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Ravens looking 'to take control' of wide-open AFC

OWINGS MILLS - The Houston Texans looked to be the clear-cut best team in the AFC.

They were the team without any noticeable weakness. They had arguably the AFC's top defense, a dynamic and well-rounded offense and were 5-0.

How quickly things can change in a week.

Houston lost leading tackler Brian Cushing to a season-ending injury two weeks ago and is now coming off its first loss of the season, a 42-24 thrashing at the hands of the Green Bay Packers during which its offense struggled and its defense was shredded by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack.

It's been that kind of year for the AFC.

The Texans (5-1) and Ravens (5-1) are the only two teams in the conference with a record better than .500.

Baltimore travels to face Houston Sunday.

"I think there is a great balance in this league, and not just the AFC," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day."

There isn't one team in the AFC without some sort of substantial question mark.

The Ravens are struggling on defense and dealing with injuries to two of their top defensive players, Houston is coping with the loss of Cushing and the New York Jets (3-3) are trying to withstand season-ending injuries to arguably their two best players, cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

Other teams have different issues.

The New England Patriots (3-3) are trying to find a cure for the NFL's fifth-worst pass defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) and Tennessee Titans (2-4) have the league's two worst rushing offenses and the Buffalo Bills (3-3) can't seem to stop the run on defense.

The list goes on.

"Everyone's battling something," Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones said.

To Ravens tight end Ed Dickson, that makes Sunday's game against the Texans even more important.

"We know what's at stake," Dickson said. "We know the winner of this game is going to be at the head of the AFC right now. I'm not saying that the winner of this game is going to win the AFC, but we know that we can take control of it this week. That's one of our goals - just to take control and keep control."

Houston defensive end J.J Watt offered a similar take.

"Obviously, the two top teams of the AFC are facing off against each other," Watt said. "You know the team that wins will have a big advantage going forward, so it's a big game. It's a great opportunity and we're really excited about it."

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