An early-season AFC match-up between two undefeated teams is always exciting, because one of these division leaders will leave with a blemish on their record. It may only be Week 3, but this game could be extremely important later on in the season, as the race for playoff position heats up.
On this week's edition of Thursday Night Football, the Houston Texans will take on the New England Patriots, and it won't be what many expected in the preseason. Two quarterbacks will face off for the first-time ever. The Patriots won't have Tom Brady, and possibly not Jimmy Garoppolo either .
Brady is still serving his four-game suspension to start the season. The Patriots are hoping that Garoppolo can play through the pain of his shoulder injury, but if he can't, rookie Jacoby Brissett will start in his place.
"This is kind of great for the New England Patriots and their coaching staff," said CBS Sports' Boomer Esiason. "Yet again, another challenge playing with the back-up to the back-up quarterback in Jacoby Brissett."
One thing to note is that the Patriots were dominating the Miami Dolphins this past Sunday before Garoppolo went out with the injury. Once Brissett entered the game, the offense struggled, and the defense started giving up a lot of points. New England pulled out a one-touchdown win, but a change in quarterback seemed to affect the entire team.
That scenario is exactly what the Texans are hoping for this Thursday night as they try to stay undefeated in the AFC. Not only are the Texans playing well, but they're also getting the Patriots at just the right time.
"It's not about who you play, but when you play them," said Bart Scott. "I think Houston has being playing great defensively and now, they're starting to get their groove offensively."
The Patriots are generally healthy, but they're not the same team with Brady and possibly Garoppolo sidelined. The Texans really can't ask for anything more than a rookie quarterback getting his first NFL start. In that situation, Bill Belichick would surely look to protect Brissett. But J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney may just tee off on the rookie quarterback, pressuring him into making mistakes.
This Texans defense, with its key components healthy, is playing well. As quarterback Brock Osweiler finds his place in the Houston offense, the team will get dangerous on that side of the ball too.
Even if Garoppolo plays, he won't be at 100 percent, and that's what any team needs when facing off with the Texans defense. The Patriots can only rely on LeGarrette Blount's legs so much before Houston begins to read each play.
This week on Thursday Night Football, the Patriots return home to Gillette Stadium, but this is not the same team as last year or even last Sunday. A win isn't totally out of the question. But the quarterback change has obviously affected the team on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Houston Texans 28 - New England Patriots 20
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.
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