- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Houston Texans have failed many a litmus test in their near-decade of NFL existence. They’re still searching for a playoff berth.

To get one, the Texans need defining wins. A great opportunity slipped away last week at New Orleans, a game in which Houston led by nine points in the fourth quarter.

Another chance to prove themselves comes Sunday when the Texans host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defending AFC champions hardly have looked dominant in going 2-1, with last weekend’s squeaker against inept Indianapolis far too close a call for a team with supposed Super Bowl designs.

After they put up a stinker in Baltimore to open the schedule, the Steelers blanked Seattle. Following a mediocre performance at Indy, they get a far more difficult opponent in the Texans.

We think. It’s never easy to predict what the Texans will come up with from week to week.

The oddsmakers like them just enough to make the Texans a 3 1/2-point favorite, which isn’t much considering being at home generally is worth three points in the gambling world. Houston’s solid showing for much of the game at the Superdome also is responsible for that betting line.

“We played a good team, and we did not close the game,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We take full responsibility for that. But we’ve got a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. We’ll get our chins back up and correct our mistakes.”

Do so now and people will take the Texans seriously. At last.

TEXANS, 24-23

Carolina (plus 6 1/2) at Chicago

It’s time for the Bears’ defense to show some meanness, some edginess, something out of the Monsters of the Midway past.


Detroit (plus 1 1/2) at Dallas

A statement victory for the Lions against a badly bruised bunch of Cowboys. And then, three home games in a row for Detroit.


Denver (plus 13) at Green Bay

Not even the biggest game in Cheesehead Land this weekend (see Nebraska at Wisconsin).

PACKERS, 37-20

New England (minus 4 1/2) at Oakland

Impressed with what Raiders showed in second half vs. Jets. Not so with what Patriots did in second half vs. Bills. Still …


Tennessee (plus 1 1/2) at Cleveland

One of these teams is going to be 3-1 and, at worst, tied for its division lead. Time for Chris Johnson to break out.

TITANS, 17-13

Minnesota (plus 1 1/2) at Kansas City

One of these teams is going to be 0-4 and in the cellar all alone in its division.

CHIEFS, 16-13

Buffalo (minus 3) at Cincinnati

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return to Cincinnati, and a chance for some vengeance.

BILLS, 27-16

New Orleans (minus 7) at Jacksonville

The Jack Del Rio countdown to unemployment might be under way.

SAINTS, 31-17

Miami (plus 7 1/2) at San Diego

And the Tony Sparano countdown already is in full swing.


Washington (pick-em) at St. Louis

The Redskins should be encouraged, not discouraged, by the close Monday night defeat at Dallas.


Atlanta (minus 4 1/2) at Seattle

Atlanta could lose touch with the top of the NFC South with a loss. Seahawks grabbed some much-needed confidence last week.

FALCONS, 24-17

N.Y. Giants (minus 2) at Arizona

Eli looked like Peyton last week against Eagles. Cardinals aren’t any more formidable on defense than Philly.

GIANTS, 27-22

N.Y. Jets (plus 3 1/2) at Baltimore

Jets are struggling on both lines, hardly a formula for handling Ravens.

RAVENS, 20-10

Indianapolis (plus 10) at Tampa Bay, Monday night

More of the Colts in prime time, maybe even with Curtis Painter behind center.


San Francisco (no line) at Philadelphia

Uncertainty about Michael Vick and Vince Young voids any betting lines.

EAGLES, 17-13


Against spread: 9-5 (overall 26-18-2); straight up 11-5 (overall 30-18).

Best Bet: 1-2 against spread, 1-2 straight up.

Upset Special: 2-1 against spread, 1-2 straight up.

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