The only team in the league still unbeaten on the road this season will play their third road game in a row on Monday Night Football this week. Coming into the game the Texans own the best record in the AFC, but many fans and media members still consider their opponent this week, the Patriots, the favorite to win the conference. Both teams have flaws that raise legitimate concerns and doubts that each will try to disprove against each other this week.
Both teams face the perception in some sense that they're overrated. For the Texans, with only one playoff win in their team history, it's mostly people not believing they can make a Super Bowl run until they see them do it. In their mind, their only playoff win came over an average Bengals team at home; just not that impressive. I'm not sure why, but people seem to forget that the Texans won at Denver, forget that they beat the Ravens by 30 and look at them as if they haven't proven anything this season. That argument is particularly hollow when comparing the schedule of the Patriots. New England has gotten fat off of wins over bad teams like Buffalo (2), New York Jets (2), Titans, Rams, and Dolphins; certainly not more difficult than what the Texans have faced. Sure the Patriots have wins over Denver and Baltimore, but I think it'd be impossible to argue against the Texans wins over those teams being more impressive. If you throw the Denver and Baltimore games out for both teams, what third best win is more impressive; a home win over the Colts or winning at the Bears in terrible weather conditions? Any argument that the Patriots are for real and the Texans are not based on schedule is laughable.
If the Texans win, they'll own the tiebreakers over New England, Baltimore, and Denver. In that scenario, they would clinch a first round bye, but not home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. However, the Texans would be up two games (with the tiebreaker) on the Broncos with only three games remaining, so they'll basically have everything wrapped up.
Texans Offense vs. Patriots Defense:
The Patriots rank ninth in rushing yards allowed and eighth in yards per carry allowed (3.9); I don't expect Arian Foster to have a huge game. Vince Wilfork is one of the best interior defensive lineman in the league and is capable of penetrating the line and blowing up running plays in the backfield. The Patriots also have good, athletic linebackers with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont'a Hightower who are all capable of setting the edge on the zone stretch and rallying to stop the run.
The Patriots are much weaker against the pass much like last season. Overall the Patriots rank 29th in passing yards allowed, 26th in passing touchdowns allowed, and have given up over 300 yards passing to every decent quarterback they've faced. Despite facing a lot of bad quarterbacks with games against Miami (2), Arizona, the Jets (2), Tennessee, and St. Louis; the Patriots still rank as one of the worst pass defenses in the league. The one pro bowl level quarterback they've played so far (Peyton Manning), threw for 337 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Weather could play a big factor in this game. As I'm writing this just before noon, The Weather Channel predicts game time temperatures to be around 45 degrees with a 90% chance of rain and 15 mile per hour winds. The Patriots have field turf so the field conditions will be a lot better than it was in Chicago, but throwing the ball could be an issue. The rain caused ball security problems for Schaub in the game in Chicago and was a factor in both interceptions he threw during that game. If Schaub struggles early on, expect the Texans to lean heavily on the running game and short passes.
Texans Defense vs. Patriots Offense:
The Patriots rank in the top ten in passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and fewest turnovers. I've praised the Texans all year for being well balanced on offense and being hard to stop because of how many weapons they have; the Patriots have them beat in that area. The Patriots don't move the ball with the big play as much, but can consistently pick up four to five yards on seemingly every play and have the best third down conversion percentage in the league.
The Texans have seen their rank against the pass drop to 19th overall in yards allowed with their recent poor play. If Chad Henne was able to put up 354 yards, 4 TD/0 INT on the road against the Texans, what is Tom Brady capable of doing at home? In three games against Pro-Bowl level quarterbacks running spread style offenses (Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford), the Texans have allowed an average of 369 passing yards per game with a total of 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Being able to spread teams out with four or five legit threats and Brady getting rid of the ball quickly makes their passing attack almost impossible to stop. Those two things also play into the Texans weaknesses with injuries in their back seven forcing less-talented players to cover in space, and not getting a pass rush outside of the great play from J.J. Watt. If the Texans are able to get pressure from other sources like they did last week in Tennessee then they have a chance because even great quarterbacks like Brady play differently when they get hit. If they don't, it could be a long game. With Brice McCain out, who will cover Wes Welker in the slot?