Both teams look to build off of huge Week 2 victories as the Houston Texans (1-1) travel north to take on the New England Patriots (1-1).
Since entering the league in 2002, these teams have met 9 times with the Patriots holding an 8-1 lead in the series. The lone Texans victory came in 2010 after the Patriots had already wrapped up the AFC East and secured a playoff spot. That game, of course, will always be remembered by Patriots fans as the day Wes Welker was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
This will be a rematch of the 2017 Divisional Playoff game where the Texans arrived at Foxboro and were blown out to the tune of 34-16. The Patriots would go on to beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game (again) and then secure their 5th Super Bowl title with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Texans, on the other hand, had to pay the Browns a 2nd Round pick to unload Brock Osweiler only to go out and draft Deshaun Watson as their quarterback of the future.
None of the previous games matter at this point as both teams will be fighting to get above .500 for the first time this season so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – [PATRIOTS]: Deshaun Watson is the 9th QB to start for the Texans since the Bill O’Brien took the reins in Houston back in 2014. Though there is a lot of upside with Watson, he may have a long day in Foxboro where rookie QBs have not fared well.
Running Backs – [PATRIOTS]: While Lamar Miller has found new life in Texas after escaping career Purgatory in South Florida, he has yet to duplicate his “Naked River Jump” season of 2014 when he averaged over 5 yards a carry. Though the Texans have the added dimension of QB Deshaun Watson as a running threat, the Patriots do have more depth at the position who are able to take on multiple roles offensively as needed.
Wide Receiver – [PATRIOTS]: Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins is a legitimate NFL superstar who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves due to the revolving door at the QB position. Even though the Patriots are less than 100% health wise at wide receiver, they get the edge in this matchup solely based on who they have throwing them the ball.
Tight Ends – [PATRIOTS]: Rob Gronkowski may be slowed down by a groin injury but the Texans may not have anyone healthy enough at Tight End to suit up.
Offensive Line – [PATRIOTS]: Both Offensive Lines have played very well in regards to run blocking but the Texans offense line has struggled to keep their quarterback protected giving up 13 sacks in two games.
Front Seven – [TEXANS]: Even with the potential returns of Donte Hightower this week, the Patriots front seven can’t compare with the Texans who might have one of the best defensive fronts in the conference.
Secondary – [TEXANS]: On paper, New England had one of the best defensive back fields coming into the season. To this point, they have allowed more passing yards that everyone in the NFL not named “The Saints”…….Ugh.
Special Teams – [PUSH]: Danny Amendola returning from injury could provide a boost to an almost non-existent return game but the odds that he will return in that capacity has yet to be determined.
Coaching – [PATRIOTS]: Pupil vs the Teacher……..Unfortunately for the Pupil, he has done a less than adequate job managing the Quarterback position during his Texans tenure.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
KEYS TO VICTORY:
1) Protection, Protection, and Protection: The biggest key for the Patriots will be how well the can protect Tom Brady from the Texans’ defense line led by a healthy JJ Watt. Though New England has historically done well up front against the Texans, the potential absence of RT Marcus Cannon could be key.
2) Don’t make a Superstar: Though Deshaun Watson has made some highlights with his running ability, he has struggled a bit, as most rookies do, with his passing ability. With a suspect pass rush and secondary that has surrendered a boat load of yards, the Patriots need to ensure they don’t let Watson get too comfortable and have a break out game on the road.
3) Take What the Texans Give: With so many options on the offensive side coupled with lofty expectations, it easy to see how the Patriots may take some chances to generate or sustain offensive possessions against this tough defense. The Patriots need to remain patient and take whatever the Texans allow even if that means kicking some field goals in lieu of converting risky 4th downs.
This game is shaping out to be a classic “Immoveable Object vs. An Unstoppable Force” type of game where the clear strengths of the two teams will be the premier matchup. However what happens when the Texans have the ball and the Patriots are on defense may very well determine which team will gain the advantage.
Through the first two games, the Patriots defense has been suspect because they are generating little to no pass rush which is exposing their secondary. New England figure out a way to pressure young Deshaun Watson into some mistakes and not be afraid to kick field goals if their offense sputters.
Expect a low scoring game with points primarily generated from costly turnovers.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Texans 14