Houston will face New England at Foxboro in this week’s installment of Thursday Night Football. The Patriots are without Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and possibly Rob Gronkowski. The Texans are fully healthy, with the exception of Brian Cushing and Braxton Miller.
Houston is actually a 2-point favorite, which really means nothing. The Patriots have a long and storied history of winning under even the most difficult of circumstances. Bill Belichick may go down as the best coach in NFL history. He has led New England to six Super Bowl appearances and four victories. They are contenders every year. As for his record against the Texans, well to put it simply, he has beat them like a drum
Take a look at the results of past games between these two teams since 2006:
2006: Patriots win at home 40-7
2009: Texans win at home 34-27
2012: Patriots win at home 42-14 in what now is infamously known as the “letter jacket” game
2012 Playoffs: Patriots win at home 41-28, beating Houston for the second time that season
2013: Patriots win at Houston 34-31
2015: Patriots win at Houston 27-6
So in the span of the last 10 seasons, New England has compiled a 5-1 record against Houston. The average margin of those victories was nearly 20 points. Almost 3 touchdowns! The Patriots have owned the Texans. They have played the role of schoolyard bully, stealing their lunch money and giving them an atomic wedgie in the process.
Could this be the game where Houston finally exacts revenge on the bullies? It can be argued that all the chips are falling the Texans’ way. It’s been recently confirmed that rookie third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett will start tonight.
All world tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed the first two weeks with a hamstring issue, and his participation will be a game-time decision. New England’s outstanding linebacker Rob Ninkovich is serving a suspension, and they lost running back Dion Lewis in the preseason. Yet they are still 2-0, including a very impressive victory at Arizona in week 1.
The Texans are also 2-0. They are healthy with the exception of Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Nick Martin, and Braxton Miller. Brock Osweiler is playing well. Lamar Miller has been solid in the running game, and Will Fuller has gone over 100 yards in his first two NFL games. The defense, led by a J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Andre Hal, and Bernardrick McKinney, is playing at a very high level.
Coach Bill O’Brien is somewhat of a Belichick disciple. He worked with Brady and Belichick in the not too distant past. Could this be a case of mentee outsmarting mentor? Well, this is definitely a golden opportunity for O’Brien to show Texans fans that he can lead this team to bigger and better things. So why am I so nervous about this game?
Because its the Patriots, and it’s in Foxboro. Yes, Houston can win this game, but I would not be surprised at all if they didn’t. Belichick is a master game planner. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia always has his guys ready to play. Even if Gronk is unable to go, Martellus Bennett is a matchup nightmare who had over 100 yards receiving last Sunday. LaGarrette Blount is bruising runner and Julian Edelman is very dangerous no matter where he lines up.
I think New England will rely heavily on Blount and the running game. They will keep things fairly simple for Brissett, allowing him to make short drops and quick throws. If Houston is to win this game, the defense will need to be very disruptive. They must get after Brissett and sack him at least 3 times. They have to force a couple of turnovers and win the field position battle.
Brock Osweiler and the offense need to continue to control the clock as they have done fairly well in the first two games. However, Osweiler cannot thrown interceptions. He has already thrown 3 picks and gotten away with them. The Patriots will make him pay. Lamar Miller should factor in heavily and DeAndre Hopkins needs to make a couple of big catches. This game is gettable, but it will take mistake-free football from Houston.
I say all of that to say this. I am cautiously optimistic. I’m picking the Texans to win 20-17 in very good game.