Analysts, pundits and "experts" have been telling football fans for weeks that the Chicago Bears aren't as good as their 7-1 record indicates.
And, this weekend, most of those folks have circled the first "legitimate threat" on the Bears' schedule as a test of their real quality.
The first two obvious similarities are the records being 7-1 for both teams, and the only loss for both teams coming to the Green Bay Packers.
But, looking deeper into this game, it appears to be more of a battle between nearly-identical teams.
Talking heads from around the country have treated the Bears' schedule the way Peanut Tillman treats the football. And there is certainly reason for those questions. The Bears have only played two teams this year - the Colts and Packers - that are currently over .500. And that Colts team the Bears defeated in Andrew Luck's regular season debut.
Houston has played three teams - the Broncos, Packers and Ravens - to date that are over .500. They got Denver early in the season, and Baltimore the week after they lost Ray Lewis for the season.
The Bears opponents have a 26-32 composite record (.448 win percentage) to date, and Chicago has outscored those opponents 236-120 (a 29.5-15 average score).
The Texans opponents have a 31-35 composite record (.470 win percentage) to date, and Houston has outscored those opponents 255-119 ( a 31,9-14.9 average score).
Reality is simple: neither team has played an overwhelming schedule, but both have won the games they needed to so far.
Note: The Atlanta Falcons, the NFL's last undefeated team, have played opponents with a 24-41 composite schedule (.369 win percentage) to date.
Jay Cutler has completed 59.8 percent of his passes (144-241) for 1,797 yards this season. He has thrown 12 touchdowns with 8 interceptions, and is averaging 7.31 yards per attempt.
Matt Schaub has completed 63.9 percent of his passes (159-249) for 1,918 yards through eight games. He has thrown 12 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, and is averaging 7.70 yards per attempt.
Cutler has thrown more interceptions, but half of his total were thrown in one game. The other significant difference between the two - sacks - will likely be highlighted throughout the game on Sunday night. Cutler has been sacked 28 times this year (2nd-worst in the NFL), while Schaub has only been sacked 10 times.
The Running Backs
Matt Forte missed a game earlier this year, but is having another stellar season. Thru seven games, Forte has 718 total yards (539 rushing, 179 receiving) on 127 touches. He has scored three touchdowns, and hasn't put the ball on the ground a single time.
Arian Foster doesn't need compliments from me; he's one of the best. He has 847 total yards (770 rushing, 77 receiving) on 204 touches. Foster has 11 touchdowns and zero fumbles.
Forte is averaging 102 total yards on just over 18 touches per game. Foster is averaging 105 total yards on over 25 touches per game.
The Big-Play Receivers
Brandon Marshall has been better-than-advertised so far in his reunion with Cutler. He's second in the NFL with 797 receiving yards, fourth in the NFL with 59 receptions, and is tied for third in the NFL with seven touchdowns.
Andre Johnson has been among the league's most dangerous receivers for years. He has 42 receptions this season for 562 yards, but has just two touchdowns.
The Lock-Down Corners
Marshall praised Houston's top corner, Johnathan Joseph, when he spoke with the Chicago media this week; he went as far as to call Joseph one of the top three corners in the league.
Johnson will go against Tillman this week, who might be the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL. Tillman did an incredible job one-on-one against Detroit's Calvin Johnson, but might not be available for the Bears on Sunday; he indicated on Wednesday that he'll miss the game if his wife goes into labor.
Thankfully, the Bears other corner - Tim Jennings - leads the NFL with six interceptions.
We've already noted that the Bears have allowed one fewer point this year than the Texans through eight games, ranking both teams among the best in the NFL.
However, this game could change when the ball changes hands.
The Bears have an NFL-best 28 takeaways (17 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries) against 12 turnovers from the offense.
The Texans, meanwhile, has just 14 takeaways (9 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries) against only 6 turnovers from their offense.
Watt leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks, making up nearly half of the Texans' AFC-leading 24 (tied with Denver).
While Watt's ability to get to opposing quarterbacks has earned Houston a lot of attention, the Bears have 25 sacks as a team (led by Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, who have five each). Chicago ranks third in the NFL, behind only Green Bay and Arizona, in team sacks.
Given the amount of pressure both of these teams are putting on quarterbacks this year, two smart coaches will ask their running backs to do some heavy lifting this weekend. The Bears rank sixth in the NFL, allowing 88 rushing yards per game; the Texans rank second in the NFL, allowing 82.4 yards per game on the ground.
What Does It Mean?
These two teams are almost identical. Both have great defenses that get to the quarterback, both offenses have a stud running back and a big-play receiver. And both teams have a quarterback people have questioned. The Bears take the ball away more, though, and their defense brings heat from more directions. Four Bears defenders have at least 4.0 sacks to date. The major question between now and Sunday will be the availability of Tillman.
Chicago has won in spite of their offensive line, but they'll be able to focus their attention on Watt; only one Texans defender other than Watt, Antonio Smith, has more than 2.5 sacks. Also, Houston being without star linebacker Brian Cushing cannot be ignored.
Prediction: Bears 24 - Texans 17