The Buffalo Bills (10-6) are gearing up to play the Houston Texans (10-6) in a Wild Card showdown at 4:35 p.m. Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium, and while the Bills currently have four key starters listed as questionable for the contest, the Texans are dealing with a slew of injuries to several key players, as well.
Chief among the injury concerns for Houston: wide receiver Will Fuller V, defensive end J.J. Watt, and cornerback Bradley Roby, who each carry a questionable designation heading into the Wild Card clash.
Fuller, a speedy receiver who is adept at stretching the defense, injured his groin in Week 16. He is expected to be a game-time decision, according to head coach Bill O’Brien, although NFL Media’s James Palmer says Fuller is a “long shot” to play. Fuller sat out the Texans’ Week 17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, and also missed four games earlier this year with assorted muscle issues.
Fuller’s presence greatly enhances a dangerous Texans offense: with both Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins on the field, Houston scores 26.3 points per game, averages 296.8 passing yards per game, and converts nearly 52 percent of its third-down attempts. Without Fuller, Houston scores 19.6 points per game, averages 158.3 passing yards per game, and converts 32.9 percent of its third-down attempts.
Houston went 8-3 when Fuller suited up, compared to 2-3 in games he missed. On the year, Fuller, a 2016 first-round pick, has hauled in 49 passes for 670 yards with three touchdowns in 11 games. He torched the Atlanta Falcons for 217 yards and all three TDs during a Week 5 win.
Watt’s recovery from a torn pectoral muscle is remarkable. He suffered the injury during an Oct. 27 game vs. the Oakland Raiders, and had surgery a few days later. He was added to the active roster after spending more than eight weeks on the injured reserve list. The average recovery time for an athlete who tears a pectoral muscle is between 4-6 months; were he to play on Saturday, Watt would be back on the field a mere ten weeks after his surgery.
While Watt’s comeback is sure to be inspirational to his teammates, his play won’t be anywhere near the caliber it was when he was earning the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times during his first five seasons.
Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said that Watt would see the field in situational scenarios to start off the Wild Card game, and could be expected to line up on third-down, obvious pass-rushing downs, and two-minute scenarios as well.
“I think that we’ll have to kind of measure to see where he is and how he’s doing, because he hasn’t played in eight games,” Crennel told reporters earlier this week. “Even though he’s been working with the strength and conditioning people, the football condition when you’re playing a big game, your adrenaline gets picked up and you get winded a little bit faster. We’ll have to measure that to see how that goes, and then I think that will impact how much he plays. But I don’t think that we want to expose him too much if he’s not able to go at a good level.”
Additionally, Roby is questionable with a hamstring injury. He has appeared in ten games in 2019, amassing 38 total tackles with eight pass breakups, two interceptions and a quarterback sack. Roby has been a key member of the Texans’ secondary, especially over the second half of the season.