(Sports Network) - Call it Survivor 2010: The Defenses.
Will the consistently prolific Houston Texans offense make mincemeat of a Denver Broncos ball-stopping unit ranked no better than second-worst in the NFL in three major statistical categories, or will the Broncos ride the arms, legs and aura of rookie first-round pick Tim Tebow against a Texans' amalgam that's coughed up 250 or more passing yards in nine of its 14 games in 2010?
Check local listings this Sunday to find out.
For Tebow, this Week 16 test against the Texans is a second consecutive starring role in charge of a Denver team that's mired in last place in the AFC West and had managed just three wins in 13 outings under previous starting quarterback Kyle Orton.
Enter the controversial 25th overall pick in last April's draft, who took over last week and completed 8-of-16 passes in Denver's 39-23 loss to Oakland, while adding a 40-yard touchdown run that looked strikingly familiar to what he'd routinely done while winning two national titles and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida.
As for his prospects to play consistently on Sundays, it's an ongoing work in progress.
"In the NFL, everything you do is an interview and it is an audition," Tebow said. "You always have to put your best foot forward and try to go out there and perform every day in practice and in the game. I will try to do nothing less personally. As far as the rest of that goes, I'm not going to worry about it because I can't control it."
Meanwhile, Tebow�s apparent emergence has caused Orton to question his own future with the Broncos, who've not yet committed to a coach for next season after firing Josh McDaniels earlier this month. McDaniels was thought to be the driving force behind Tebow's selection in April.
"I said I'd like to finish the season. That wasn't the option that was presented," said Orton, who signed an extension through 2011 last summer. "I don't know if I'll be here next year. We'll just have to wait and see what shakes out with the organization."
The uncertainty carries over to Houston as well.
Squarely on the hot seat is head coach Gary Kubiak, a former Denver quarterback and assistant coach whose team has been one of the league's biggest disappointments this season after finishing 9-7 a year ago and looking poised to take the next step to the playoffs in 2010.
Instead, a 4-2 start before an October bye week has devolved into a 1-7 disaster since, including a 31-17 loss last Sunday at Tennessee, which had dropped six in a row of its own that included a 20-0 loss to the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Week 12.
Not helping matters is the seemingly imminent NFL return of former Super Bowl champion coach Bill Cowher, who reportedly included Houston on a list of destinations he'd consider in a 2011 comeback. Some speculation has Cowher ending up with the Texans while Kubiak heads back to the Broncos to take over from interim head coach Eric Studesville.
"I think we're kind of in a rut right now, or a situation right now where we've had a lot of games start the way [Sunday's] game started," Kubiak said. "I think there's a lot of, 'Oh, no. Not again.' I see some of that. I think it's always something in this business, and you're always searching for perfection.
"Obviously, we have not played well in the first quarter and I think it has been a combination of things as a football team. It's not one area. It hits all areas."
The Broncos and Texans have met just twice since Houston entered the NFL as an expansion team in 2002. Denver defeated Houston by a 31-13 count at Invesco Field at Mile High in 2004, with the Texans evening the brief series with a 31= 13 home win three years later.
Kubiak spent 11 seasons and was a part of two Super Bowl champion teams as Denver's offensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan from 1995-2005 prior to taking his present position with Texans the following year. He also has a long past history with the Broncos as a player, serving as John Elway's backup quarterback from 1983-1991.
Kubiak is 1-0 lifetime against his former organization as a head coach, while Studesville will be taking on both his counterpart and the Texans for the first time in his current capacity.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Houston has maintained a prolific attack through 15 weeks, ranking fifth in the league in both total yards (377.7 ypg) and passing yards (255.8 ypg). The team's point-scoring clip of 23.8 per game is good for 11th of 32 teams, while the run game accounts for an average of 121.9 yards, which is 10th-best. The embattled Broncos have barely been able to escape the bottom rung in defensive categories. Denver's best standing is a weak 22nd in passing yards allowed per game (227.6), while they're 31st, 31st and 32nd, respectively, in total defense (386.1 ypg), rushing yards allowed (158.4 ypg) and points allowed (29.6 ppg).
Texans Matt Schaub (3,807 yards) needs 193 passing yards to reach 4,000 in consecutive seasons (he had 4,770 in 2009), and has 13 touchdown passes against four interceptions and a 97.0 passer rating on the road in 2010. Running back Arian Foster (1,345 rushing yards) aims to become second undrafted player since 1967 to lead the NFL in rushing yards. He leads the NFL with 13 rush touchdowns as well and needs one to surpass Domanick Williams (13 in 2004) for the most in a season in club history. With 1,895 yards from scrimmage, Foster needs just 105 more to become first player in franchise history with 2,000 in a season. Wideout Andre Johnson (8 TD) has three touchdown catches in his past two games and needs two more scoring receptions to surpass a career-high of nine in 2009. He had 86 receiving yards with a touchdown in his last game against the Broncos.
Denver safety Renaldo Hill and posted his first interception of the season last week, while lineman Kevin Vickerson recorded his first career pick against the Raiders. Linebacker D.J. Williams leads the team with 112 tackles.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
The Orton Era at quarterback saw Denver get to seventh in the league with an average of 253.0 passing yards per week, though the Broncos have struggled in total offense (343.9 ypg, 14th overall), points scored (20.9 ppg, 20th) and rushing yards per week (90.9, 29th). On the other hand, the Texans haven't been much for stopping foes either, ranking 30th in the NFL in scoring defense (27.6 ppg), 30th in total yardage allowed (377.0 ypg) and last in passing yards allowed (275.1 ypg). They look stingy against the run because of the opposition's heavy leaning on the pass, allowing 101.9 yards on the ground that ranks ninth in the league.
Tebow became the first rookie ever to throw a touchdown pass of at least 30 yards and run for a score of at least 40 yards in same game in his starting debut. His 40-yard scoring run was the longest rushing touchdown by a Broncos quarterback in franchise history as well. Tebow had a 100.5 passer rating in his first career start. Running back Knowshon Moreno aims for a third straight game at home with 100-plus scrimmage yards, but is questionable to play due to a rib injury. Wideout Brandon Lloyd (1,264 receiving yards, 10 TD) needs 36 yards to join Rod Smith (2001) as the only Broncos with at least 1,300 yards and 10-plus touchdown catches in a season. Lloyd averages 21.2 yards per catch at home in 2010 and is the third player in NFL history to record his first 1,200-yard receiving season in his eighth professional campaign or later. Elsewhere, wideout Jabar Gaffney was selected by Texans in the 2002 NFL Draft and spent four seasons in Houston from 2002-05. He has registered career-bests in receptions (60) and receiving yards (773) in 2010.
For the Texans, cornerback Jason Allen has two interceptions in his past three games.
For Houston, only three words -- Schaub, Foster and Johnson -- are needed when discussing fantasy options, not to mention the team has a probably prolific kicker in Neil Rackers. As for Denver, Lloyd enters must-play territory, even if you're not sold on Tebow in the NFL. As for the former Gator, his ability to score with his legs makes him an interesting play. As a dark horse, try Denver kicker Steve Hauschka.
First one to 100 points wins? First one to hold the other to a field goal wins? Or, in the seemingly angelic Tebow's case, will a higher power have some say in the matter? All kidding aside, point-scoring should not be a concern for either team, provided the weather is anything resembling playable. And given Schaub and Foster and Johnson and the rest of the weapons on the Houston side, it looks like they simply have too much for a mediocre Denver team, energized as it may be with a new face in the lineup, to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 35, Broncos 20
Follow along with other sad people at Battle Red Blog.