For more than a decade, the NFL has been taking its game abroad looking to attract new fans and new markets to football.
When the Oakland Raiders take on the Houston Texans on Monday night in Mexico City, the fans at Azteca Stadium will see something no foreign audience has ever gotten the chance to watch: two teams with winning records.
Instead of watching the dregs of the league, the sold-out crowd at the renovated Azteca Stadium will see a game with playoff implications when the Raiders (7-2) take on the Texans (6-3) in a matchup of first-place teams.
Despite the big stage, high stakes and international flair, it still is just one game.
"We know if you don't win, it doesn't mean anything. It's a cool thing to look back on someday," Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. "It doesn't change the game for me. It doesn't change my heart rate. It stays the same."
The Raiders enter the game on a roll having won three straight games before a bye, capped by a 30-20 prime-time win over defending Super Bowl champion Denver on Nov.
6. That has Oakland off to its best start since 2001 as the team hopes to end a 13-year playoff drought .
The Texans have won two straight and are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South, but have gotten much less publicity for their record than Oakland. In part, that's because Houston has been outscored by 27 points with lopsided losses to New England, Minnesota and Denver overshadowing the wins.
A victory against a Raiders team that has been so impressive of late would be a big step forward for the Texans
"I think every single week is a statement game," Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "When you look across the National Football League, every single week is different. You see one team maybe blow out somebody one week and then the next week they get blown out, or a win and then the next week they lose. So, I think every single week you need to go out there and prove yourself."
Here are some other things to watch:
WRONG CARR: After David Carr failed to develop into a franchise quarterback when Houston drafted him with its first pick as an expansion team in 2002, the Texans twice passed on his little brother in 2014. Houston took pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick, then guard Xavier Su'a-Filo at the top of the second round " three picks before Derek went to Oakland. That move looks suspect now with Carr developing into one of the league's top young quarterbacks.
"We chose who we chose and we're happy with who we chose," coach Bill O'Brien said. "Derek's having a good year."
MACK ATTACK: The Raiders were very happy with Houston's draft that year. They ended up with edge rusher Khalil Mack with the fifth pick and he has outperformed Clowney so far with 26 sacks to Clowney's 7 . Then they got Carr in the second round.
Mack has sacks in four straight games and is looking forward to a rematch with Osweiler after sacking him five times in one game last year in Denver.
"We are well aware of what Khalil Mack's capable of doing " obviously I experienced it firsthand last year " and we will have answers for him," Osweiler said.
HIGHER GROUND: Both teams will have to deal with the altitude for the game played at an elevation of 7,350 feet. The teams won't arrive in Mexico until Sunday in hopes of limiting the effects of the altitude, and they spent the week preparing for it.
"Just work hard," Mack said. "You can't really control the elevation. It's like Denver and all those other places. Just get ready and expect you might have a hard time breathing."
OAKLAND'S ENGINE: The Raiders have invested heavily in the offensive line the past few years by signing free agents Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn and Austin Howard and it is paying big dividends now. Oakland has allowed a league-low 11 sacks and has run the ball effectively of late, especially two weeks ago against Denver when the Raiders gained 218 yards on the ground. Carr attributes the success of the team to the play of the line.
"He calls us the engine," Penn said. "There's no car without an engine."
PUNT PARTY: Marquette King had big shoes to fill in Oakland back in 2013 when he replaced six-time All-Pro Shane Lechler as Raiders punter. King has thrived and leads the NFL this season with 21 punts of at least 50 yards. He celebrates some of those punts with dance moves that have gone viral. While Lechler is impressed by his successor's kicking leg, the dance moves are something else.
"Unfortunately, I have," Lechler said when asked whether he had seen any of the dances.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report
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This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings