By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots go on the road to face the Houston Texans in week thirteen.
The Patriots (8-3) are coming off a 34-31 overtime victory against the Denver Broncos in week twelve. On the other side, the Houston Texans (2-9) have lost nine straight games, losing 13-6 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.
The two teams last met in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, when the Patriots won 41-28. Since the start of the Tom Brady era in 2001, the Patriots are 43-6 in the month of December.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Texans win:
Pressure Brady: The Patriots have allowed 31 sacks in 11 games this season, after giving up only 27 in 2012. New England has struggled against physical defensive fronts this year, which Houston certainly possesses. Look for the Texans to pressure the Pats offensive line in the middle and get into Tom Brady’s face. JJ Watt has to be accounted for, and double teamed, on every possession. If the Texans are successful up front, it could be a long night for Brady and the Patriots.
Slow Down The Pats: The Patriots offense has found their groove lately, averaging over 36 points per game in the last three contests. Houston on the other hand, despite being one of the better statistical defenses in the NFL, have given up more than 24 points in seven of their last 10 games. If the Texans want to get a victory Sunday, they have to keep the score down and give their offense a chance to win.
Make Plays Downfield: Case Keenum has given a spark to the Texans offense and they need him to make plays Sunday. Andre Johnson leads the team with 74 receptions and needs to be heavily involved in the offense. Between Johnson and rookie wide out DeAndre Hopkins, Keenum needs to get the ball to his playmaking receivers down the field. The Patriots are banged up in the secondary and could be susceptible to some deep routes if Houston can execute.
How The Patriots Win:
Punch Them In The Mouth: Many of the Texans players have all but given up on the season, it’s evident watching them on tape and questionable comments from the team. Changes are coming in Houston, but the team might try and put up a fight early for the home crowd. The Patriots have proven to be a tough team this season, so punching Houston in the mouth early could take the fight right out of them. If New England makes a statement early, look for the Texans to retreat. If not, it may end up being closer than many predict.
Attack Keenum: As I mentioned earlier, Keenum gave a spark to the Texans. That being said, his gunslinger mentality has proven to be costly at times. He’s had at least one turnover in four of his five games started.
While he’s minimized some turnovers, he has been sacked more than former starting quarterback Matt Schaub. In fact, Keenum has been sacked seven times the past three games. Pats defensive end Chandler Jones, just named AFC defensive player of the month, has had at least one sack in six of his past seven games.
The past couple of weeks the Pats defense has focused on containment against opposing quarterbacks. Look for them to be more aggressive in this contest, bringing more players on a blitz to force the Houston quarterback into making a poor decision. The Pats front seven will be active Sunday.
Maximize Opportunities: Houston has a negative 12-turnover differential this season, throwing 13 interceptions and fumbling seven times through 11 games this season. On the flip side, the Patriots are the second best team in the AFC with a plus eight-turnover margin and have forced a turnover in 37 of their last 38 contests. Houston will make mistakes and turn the ball over, they have all season. If New England can maximize their opportunities off turnovers and finish drives with seven points, they will win going away Sunday.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Texans 17
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