC.
Houston (9-1) has won four straight and is 4-0 on the road this season, giving the Texans a great shot to be in consecutive postseasons for the first time.
“It shows the progress we’ve made,” said tight end Owen Daniels, who has been with the franchise for seven of its 11 years of existence. “A few years ago, it took us until the end of the season to get that ninth win. We’re at that ninth win already.
“We’re trying to stack ’em up, but it’s good that those are possibilities this early in the season.”
Houston needs to win at Detroit (4-6) on Thursday and have a handful of teams lose, or tie, to earn a postseason bid by the end of the weekend.
The Lions, meanwhile, will have to pull off a string of upsets against a slew of good teams to reach the franchise’s goal of making it to consecutive postseasons for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Just when it looked like Detroit was living up to the hype generated with last year’s breakout season by winning three of four games to climb back to .500 earlier this month, the Lions lost two in a row. And that has made last season seem more like an aberration than the start of a successful run for a floundering franchise that hit rock bottom in 2008 as the NFL’s first 0-16 team.
“We’re not thinking about playoffs or anything else,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’re thinking about the Houston Texans and that’s plenty for us to think about right now.”
Like all good teams, the Texans have proven they can win even when they don’t play well.
Houston trailed the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last week at home by 14 points in the fourth quarter before rallying for a 43-37 win in overtime.
The Texans’ defense, which has been among the NFL’s best all year, struggled until it made stops when they were needed. It didn’t hurt that quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson had career-best games.
Schaub connected on 43 passes for 527 yards passing, both totals tying for second most in league history, and Johnson set a personal best with 273 yards receiving. Schaub’s franchise-record fifth touchdown pass was a screen to Johnson, who did the rest on a 48-yard score for the game-winner.
“You just never know in this league week to week what kind of game you’re going to be in and we got caught in a shootout type of game with a lot of offense,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “We were fortunate enough to find a way to win.”
Detroit did enough to lose 24-20 to the Green Bay Packers last week at home, where it had plenty of opportunities to get a much-needed win. The Lions’ woes were made worse by a significant injury and distraction.
Left tackle Jeff Backus couldn’t finish the first half because of a hamstring injury, which seemed to be in his right leg, and his 186-game starting streak that includes every game of his career is expected to end Thursday.
“It’s hard to replace a rock that’s been there for 12 years,” said veteran center Dominic Raiola. “It’s just different without him out there.”
Detroit drafted Riley Reiff with the 23rd pick overall this year, planning to groom him as player to eventually replace Backus. The rookie might have to take on defensive end J.J. Watt, who ranks among NFL leaders with 11½ sacks and leads all defensive linemen in the league with 11 passes defended.
Houston, though, won’t have to worry about No. 2 receiver Titus Young taking advantage of one-one-one coverage because the Lions announced Monday he would be inactive because of his “unacceptable” behavior during the game against the Packers.
“When you’re a player, it’s your job to make the team happy,” Schwartz said. “It’s not the team’s job to make you happy.”
Lions fans have not been happy when it comes to Thanksgiving Day results.
Detroit has lost a franchise-record eight straight on the holiday — by an average of three-plus touchdowns — and has only one victory in the past 11 games in its annual showcase after winning nine of 12 games from 1989-2000.