After the Texans defeated the Dolphins 27-20 in Miami, they became one of five 8-7 teams in the AFC competing for the two wild-card spots.
The Texans must defeat New England at Reliant Stadium to finish 9-7. Then they need for two of three teams -- the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Denver Broncos -- to lose for Houston to sneak into the playoffs for the first time.
It's a long shot, but it's a shot the Texans are taking because it's unfamiliar territory for them this late in the season.
"I've never been in this situation, playing the last game of the season with the playoffs still a possibility," said cornerback Dunta Robinson, a six-year veteran. "It's a great feeling, let me tell you. Now we've got to take advantage of this situation. We've got to find a way to win the last game and see how things play out."
The Patriots (10-5) are trying to secure the third seed ahead of Cincinnati, so the Texans don't expect them to rest their top players.
"It's the biggest game in team history," defensive end Antonio Smith said.
Smith knows about big games. He played for Arizona last season when the Cardinals finished 9-7 and reached the Super Bowl before losing to Pittsburgh.
"Finally, we've got something to play for besides pride," fullback Vonta Leach said.
The Texans need to beat New England for reasons beyond the playoffs. A victory would allow them to finish the season with a four-game winning streak and their first winning record.
Even though they were 1-5 in the AFC South, the Texans would finish second behind Indianapolis for the first time.
"It's time we got over that .500 hump," rookie outside linebacker Brian Cushing said.
UNDER THE RADAR: When University of Tennessee running back Arian Foster wasn't drafted, he was pursued by several teams. The Texans wanted him so bad they signed him to a two-year contract. Foster did better on special teams than as a runner in preseason. He began on the practice squad, was promoted to the regular roster to play special teams and finally got a chance to carry the ball when Steve Slaton was placed on injured reserve. At first, Foster was more impressive as a receiver than as a runner. When the Texans went to St. Louis, the coaches wanted to get Foster 20 touches. Instead, he lost a fumble at the end of an 8-yard catch and was reduced to special teams only.
When the Texans played Miami, Foster was out of coach Gary Kubiak's doghouse for fumblers. Foster carried 19 times for 97 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run. His 5.1-yard average was incredible considering the team average of 3.3. Kubiak said Foster, Chris Brown and Ryan Moats would continue to divide carries when they close the season against New England.
TRENDING: The Texans have a bad habit of playing one great half and one wretched one, at least on offense. It's happened in two of their last three victories -- 34-7 over Seattle and 27-20 over Miami. The Texans led the Dolphins 27-0, then watched Miami score 20 consecutive points. Matt Schaub was 12 of 14 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He was 6 of 13 for 39 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in the second half. Schaub looked cool and confident in the first half and discombobulated in the second. No one has an answer for a problem that's plagued them off and on this season.