Sunday Night Football pits two of the NFL’s best teams as the 10-1 Patriots travel to Houston to face the 7-4 Texans. In their history, the Patriots have won eight of nine matchups including each of the last six. Both teams are coming off gritty wins over playoff challengers, so they seem to be battle-tested already.
The Patriots have one of the best defenses in recent history. Even with the Raven-sized poor performance included, the Patriots have allowed 10.6 points per game, the best in the NFL and eerily close to the record-breaking 2000 Ravens. The defense preys on turnovers, and they have forced a league-high 29 turnovers. However, the turnover well has dried up since the absurd start as the Patriots have forced just one turnover in each of the last two weeks. Before their bye, the Patriots forced multiple turnovers in seven of nine games. The Patriots also lead the NFL in third-down defense and red zone defense. The Patriots allow a 19 percent conversion on third downs, topping the league by almost nine percent. It is a similar story in regards to per drive metrics. The Patriots allow the fewest points per drive, nearly half as few as the second-place 49ers do. The Patriots allow points on just 13 percent of drives. The gap between the Patriots and the second-place 49ers is comparable to the gap between the second-place 49ers and fifth-place Bears. The New England defense is historically ridiculous.
The Texans are not necessarily in any category, but they have a well-rounded offense. The Texans are in the top 10 of most stats, but the most telling is Houston ranking as the third-best rushing offense in terms of yards per attempt. Houston could gobble up yards on the ground against a relatively weak New England run defense. On a per drive basis, the Texans are top six in time of possession, plays, yards, and points per drive. The Texans are reasonably efficient on third down, fourth down, and in the red zone, placing in the top 10 of each category. Led by MVP candidate Deshaun Watson and leading rusher Carlos Hyde, the Texans should force the Patriots to play their best this Sunday.
The Patriots’ offense has struggled in their last three games as they have posted just 16.3 points per contest, a number that narrowly surpasses the 2019 Broncos offense. The scoring offense is fifth in the league, but the offense is now 18th in yards. The Patriots have not gotten to 350 yards since Week 6. The Patriots are 4-1 in those five games, but the offense has been a weak spot. Despite the offensive ineptitude, the Patriots have not helped the defense by turning the ball as they have the fourth-fewest turnovers and have turned the ball over zero times in three of their last four games.
The Texans lost J.J. Watt in Week 8. Before losing Watt, the Texans had one of the best run defenses in the NFL, but in their previous three games, Gus Edwards and Jonathan Williams have gashed the defense for 100 rushing yards each. The Texans had not allowed a 100-yard rusher since 2017, and they had not allowed a team to run for 100 yards since Week 2. While the Texans were unfortunate to face two run-heavy teams over the last two games, they can be exploited. The loss of Watt is two-fold as the Texans only have one sack in the last two weeks. Watt leads the NFL with 2.5 QB hits per game, and he doubles the next closest Texan despite missing three games.
Matchup to watch: DeAndre Hopkins vs. Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore is the NFL’s best cornerback. Hopkins is the NFL’s second-best wide receiver. Who will win the battle?
Gilmore has allowed a passer rating of 39.5 when he has been targeted. Quarterbacks are better served to spike the ball into the ground rather than target Gilmore. Gilmore has 13 pass deflections and four interceptions, and he just turned Amari Cooper into Amari C0/0per.
Hopkins has not been as good as his 2018 version, but he is still one of the premier receivers in the NFL. Hopkins is on pace for 118 catches and more than 1,200 yards. Hopkins is as good as any receiver when the ball is in the air, and his ball-winning ability is second to none. Hopkins only has three 100-yard games, and his season-high is just 111 yards. It would be convenient for Hopkins to explode against the Patriots, but it seems highly unlikely that Hopkins will have a great performance.
Despite the star talent on the Texans’ offense, the Patriots have the advantage. The Patriots will likely force Deshaun Watson into a couple of turnovers which Tom Brady and the Patriots should capitalize on. Comparing the Texans’ defense and Patriots’ offense, neither side is significantly better than the other unit. Both should have a series of victories, but neither is likely to win the game for their team. The Houston offense and New England defense have game-changing players with the ability to turn losses into wins. I expect the New England defense to make those game-changing plays and pull out with a playoff berth-clinching win on Sunday night.
The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win plus a loss by the Steelers (home versus Browns) or Raiders (away to Chiefs). I think the Steelers and Raiders will lose, so the Patriots just have to win to clinch a playoff berth.
Spread: Patriots (-3.5)
Score: Patriots 19, Texans 13
Over/Under: UNDER 46.5