Last Sunday, the New England Patriots (8-3) experienced a tale of two halves against the Denver Broncos. In the first half, the team had a multitude of fumbles and turnovers that led to the Broncos taking a 24-0 lead into halftime. Then, Bill Belichick's team put it in to high gear with score after score on offense and forcing key turnovers on defense.
In the end, it was a muffed punt by Denver where ironically, Wes Welker was back to receive the punt, that capped off a 34-31 comeback overtime win for the Patriots. Now, New England controls its own destiny for at worst the no. 2 seed in the AFC. This week, the Patriots head down to Houston. They face a team that was thought to be a favorite in the AFC, but instead is more likely to receive the top pick in May's NFL Draft.
The Houston Texans (2-9) got off to a good start by winning their first two games in comeback fashion. Since then, its been rock bottom for the team that walked into Foxboro with letterman jackets last year. They have lost nine straight games and have made a change at quarterback. Instead of Matt Schaub, Case Keenum is now taking snaps behind center for Houston. Gary Kubiak's team has also seen the loss of running back Arian Foster due to injury. Despite the #1 defense in the NFL in yards, Houston is currently tied for the worst record in the NFL. The good news is Kubiak will be back on the sidelines to coach this week after suffering a mini-stroke a few weeks ago.
Here are my three keys to this weekend's game in Houston (1:00 ET, CBS):
Is It An Open And Shut Case?: With Matt Schaub's inconsistency in 2013, the Texans' organization has shifted to Case Keenum, who played his college football at Houston. Keenum has shown some flashes in his five starts at Houston, throwing for eight touchdowns. On the contrary, Keenum is capable of having a clunker like he did last week, only putting up six points against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 13-6 loss. The one player who has been helped by Keenum is wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson had 16 catches in two games vs. the Patriots last year, and has 2 100+ yard receiving games in Keenum's starts. This includes 229 yards and three touchdowns back in Week 9 against the Colts.
Lighting Up The Quarterback: One of the main concerns for the Patriots is the offensive line. That weakness could be exposed when they go up against J.J Watt. Watt has 9.5 sacks this season and has recorded a sack in every game since Week 6 against the St. Louis Rams. The other two Texans that have more than one sack on the team are Whitney Mercilus and Antonio Smith, who have 10.5 sacks between them. This is a Texans' team that we said at the top of the preview, is still the #1 defense in terms of yards allowed.
2nd Half Adjustments?: When taking a look at this matchup, I thought about the possibility of a letdown after an emotional win against Denver. A stat that I found in ESPN said that the Houston Texans are 0-5 this season when they lead at the half. The problem for them is going to be if they have a lead since the Patriots have had a few second half comebacks this season. If the Texans keep it close, their running game has to be key. The Patriots gave up over 250 yards on the ground last week. Yes, Arian Foster is out, but Houston has a rookie by the name of Dennis Johnson who has averaged near six yards per carry. Johnson and Ben Tate have to be on their A game to give the Texans a chance.
As the calendar shifts to December, we know that is when the Patriots usually click on all cylinders. The Texans will be out for revenge after they had two blowout losses against the Pats last year and will treat this like their Super Bowl. However, Tom Brady is clicking right now after his great second half last week. With Ed Reed no longer in Houston, the Texans are trying some young players out such as D.J Swearinger in Wade Phillips' system. Look for Brady to expose those weaknesses even without Aaron Dobson, who is out this week.
PATRIOTS 31 TEXANS 16