New England Patriots (10-2 SU, 5-3-2 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (6-6 SU, 5-5-1 ATS)
Pro Football Week 14
Date/Time: Sunday, December 13th, 8:30 PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium
By Mike M., NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -3 / HOU +3
Over/Under Total: 45
The New England Patriots head south to Houston to battle the Texans in a Sunday night showdown of two division leaders attempting to rebound from losses and get their seasons back on track as the playoff race heats up in the AFC. The teams are especially familiar with each other and not just because they have played against one another three times in the past three years but more so because of the vast array of former Patriot personnel that are now part of the Texans staff and roster. The three lead members of the Houston coaching staff, head coach Bill OBrien, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator George Godsey, all coached under Bill Belichick in New England, while linebackers coach Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl titles as an integral part of the Patriots defense in the early 2000s. Two former Patriot players are now principal starters for Houston as well, with two time Super Bowl champion Vince Wilfolk now playing alongside J.J. Watt on the Houston defensive line and Brian Hoyer now entrenched as the starting quarterback for the Texans after spending three years with the Patriots starting when he was signed as a rookie free agent out of Michigan State. Hoyer beat out another past Patriot, Ryan Mallett, for the starting job in training camp with Mallett later being cut at midseason for missing two meetings and a flight in the same weekend.
The Texans will be looking to build another winning streak after last weeks 30-21 loss to Buffalo ended a month long span of Houston going unbeaten after taking out the Titans, Bengals, Jets and Saints in consecutive weeks leading up to the defeat against the Bills. Houston had rallied to tie the game 21-21 early in the fourth quarter but with under two minutes left had a breakdown in the secondary and Buffalo tight end Charles Clay was left wide open to catch a 40 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to put Buffalo up 27-21. Houston got the ball back with plenty of time tor a game winning drive, but Hoyer went 0-4 passing and the team quickly turned the ball over on downs and that was that.
How the Patriots go about handling Hoyers favorite target, Texans superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, will be a major key to the game. New England has done a good job in the past at focusing on taking out their opponents best offensive player, and for Houston that is clearly Hopkins who leads the league in targets and is in top four in touchdowns, receiving yards and receptions. Teams have begun directing a lot more of their attention on DeAndre, evident by a season low of five catches in each of past four games and while being targeted for eight and nine passes respectively in his past two matchups is still a respectable amount, these were the first times all year that he wasnt targeted in the double-digits by his quarterback. Hopkins will be sure to see plenty of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan as the Patriots d-backs will look to limit the prolific receivers output and hold him at bay.
Houstons defense struggled throughout last weeks game to keep pace with Buffalo playmakers Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy which was certainly not helped by their defensive line failing to put pressure on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and leaving him plenty of time in the pocket to pick them apart. J.J Watt was held to just four tackles and without a sack for the first time in five games, but should have a good chance of adding to league leading sack total of 13.5 this Sunday against the Patriots makeshift offensive line. Points allowed by the defense has been a clear determining factor in the Houston success this season, as every game they won they have held the opposing team to twenty points or less and in every defeat they let up at least 24 points.
While the Texan defense couldnt hold Watkins and McCoy in check last week, the Patriots injury depleted offense lacks anything remotely close to the ability of the speedy Buffalo twosome as the current group of New England RB/WR/TE starters may be the worst set of players compared to any other team in the NFL. The end of Sundays disastrous 35-28 loss against the Eagles did nothing to dispel this theory, as after Tom Brady led the team to touchdowns twice in the final six minutes of the game their comeback was cut short when the Patriots got the ball back with a minute left and three consecutive dropped passes (they had nine for the game as a team) by receivers Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Keyshawn Martin ended any chance of a miracle ending. The lack of consistency (and talent) amongst the remaining healthy receivers has had a strong effect on Brady, as since Edelmans injury the Patriot quarterback has a 7/3 touchdown-interception ratio, compared to a 24/3 ratio with Edelman playing.
The Patriots may be experiencing a rash of injuries, but their lack of execution and poor play calling doomed them more than anything on Sunday. A failed drop-kick onside kick attempt after New England had built a 14-0 lead completely backfired, as it provided a needed boost for the underdog Eagles who had been dominated up until that point as Philly went onto score 35 unanswered points on their way to the upset win. This was the second game in a row that the Patriots blew a fourteen point lead, which raises question why a team with such leads and lacking in healthy and knowledgeable receivers wouldnt try and use their running game to their advantage, yet starting back LeGarrette Blount had just 22 carries combined in their two recent setbacks.
Responding to adversity is something the Patriots have a well-earned reputation for, especially when it comes to answering the call after a defeat. Sundays loss to the Eagles was the first time since 2012 that the team dropped back to back games and they have gone 212 games in a row without losing three straight, which is the second longest streak in NFL history. Sunday was only the seventh time since 2001 that New England has lost consecutive games, and in the previous six following the second loss they won and covered in each with a victory margin average of over 25 points per game. While Houston has been playing well of late at home, going 4-1 straight up and against the spread in their last five games, but its very difficult to go against the Patriots and an angry Tom Brady in this situation, especially when they are only giving three points and are playing a Texans squad they have routinely dominated in recent years, winning five of the last six matchups between the teams while scoring an average of over 34 points per game. Houston will have plenty of motivation attempting to get their season back in gear get also to get win for their Patriot alumni coaching staff against their former team, but by games end New England will get the win and cover on the road in Texas.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -3
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