Houston Texans (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS)
NFL Week 3
Date/Time: Thursday September 22nd, 2016 at 8:25PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU -3 / NE +3
The Houston Texans ship up to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots in a primetime tussle between two of the eight remaining undefeated teams in the NFL. The game will be televised on CBS, which means all will be forced to listen to the nonsensical ramblings of Phil Simms throughout the game while Jim Nantz tries his best to offset the raw stupidity of his announcing partner. The only thing worse would be if we were forced to hear Phil’s son Chris ignorantly critiquing quarterbacks, especially considering he was an overhyped failure at the position and is most known for being a prima donna who alienated his teammates at the University of Texas and later blaming injuries for ruining his career while most just simply attesting it to a noodle-armed lack of talent and integrity.
The new and improved Houston offense led by Brock Osweiler has played well through the first two weeks, but it’s their defense that is rightfully get most of the attention and credit for the team’s success so far this season. J.J. Watt is their most well known commodity but he is far from alone, especially amongst a dominant front seven that also includes players such as Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon, Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, and former Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. With that list of playmakers it’s easy to see how the Texans have accumulated nine sacks to lead the league so far while also ranking third in both points and yards allowed per game.
Big Vince is one of a handful of people on the Houston sidelines with ties to their opponent this week, as head coach Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator George Godsey, defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and assistant coach Anthony Pleasant have all played or coached under Bill Belichick during his time with New England. It was easy to see the coaching similarities and influence Belichick had on their staff while watching the Texans in last year’s season of Hard Knocks on HBO, as their detailed, no-nonsense approach to practice and gameplay was evident each week of the show. Houston also became the sixth team in a row to be featured on Hard Knocks that either repeated or improved their record from the previous season, joining the Bengals (2009), Jets (2010), Dolphins (2012), Bengals (2013) and Falcons (2014). That streak does look like it will be coming to an end this season though, as the Rams don’t look like they have much chance of getting past their seven wins from a year ago, despite the mystical powers of Jeff Fisher’s Magnum P.I mustache.
Hiring Bill O’Brien is arguably second to drafting J.J Watt in 2011 with the 11th pick in the draft as one of the best moves the Texans have ever made (drafting David Carr and then attempting to get him killed on a weekly basis by putting him behind a horrendous offensive line is close to the worst). O’Brien took over as coach after the team suffered through a 2-14 season in 2013, and since the Texans have had back-to-back winning seasons and looks poised to make it three years in a row for the first time in franchise history. Ownership spent the needed money in the offseason to bolster the offense by adding free agents Lamar Miller and Brock Osweiler and seems to have already hit on their first round draft pick in wide receiver Will Fuller, who now can tandem with fellow receiver DeAndré Hopkins to cause matchup difficulties for any opposing team having to find a way to cover so many offensive options.
While Houston seems to be making the strides needed to build a consistent winner, their opponent this week is coming over a 34-27 victory against a Dolphins team that continues to peak at mediocrity thanks to their front office. Miami hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 and are currently on the hook for massive contracts to Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh for the foreseeable future. This apparently left little money to invest in their backfield and instead went and rolled the dice on running back Arian Foster, who after getting hurt yet again last week caused many to speculate that their might be some truth to the conspiracy theory that 30% of Foster’s body is made from paper mache.
New England’s triumph over the Dolphins was their 8th in a row at home against Miami and the Patriots 21st win in their past 22 games at home against AFC East opponents. It came with a price though, as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was injured after throwing three 1st half touchdowns and is currently not expected to play in Thursday’s game against the Texans, which leaves rookie Jacoby Brissett as the only true player at his position on the roster. Wide receiver Julian Edelman did play quarterback in college, and does have a perfect 100% passing percentage after completing his one pass attempt for a touchdown in the Patriots 35-31 win against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff round, but the question remains if they really want to risk losing Edelman when they are already without their two best players on offense, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
As of Tuesday New England had yet to sign a backup for Brissett, though they did bring in a couple of candidates for workouts but T.J Yates and Sean Renfree both left Foxboro without a contract. This led some to speculate whether there was an actual chance that Garoppolo might be able to play this week against Houston, but there was no news coming from the Patriots regarding that thought, especially from head coach Bill Belichick. After a reporter wouldn’t stop asking the same question over and over again about the health of his recently injured quarterback, Belichick had enough and in his usual deadpan, hilarious way told the inquirical offender “I’m a football coach. I’m not a doctor. The medical staff is the medical staff. I coach the team; the medical people handle the injuries. They don’t call the plays; I don’t do surgery. We’ve got a great deal there. It works out good.”
The Patriots and Belichick clearly liked Brissett enough to have used a third round pick in the draft to select him from N.C. State. While Brissett definitely has mobility skills, he is more known for his toughness, intelligence and poise in the pocket, the latter two highlighted by the fact he only threw 11 interceptions in two years for the Wolfpack. If New England’s new Jacoby does end up starting, his known ability as a game manager will be an important and much needed asset if the Patriots expect to stay undefeated.
Thursday’s matchup will be the eighth time Houston and New England have played, with the Patriots sporting a 6-1 record thus far with their lone loss in 2009 when they had already clinched the division and Brady barely played. What is spread significant about this week’s game is that it marks just the third time since 2005 that New England has been getting points at home as the Texans are currently sitting as a three point favorite. The last two times were in the 2014 season and in each the line was also +3, with New England winning both against Cincinnati (43-17) in week 5 and Denver (43-21) in week 9. The Patriots had Tom Brady in those games though, and this week will be starting an untested rookie against one of the best defenses in all of the NFL, and it’s not just the offense that they have to worry about. While the Patriots were able to continue their divisional home dominance against the Dolphins, they nearly blew a 31-7 lead as the defense allowed Miami to put themselves into a position where they could have tied the game in the final minutes. New England had an especially difficult time covering receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante, which defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will need to correct quickly if they plan on keeping DE André Hopkins and Will Fuller under wraps.
Even with the questions at quarterback it’s difficult to go against the Patriots in Foxboro as underdogs. The last seven times New England has been getting points they have won the game outright, and you can expect the same result on Thursday night against the Texans.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England +3
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