By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots will be looking to break a rare two-game losing streak when they face the Houston Texans Sunday night at NRG Stadium. A win by the Patriots, combined with a loss by the New York Jets, will clinch the AFC East division title for New England for the seventh consecutive year.
The Texans hold a 6-6 record, putting them in a first-place tie in the AFC South alongside the 6-6 Indianapolis Colts; although the Colts currently hold the tiebreaker advantage by virtue of their 27-20 win over the Texans on October 8 at NRG Stadium. The teams will face each other again on December 20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Houston's all-time series against New England dates back to 2003, one year after the Texans were established as an expansion team to fill the void left in Houston when the Oilers (now Titans) departed for Tennessee in 1997. The Texans trail the regular season series 1-4, and the Patriots won their only postseason meeting 41-28 in an AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013. Houston's only victory over New England came on January 3, 2010, when the Texans won 34-27 at Reliant Stadium.
Texans on Offense
The quarterback position has been a revolving door for the Texans this year. Three different players have started at quarterback, including two former Tom Brady backups Brian Hoyer (2009-2011) and Ryan Mallett (2011-13). Brady, Hoyer and Mallett were all teammates on the 2011 Patriots squad. Mallett was released by the Texans on October 27, so Hoyer is currently the designated starter.
Despite the lack of continuity at quarterback, the Texans are a middle-of-the-pack team on offense, ranking 13th in the NFL in total offense, 11th in passing and 19th in rushing. The running game is down mainly because of the loss of four-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, who is sitting out the rest of the season after tearing his Achilles' tendon on October 25.
Texans on Defense
New England fans will recognize a familiar face in nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who played for the Patriots from 2004-2014. He was known as a run stopper during his time in New England, but the Texans are struggling against the run this year, giving up 114.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL. However, the Texans excel against the passing game, giving up only 218.8 yards per contest, which is third in the league behind the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. If the Houston defense has a major shortcoming, it's that it doesn't force very many turnovers. Ten interceptions by this unit ranks only 17th in the league, and four fumble recoveries is fewer than all but three teams.
Texans Players to Watch
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout season last year, and he is playing even better this year. So far this season, he has already caught 86 passes for 1169 yards, which is pretty close to the numbers he compiled for all of last season. His numbers would be even better if he had a quality quarterback throwing him the ball.
Defensive end J.J. Watt is the most-dominant defender the NFL has seen in a long time. He possesses incredible speed for a man that is six-foot-five, 288 pounds. With his pass rushing ability, he can single-handedly change the course of a game. He'll be considered a candidate for this season's NFL MVP.
The Patriots are in real danger of suffering their first three-game losing streak since losing four in a row in 2002. The New England offense has been a pass-first team all season, and now that so many of their offensive weapons are injured, this is a bad time to meet a team that is so good at stopping the passing game. The New England offensive line is now relatively healthy, so it needs to have a better game against the Texans than it had last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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