Monday night’s showdown with the Houston Texans is arguably the Patriots’ most important game of the season thus far as the New England enters with a 9-3 record and winners of six straight, while Houston comes in with an 11-1 record, also winners of six straight. This is something the Patriots have not been used to of late — a big game in December.

The past two seasons the Patriots have gone 10-0 in their December and January games, but the only problem is their opponents in those games have not been very good. Of those 10 wins, only two of them came against teams who qualified for the playoffs. Last season it was Denver where the Patriots went into Denver and won 41-23, before demolishing them on Wild Card weekend 45-10. In 2010 New England beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, but there was only one problem, backup quarterback Matt Flynn started that game for the injured Aaron Rodgers and the Patriots barely squeaked out a 31-27 win at home.

The Patriots should get defensive end Chandler Jones back for their big game against the Texans Monday night.(FILE:USPresswire)

This game could be viewed as a positive for the Patriots as it gives them the opportunity to go against the best team in the AFC and see where they stand just three games before the playoffs. Houston comes into the game virtually running away with the AFC, having a two game lead over the Patriots, Broncos and Ravens. Baring something catastrophic the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will be going through Houston.

Although the Patriots have been winners of six straight, only one of those wins came against a team who would currently be in the playoffs — the Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. The defense has seemed to have gotten better each week, but again how do people know it’s really them, or just by the result of playing a weak opponent? Monday night will answer everyone’s questions about just how good New England is. Houston has a very balanced attack on offensive featuring undoubtedly one of the top-five running backs in the league in Arian Foster. Quarterback Matt Schuab is one of the best game managing quarterbacks in the league and he has Pro Bowl targets in Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels to throw to. The Patriots defensive will certainly be tested.

Houston also has one of the best defenses in the league led by defensive end J.J. Watt who comes in with an impressive 15 pass deflected and also 16.5 sacks. Despite losing a number of key players due to injury, they have not missed a beat. They enter the game ranked second against the run and fourth in overall points per game. They have also been very good on third down, something the Patriots have excelled at. This will be one of the keys to the game seeing who will win that match up. The offensive line will be tested once again and for Tom Brady to be successful he needs to feel comfortable in the pocket and stay on his feet. The Texans are also very good in defending short passes, which is where the Patriots do the majority of their damage, so they will likely have to take more chances down the field.

No matter what happens Monday night, it will only help the Patriots going forward. Unlike the past few seasons they will know where they are compared to the best the AFC has to offer and then have three games to work on those things and be ready to go come playoff time.

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Monday night's game is unfamiliar territory for Patriots, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating