The string of quality prime time games continues on Sunday night, as the Patriots will be tested for the fourth straight week by a strong opponent. The run started at Baltimore on a Sunday night three weeks ago, and what was supposed to be a competitive game turned into a laugher as the Ravens smothered the Patriots 37-20. The following two weeks the Patriots defense allowed just 10 points to the Eagles and 9 points to the Cowboys, both single-digit wins. The New England offense is the biggest question mark as they head to Houston, but the deciding factor of this game will likely be if the Pats defense can shut down Deshaun Watson.
At 7-4, the Texans hold a narrow one game lead in the AFC South over the Colts and the Titans. The last time Houston was in action was las Thursday night hosting the Colts, a game they won 20-17 but failed to cover the 3.5-point spread. Watson was happy to welcome wide receiver Will Fuller back into the lineup after a one-month absence, targeting him 11 times. Fuller led the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards with 140.
Texans Offense vs. Patriots Defense
The deciding factor in this game will likely be how well the Texans can perform against the #1 defense in the NFL. Having Will Fuller back will be especially key in this game, as Bill Belichick is known for taking away his opponent’s best offensive option. In this game that will likely mean that shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore will be blanketing DeAndre Hopkins. Gilmore and Hopkins are both elite at what they do, so this will be a fascinating game within the game to pay attention to.
The Patriots love to use the zero blitz, leaving their corners on an island to cover and forcing quarterbacks into quick decisions, often leading to mistakes. Against first or second-year quarterbacks, this defensive game plan usually works brilliantly. For example, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen both played their worst games of the year when going against the Patriots.
While Deshaun Watson is more seasoned, more athletic and more talented than those quarterbacks, he does not play well under pressure. Watson took just one sack a week ago, but that kind of protection has been a rarity from Houston’s offensive line. They rank just 25th in adjusted sack rate, while New England ranks 4th. Of the Texans four losses, three of them came to teams with top 10 defenses per adjusted sack rate, with the fourth coming against the Ravens.
The key to success for the Texans will likely be if they can get their running game going. With a balanced attack, the Patriots won’t be able to pin their ears back all day and come after Watson. However, while New England is most effective against the pass, ranking #1 in the NFL, they also rank #9 against the run.
Patriots Offense vs. Texans Defense
While you’ll hear many people talk of the demise of the Patriots offense, they come into this game ranking #10 in the league in offensive efficiency. Tom Brady has lost most of his big play receivers, but Julian Edelman is having an excellent season with 76 receptions for 809 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Patriots also added big-bodied receiver Mohammed Sanu who had an outstanding second game with New England against the Ravens, with 10 receptions on 14 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. Sanu barely played against the Eagles though and was out against the Cowboys with an ankle injury. He was limited at practice on Thursday and is officially questionable heading into this contest.
When the calendar turns to winter, the Patriots usually begin to run the ball with vigor. That trend was on display last week against the Cowboys, as Sony Michel ran the ball 20 times for 85 yards. As a team, the Patriots ran the ball 27 times for 101 yards. The previous week Michel was held to just 33 yards on 10 carries, but that was against the Eagles, one of the best run defenses in the league. The Texans are slouches against the run, but they aren’t overly impressive either ranking 13th in run defense. Against the pass though, they’re much worse, ranking 27th in the league.
The Spread and Total
The Patriots were favored by 4.5 points on the look-ahead line and it re-opened at Patriots -4. That number is now split between Patriots -3 and Patriots -3.5. Home field advantage has seemingly been worth less to the spread in the NFL this year, which could explain how the Patriots are favored by a full field goal on the road. Despite the line move, the majority of the bets and the money has come in on New England. Currently, 78% of the bets and 67% of the money has been bet on the Pats.
The total has seen more movement than the spread, opening at 44.5 and going up to 46 points across the board. It’s hard to get a grasp on how many points will be scored, but my initial inclination was that this would be an “under” game. The Patriots last two games flew under the number, and while it does seem like there could be more than a few fireworks in this contest, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see this be a slow, methodical game without a lot of scoring.
By Kyle Johansen