THE STORY: Even while maintaining their spotless record to open the season, the Houston Texans suffered a significant loss Monday night. They'll look to keep rolling without one of their top defenders as they welcome the high-octane Green Bay Packers to town Sunday evening. Houston will be without the services of Brian Cushing for the remainder of the season after the All-Pro linebacker suffered a torn knee ligament in Monday's narrow victory over the New York Jets.
Cushing's absence will provide the Texans with their stiffest test of the season, as they face a Packers team off to a miserable start but still capable of burning opposing defenses. Green Bay squandered an 18-point lead over the weekend, dropping a 30-27 decision to the host Indianapolis Colts. Aaron Rodgers appears to be rounding into form - having thrown seven touchdowns over his last two games - but the running game is now in limbo following a serious foot injury to primary back Cedric Benson.
TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Texans -3.5, O/U 47.5.
ABOUT THE PACKERS (2-3): Benson was placed on IR but given the "designated to return" tag, meaning he is eligible to come back in Week 14. Head coach Mike McCarthy believes Benson will return at some point during the season, but in the meantime the Packers will go with the "hot hand." Alex Green is expected to get the bulk of the carries against the Texans, with James Starks also seeing action. Wide receiver Greg Jennings did not practice Wednesday and is expected to miss this week's game with a groin ailment.
ABOUT THE TEXANS (5-0): Cushing doesn't believe his season-ending injury has derailed the Texans' title aspirations. "WE are STILL winning THIS year's Super Bowl," he posted on his Facebook page. Nevertheless, his absence will put more pressure on a defense led by standout defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with a whopping 8.5 sacks through the first five games of the season. He has a favorable matchup this week against a Packers offensive line that has surrendered 21 sacks so far, second-most in the NFL.
1. The Texans have been far more effective at protecting the quarterback than Green Bay, allowing a league-low three sacks to date.
2. Houston WR Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 119 yards and a score in Week 1, but has just nine total receptions in four games since.
3. Packers TE Jermichael Finley (shoulder) isn't expected to practice until at least Friday - if at all - and will likely be a game-time decision.
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Packers 20.
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