The Houston Texans (11-1) travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots (9-3) for the NFL’s Week 14 installment of Monday Night Football. Both teams enter this matchup riding six-game winning streaks, so this potential AFC Championship preview has the makings of an instant classic.
The Texans enter Monday night as one of only two teams in the league that feature both a Top-10 offense and defense. (The other team is the Denver Broncos) Houston will need that balance to keep up with the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense that is averaging a league-high 35.8 point per game—an astonishing 6.5 points higher than the second-best total (Houston).
With Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson leading the way, the Texans should be able to keep up on the scoreboard. But J.J. Watt may need to have a big game for Houston to pick this one up on the road.
The Patriots are firing on all cylinders right now in advance of tonight’s meeting with the Texans and next week’s equally important tilt with the San Francisco 49ers. Both are the types of games that will either label New England as Super Bowl favorites or spark talks of another letdown season for Brady and Co.
The key for the Patriots might be whether they can continue running the ball well, something this team hasn’t been known for in the past.
New England is eighth in the league on the ground, averaging 140.8 yards per game, and has scored a league-high 19 rushing touchdowns. However, the Texans' run defense is yielding only 87.6 yards and a league-low two rushing touchdowns; so something will have to give on Monday night.
A Texans win will provide more clarity in a cluttered AFC. A Patriots win will provide for a more interesting finish in the conference.
Here is one bold prediction for each team, along with fantasy football "beast or bust" candidates in Monday night's matchup.
J.J. Watt Held without a Sack
Watt enters Monday night as arguably the league’s top defender and has tallied a total of six sacks in his last three games. However, the Patriots have allowed a third-best 19 sacks all season—the result of a quick-hit passing attack that features multiple weapons for Brady.
New England is aware of Watt’s ability to take over games and that he is one of the primary reasons the Texans are atop the conference. Expect their game plan to center around stopping the defensive end at all costs.
If the Texans are able to get to Brady, it will be because of holes opening up as a result of the extra attention paid to Watt.
Patriots Rush for Two Touchdowns
The Texans are very good at stopping the run, but the Patriots have been equally as good at establishing their own ground game. This will undoubtedly be the key to the game.
The home crowd will play a factor in New England’s ability to control the clock with its balanced attack. The Patriots feature five players with at least two rushing touchdowns.
While Houston has only allowed two rushing touchdowns on the season, the Patriots are a team that will dare you to stop them at what they do best. In this case, New England would do well to attack an area that might catch the Texans by surprise.
Fantasy Beast: Wes Welker
With both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman out, Brady will lean on wide receiver Wes Welker to keep the chains moving in the passing game. If the Texans defense has a weakness, it is defending the pass—although a lot of that could hinge on teams often playing catch up late in games.
However, Houston has given up 20 passing touchdowns and 12.4 yards per catch overall—both ranking in the bottom half of the league. If that is because the Texans sell out against the run, so be it.
Look for Brady to utilize shorter routes even more in an effort to eliminate Houston’s ability to control the first level. This could mean a field day for Welker on his way to double-digit receptions and triple-digit receiving yards.
Fantasy Bust: Arian Foster
As good as the Patriots have been at running the football on offense, their defense has shown well in stopping the opposition on the ground also—ranking Top 10 in the league in yards allowed, touchdowns and yards per carry.
While the Texans are one of the better teams in rushing offense, the Patriots could employ a similar tactic in stopping Foster as they will in mitigating Watt’s impact on the defensive end.
Selling out against the run is a do-or-die approach, but the Patriots are confident enough to make up for it in other areas if it happens to not work out. This will force Schaub, Johnson and Owen Daniels into a much larger role on Monday night.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.