The 10-2 New England Patriots seek to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002 when they travel to Houston to face the 6-6 Texans on Sunday. The Patriots need a win to keep even with Denver and Cincinnati in the race for a first round bye in the AFC, while Houston looks to overtake Indianapolis for the lead in the AFC South.
When: Sunday, December 13 at 8:30 pm ET
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston Texas
Television: NBC; announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Odds: The Patriots opened as 3½ point favorites in early look-ahead lines a week ago Thursday, prior to last week’s games. At the finish of Sunday’s games, after both the Patriots and Texans lost, the updated line remained at 3½. The odds dipped to an even three Monday night, but returned to 3½ Thursday afternoon with the news that Rob Gronkowski was a limited practice participant while J.J. Watt (broken hand) did not participate in practice. As of Thursday night the over/under was 45, and the money line had the Patriots -180 and Houston +160.
Head-to-Head Series Record: The Patriots lead the all-time series 5-1, including a 41-28 division round playoff victory in the 2012 post-season. In that contest Danny Woodhead was injured on the first play of the game, but Shane Vereen stepped in and totaled 124 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns. The last meeting was in Week 13 of the 2013 season when the Pats overcame a ten-point halftime deficit to win 34-31. Tom Brady passed for 371 yards and Stephen Gostkowkski kicked two 53-yards fourth quarter field goals to first tie the game, and then win it with just over three minutes remaining. The Texans lone victory came in Week 17 of New England’s 2010 season of discontent; in a meaningless game for the Patriots Wes Welker blew out his knee and Houston scored the final 21 points in the fourth quarter to win 34-27.
The Patriots can clinch a playoff spot with a win Sunday; combine that result with a Tennessee victory over the Jets, and New England wins the AFC East and clinches no worse than the number three seed in the playoffs.
Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game. Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-ten.
One statistic of note: in just one week New England dropped form 8th to 16th in passing completion percentage. Yes, the Patriot receivers are indeed not getting open, and dropping far too many passes when they do.
New England Patriots Offense versus Houston Texans Defense
Scoring: Patriots 31.3 (2nd); Texans 22.0 (14th)
Yardage: Patriots 404 (3rd); Texans 332 (7th)
First Downs: Patriots 23.8 (2nd); Texans 18.8 (8th)
Yards per Play: Patriots 6.0 (4th); Texans 5.3 (9th)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 35.1 (5th); Texans 27.6 (5th)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.68 (1st); Texans 1.72 (9th)
Drive Success Rate: Patriots .747 (2nd); Texans .662 (7th)
Points per Play: Patriots .461 (2nd); Texans .352 (14th)
Touchdowns: Patriots 3.6 (2nd); Texans 2.7 (16th)
Red Zone Touchdowns: Patriots 2.8 (1st); Texans 1.4 (9th)
Red Zone TD Percentage: Patriots 66.7% (3rd); Texans 58.6% (21st)
Plays per Game: Patriots 67.8 (5th); Texans 62.6 (8th)
Third Down Conversions: Patriots 5.8 (9th); Texans 3.8 (1st)
Third Down Percentage: Patriots 43.4% (5th); Texans 28.7% (1st)
Punts per Score: Patriots 0.8 (2nd); Texans 1.6 (1st)
Rushing Yards: Patriots 88.5 (28th); Texans 114.1 (21st)
Yards per Rush: Patriots 3.83 (24th); Texans 4.37 (25th)
Passing Yards: Patriots 316 (1st); Texans 218 (3rd)
Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 7.8 (5th); Texans 6.9 (10th)
Completion Percentage: Patriots 63.8% (16th); Texans 59.3% (6th)
Passer Rating: Patriots 103.0 (4th); Texans 86.4 (12th)
TD Passes/Picks: Patriots +25 (1st), 31/6; Texans -10 (15th), 20/10
Complete Passes: Patriots 27.0 (3rd); Texans 20.2 (3rd)
Incomplete Passes: Patriots 15.3 (29th); Texans 13.8 (12th)
Quarterback Sacks: Patriots 2.4 (20th); Texans 2.5 (12th)
Sack Yardage Lost: Patriots 13.2 (14th); Texans 16.6 (13th)
Houston Texans Offense versus New England Patriots Defense
Scoring: Texans 21.1 (22nd); Patriots 20.6 (10th)
Yardage: Texans 362 (13th); Patriots 341 (13th)
First Downs: Texans 22.0 (7th); Patriots 19.8 (14th)
Yards per Play: Texans 5.0 (30th); Patriots 5.2 (7th)
Yards per Drive: Texans 29.5 (24th); Patriots 29.7 (8th)
Points per Drive: Texans 1.69 (24th); Patriots 1.64 (7th)
Drive Success Rate: Texans .693 (16th); Patriots .681 (11th)
Points per Play: Texans .293 (29th); Patriots .313 (8th)
Touchdowns: Texans 2.6 (16th); Patriots 2.4 (11th)
Red Zone Touchdowns: Texans 1.7 (18th); Patriots 1.6 (12th)
Red Zone TD Percentage: Texans 60.6% (12th); Patriots 57.6% (18th)
Plays per Game: Texans 72.0 (1st); Patriots 65.7 (23rd)
Third Down Conversions: Texans 6.1 (2nd); Patriots 5.4 (18th)
Third Down Percentage: Texans 39.0% (15th); Patriots 38.5% (15th)
Punts per Score: Texans 1.7 (29th); Patriots 1.4 (6th)
Rushing Yards: Texans 100.1 (19th); Patriots 99.6 (11th)
Yards per Rush: Texans 3.53 (29th); Patriots 4.08 (17th)
Passing Yards: Texans 261 (11th); Patriots 242 (15th)
Yards per Pass Attempt: Texans 6.6 (30th); Patriots 6.8 (7th)
Completion Percentage: Texans 57.6% (31st); Patriots 59.9% (9th)
Passer Rating: Texans 85.8 (23rd); Patriots 83.7 (9th)
TD Passes/Picks: Texans +15 (6th) 25/10; Patriots -7 (11th), 17/10
Complete Passes: Texans 24.0 (11th); Patriots 22.9 (19th)
Incomplete Passes: Texans 17.7 (32nd); Patriots 15.3 (5th)
Quarterback Sacks: Texans 2.0 (13th); Patriots 3.0 (2nd)
Sack Yardage Lost: Texans 12.8 (12th); Patriots 19.3 (3rd)
Patriot Giveaways: 0.9 (3rd); Texan Takeaways: 1.2 (22nd)
Texan Giveaways: 1.2 (7th); Patriot Takeaways: 1.3 (20th)
Penalties: Patriots 6.4 (5th); Texans 7.0 (19th)
Penalty Yards: Patriots 60.9 (19th); Texans 61.9 (20th)
Opponent Penalties: Patriots 7.4 (9th); Texans 7.6 (7th)
Opponent Penalty Yards: Patriots 68.0 (9th); Texans 62.9 (12th)
Football Outsiders Statistics and Rankings
Team Efficiency: Weighted DVOA: Patriots 22.3% (6th); Texans -1.5% (16th)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 19.8% (2nd); Texans -3.0% (18th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -2.8% (12th); Texans -3.1% (10th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 3.4% (6th); Texans -5.3% (32nd)
Bill Belichick game plans to take away an opponent’s biggest strength, and force (or dare) that opponent to beat you with another option. For Houston’s offense that means limiting WR DeAndre Hopkins, who ranks third in the NFL with 1,169 yards receiving (97.4 yards per game), fourth with 86 receptions (7.2 per game), and is tied for third with ten touchdown receptions. Belichick has chosen to primarily place CB Malcolm Butler on opponent’s top receivers, and this will be third time this season that February’s Super Bowl hero faces an elite receiver.
In his first NFL start in Week 1, Butler faced Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. The Steeler wide receiver caught nine out of eleven passes thrown his way for 133 yards and a touchdown, but two receptions and the touchdown came in the final seconds when the game was no longer in doubt. Early in Week 9 Giant WR Odell Beckham scored on an 87 yard touchdown when Butler and Devin McCourty got in each other’s way, but from that point on Beckham managed to catch just three passes for an inconsequential 27 yards.
If the Patriots can effectively limit Hopkins, then it’s ‘Houston we have a problem‘. The Texans’ next option in the passing game is an over-the-hill Nate Washington, who has caught just 53% of the passes thrown to him this year. Houston’s offensive line is incapable of opening up running lanes, so their rushing game is non-existent – despite the fact that Alfred Blue, Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes form a very decent trio in the backfield.
The other side of the ball poses a much more serious threat to the Patriots however, even with a one-handed J.J. Watt. Watt, NT Vince Wilfork, DE Jared Crick, OLBs Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, and ILBs Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney comprise one of, if not the best defensive front sevens in the NFL. As you can see from the stats above they not only can generate a powerful pass rush, they also dominate opposing running games. For a New England offensive line that has struggled in both pass protection as well as in the running game, this will be a very formidable challenge. The quick timing passing game will need to be improved for a victory. While Houston’s secondary is also very skilled, the strength of corners Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson is in their strong physical; a heavy dosage of quick shifty players such as Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin and James White will likely be the game plan to counteract the Houston defense.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Texans 23
Just when things look gloomy for the Patriots, the team finds a way to pull out a much-needed win.