Issue 9 – Houston Texans at New England Patriots – Monday December 10, 2012

We took a small swing and played this under 51, and the total should drop as rain is in the forecast Monday and through the evening in Foxboro and winds should exceed 20 mph. This Monday night marquee match-up features two of the AFC’s top teams as the Patriots (9-3) host the Texans (11-1) with each team holding large leads in their divisions. New England has clinched their ninth AFC East division title the past 10 years.

The Texans are the only NFL team that is undefeated on the road this season but some injuries have impacted Houston’s strong defense as they have fallen to #6 in yards allowed (322) but still #1 against the run (88 ypg). However in recent weeks the Texans have allowed weaker offenses of the Titans (354 yards) and Jaguars (458) along with the Lions on Thanksgiving (525) to have more offensive success. Houston’s secondary concerns and recent injuries point to more potential problems in this contest as the Patriots potent offense is more balanced and #1 in the NFL averaging 428 ypg. However, the Patriots yards per play offense is #9 at 5.8 yppl while the Patriots defense is #26 in yards allowed (381), but their yards-per-point defense is tied with Houston and top-3 in the AFC. Houston has allowed just one rushing TD in the red zone and the Texans remain the league’s #1 defense in opponents third down conversions while the Patriots are the league’s best offense on third down.

The key to this contests total play is not only the weather situation, but both teams propensity to run the ball, as these two teams run the ball more than any other in the NFL with Houston #1 at 34 rushing attempts per game and New England 33 rushes per game. Both teams often have leads in their contests, and thus they also tend to run the ball more often as needed to protect leads and use clock and game management more effectively. Houston coach Gary Kubiak will definitely try to employ an offensive attack to run the ball and control the clock as they hope to minimize the Patriots offensive possessions. New England utilizes the no huddle offense and runs more plays per game (73) than any team in the NFL.

Still, even with QB Tom Brady the Patriots are not a downfield or vertical passing team with Brandon Lloyd the team’s lone but weak downfield threat. Plenty of shorter passes to slot receiver Wes Welker projected, as the Patriots will play this game without their best offensive weapon TE Rob Gronkowski. Note New England had a season-low 321 yards offense last week at Miami. Combined with the Texans usually solid tacklers in the secondary and solid man-to-man coverage and second-level defense, Brady will be forced to stay within the controlled, underneath passing attack as he faces more pressure from the Texans premier pass rush led by J.J. Watt. The return of guard Logan Mankins is a big boost to the Patriots offensive line, but NE is still not too likely to have many big plays down the field in the passing game and will run more out of their spread formation.

Likewise, the Texans also use more underneath passing plays when not running the ball effectively with the AFC’s leading rusher Arian Foster (1,102 yards, 13 TD’s). The Texans are also often in manageable third down situations in which they can run or pass. Against the Patriots disciplined, zone-coverage defense, the Texans will run plenty with more sustained drives. The return of Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones is also a boost to the Patriots and Houston will find it tougher to move the ball and score on the road in this weather after facing weak defensive teams Tennessee, Detroit and Jacksonville in recent weeks. See Houston’s result a month ago at Chicago in a weather impacted game with very limited yardage and scoring. Houston has a better shot to hit a big pass play with WR Andre Johnson against some of the Patriots younger and at times suspect secondary players, and we’re aware that the Patriots have allowed bigger chunks of yardage and at least 6.0 yards-per-play in three previous games before facing Miami’s weaker offense last week.

Since 2010, the Patriots are 20-0 in the 2nd half of the regular season and the Texans are the last team to beat them in the second half of the season. New England is also 19-1 the final four weeks of the regular season since 2007 and the Patriots are 10-1 their last 11 Monday Night Games. This game is perhaps a little more meaningful as they battle Denver for the likely #2 seed and first round bye in the AFC playoffs. A win over Houston will give them a shot at the #1 overall seed and the tie-breaker over both Denver and Houston. The Texans play their third-straight road game and while they are still the stronger team IMO with better stat profiles, their injuries and recent play point to a less than peak performance and likely loss this week.

Stay on course,

FairwayJay

Author: FairwayJay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful handicappers and professionals. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay