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NFL Preview - Houston (2-13) at Tennessee (6-9)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - While some Week 17 games carry playoff implications, others are the beginning of the end for coaches whose tenures will come to an end on the league's version of "Black Monday."
Front and center on that potential hit list is Tennessee's Mike Munchak, whose Titans host the Houston Texans at LP Field in what some expect to be his final appearance after three seasons on the sidelines.
The former Houston Oilers standout is 21-26 since taking over at the start of 2011 and five straight home losses this year have removed nearly all the good feeling from what began as a 4-4 start through nine weeks of play.
The team has lost three of four and eight of 11, even with last week's 20-16 win at Jacksonville. It hasn't seen the playoffs since 2008 and is just 2-20 against above-.500 teams in Munchak's reign.
Such numbers, predictably, had the coach discussing his fate this week.
"To win a game at home, it's big to finish a season that way so that's all I'm focused on," he said. "That's all I can control in the next week and that's what we'll concentrate on."
If it means anything for the finale, he faces a team with perhaps more negativity than his own.
The two-time defending champions in the AFC South, Houston won two straight to begin the 2013 season -- including a 30-24 overtime win against the Titans -- but have dropped 13 in a row since amid a swirl of injuries that have hit nearly every key position.
It also cost head coach Gary Kubiak his job, after he'd suffered and returned from a stroke suffered on the sidelines of a primetime home game. Into his office stepped veteran interim coach Wade Phillips, whose late father, Bum, was perhaps the most memorable coach in the history of the Titans franchise, when it was known as the Houston Oilers.
The Texans were routed, 37-13, by Denver last week with veteran quarterback Matt Schaub -- who'd been benched by Kubiak -- returning to take over for rookie Case Keenum, who was unavailable with an injured thumb. Keenum is probable to return this week and will have established pass-catching threat Andre Johnson available, though his running game remains in disarray.
Arian Foster was lost for the season earlier in the year and has been followed to the unavailable ranks by Ben Tate (ribs) and Deji Karim (collarbone), while Dennis Johnson (hip) is questionable. Phillips has named Jonathan Grimes as the No. 1 back for this week.
The 5-foot-10, 209-pounder has played in seven NFL games for three teams across two seasons since ending his collegiate playing days at William & Mary. He carried five times for 23 yards against the Broncos.
"It's just another opportunity," Grimes said. "I'm not trying to buy into too much. I'm just trying to do my best."
Tennessee hasn't done much to stop any runner during the recent home struggles, which have seen it allow 609 yards and 11 touchdowns in five losses. Its own run game flourished last week, when Shonn Greene and Chris Johnson combined for 181 yards on 44 rushes.
The Titans are 6-2 when running at least 29 times and 0-7 when they run 28 times or less.
Houston won the Week 2 game when Schaub hit DeAndre Hopkins with a three-yard scoring pass in the extra session, which improved the Texans to 7-3 in the last 10 games between the two teams.
So, while it would mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, there's at least something to fight for this weekend.
"Nobody wants to be in this position, but we made our bed so we have to lay in it," receiver Andre Johnson said. "Hopefully we can get a win Sunday so we don't have to deal with this losing streak the whole offseason."
A loss to Tennessee would mean the Texans would equal the franchise-worst 2-14 mark it posted in 2005.
"I just want to win. I don't have any feelings. I just want to win," said J.J. Watt. "I can definitely say all year long, nobody's ever given up. Nobody's ever laid down and said, 'We're just going to ride it out.'
Guys come to work and guys put in the effort to try and win. We definitely would like to get this win headed into the offseason, at least end it on a positive note."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A Huge Johnson
It's been a miserable season for he and his teammates, but wide receiver Johnson continues to rack up serious numbers for the Texans.
The 11th-year man reached triple-digit catches for the season in last week's game against Denver, marking the fifth time he's gotten at least 100 catches. He has 10 10-catch/150-yard receiving games in his career, which equals the mark set by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Johnson had eight catches for 76 yards in Week 2 against Tennessee.
Old Home Days
His career has largely been spent in non-spotlight roles on less-than- memorable teams, but Harvard alum Fitzpatrick has flourished since taking over from injured starter Jake Locker.
Most recently, he went for a career-high 402 yards and tied a personal-best four touchdowns in his last game at home, a 37-34 loss to Arizona in Week 15. He threw for 310 yards, three TDs and a 117.4 rating in his initial NFL appearance, on Nov. 27, 2005 against Houston.
There have been a few weeks where it looked like the Texans would end the miserable loss streak and at least symbolically bounce back.
This is another one. Facing a coach who's playing out the string and a team with little else to play for beyond pride in front of an ornery home crowd, it looks like a perfect scenario for Houston to escape with a pleasant season- ender.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 21, Titans 19
12/27 09:12:34 ET
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