By Sam McPherson

Coming off a 31-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, the Houston Texans now prepare to face their second opponent from the state of Florida in a row. The Miami Dolphins also are coming off a big win, and with both teams sitting on just two victories this season, making this Week 7 matchup amounts to an early elimination game for the AFC postseason picture.

The Texans do not have solid health going for them right now, and there are some issues on defense that might present some problems this Sunday in Miami. Three regular starters, including two on defense, are out for the game against the Dolphins. That is never a good thing in the NFL when you’re facing an early litmus test on playoff worthiness. Cornerback Kareem Jackson (ankle) did not practice Thursday and has been ruled out of the game. Meanwhile, inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney (concussion) also won’t play due to the lingering problems with his injury situation. On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) won’t see the field, either.

Defensively, there are more injury challenges with three other starters. Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (ankle), linebacker Brian Cushing (ankle) and safety Quintin Demps (hamstring) are all questionable for Sunday. That means the Texans could be without five defensive regulars in Week 7 if things don’t go well in the next 36 hours. Houston needs the defense to be at top strength in order to win, but at least wide receiver Nate Washington (hamstring) is back to alleviate the loss of Shorts for the offense on Sunday.

More good news for the offense in the form of guard Brandon Brooks (toe) and running back Arian Foster (groin), both of whom are probable for the Dolphins game. Brooks didn’t practice on Thursday, but he’s still expected to play. Foster has played in three games now, although he still is not at 100 percent as evidenced by his on-the-field performances. Finally, tackle Derek Newton (knee/toe) is questionable, which won’t help the running game or the protection schemes for quarterback Brian Hoyer.

The Texans finally have some stability at quarterback, thanks to Hoyer and Head Coach Bill O’Brien’s decision to name him as the starter for the rest of the season. Now, they need Foster and the defense to play up to their capabilities. That becomes tougher with the injuries, obviously, especially to the defensive starters. Defensive end J.J. Watt may be the best player in the NFL at times, but he cannot do all the defensive work on his own. Last week, the Texans got help from other players on defense; and if the three questionable starters can’t go, it’ll be “Next Man Up” for Houston in Miami.

Brandon Brooks, Offensive Guard (toe)
Arian Foster, Running Back (groin)
Nate Washington, Wide Receiver (hamstring)

Jadeveon Clowney, Linebacker (ankle)
Brian Cushing, Linebacker (ankle)
Quntin Demps, Safety (hamstring)
Derek Newton, Offensive Tackle (knee/toe)

Kareem Jackson, Cornerback (ankle)
Bernardrick McKinney, Linebacker (concussion)
Cecil Shorts, Wide Receiver (hamstring)

Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.