Ask a friend to name the two most surprising football teams this season and there’s a good chance they’d mention the New England Patriots and Houston Texans. Both teams have underperformed so far, with the Patriots at 4-5 just two years removed from a Super Bowl title and the Texans at a measly 2-7, with both wins coming against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.
These two teams have only faced off 10 times, but the Patriots and Bill Belichick hold a commanding 8-2 series lead. Houston won the last matchup back on Dec. 1, 2019, but New England won the six prior. The Patriots enter this week coming off a huge 23-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Houston, meanwhile, was unable to handle the Cleveland Browns, falling 10-7.
With the Texans one loss away from a guaranteed .500-or-below finish, they likely need to win on Sunday to keep any playoff aspirations alive. Of course, it’s unlikely that a 2-7 team that fired its head coach will make the playoffs, but in a 2020 with expanded playoffs and frequent reminders to expect the unexpected, it would be weak to completely rule it out. New England also has playoff aspirations. A win on Sunday would push them to .500, but they would still be the No. 10 seed in the top-heavy AFC, which is significantly removed from the top-seven finish that would be required for them to play football into January.
Deshaun Watson, Will Fuller V, and Brandin Cooks have impressed for Houston this year, forming a formidable trio that has consistently carried the team. They have been relied on frequently, too, with David Johnson battling ups, downs, and his latest concussion. Duke Johnson will slot in at running back on Sunday against a Patriots defense that has disappointed this year.
As for New England’s offense, Cam Newton appears to have overcome a dry spell and is now leading the offense. He’s formed a major connection with second-year wideout Jakobi Meyers, though the two have yet to connect in the end zone so far. Newton has just three passing touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Damien Harris has been the backfield’s unsung hero with 471 yards and one touchdown over 85 carries. He missed the first three weeks with an injury but stepped in admirably when Sony Michel was placed on injured reserve. Harris has impressed so much that he should retain the starting role when Michel returns. Rex Burkhead has also been a major part of New England’s offense; the running back’s gritty playing style has made him a force to be reckoned with on third down and in goal-line situations.
Defensively, neither team has looked great. Of course, the Patriots would be playing better if not for an injury that has plagued star cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year has not played since Week 7 and could be inactive again this week.
Gilmore (knee) is one of 16 players questionable for New England this week. The rest of the massive list features linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin) and Terez Hall (shoulder), defensive linemen DT Lawrence Guy (shoulder, elbow, knee), Adam Butler (shoulder), John Simon (elbow), and Deatrich Wise (knee, hand), kicker Nick Folk (back), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee), running back Damien Harris (ankle, chest), wide receivers N’Keal Harry (shoulder) and Matt Slater (knee), tight end Ryan Izzo (hamstring, hand), and offensive linemen Shaquille Mason (calf), Joe Thuney (ankle), and Isaiah Wynn (ankle).
Houston also has its fair share of injuries. Safety Michael Thomas (shoulder) has been ruled out while punter Bryan Anger (right quadricep), running back Cullen Gillaspia (back), offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil (illness) and Senio Kelemete (concussion), linebacker Jacob Martin (not injury related), defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (hamstring), and wide receiver Kenny Stills (back) are all questionable.
Date: Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020
Start Time: 12:05 p.m. EST
Location: Houston, Tex.
Stadium: NRG Stadium
TV Info: CBS
Betting Odds Sponsored by Jazz Sportsbook
Point Spread: NE -1.5 (-110) | HOU +1.5 (-110)
Moneyline: NE -105 | HOU +135
Over/Under: O 49 (-110) | U 49 (-110)
The spread here is pretty simple. The Patriots should prevail against a limping Texans team, making them a safe bet. As for the total points, 49 is an awfully high number for these two teams. In fact, it’s the third-highest total points mark you can bet on in the NFL this week. However, in reality, the game should be one of the lowest-scoring of Week 11. You’re going to want to hammer the under.
This isn’t going to be an offensive blowout or defensive shutdown. Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Titans will be a solid game between two playoff-hopeful teams led by a pair of coaches with immense NFL experience. As much as these teams have underperformed this year, it’s hard to imagine this game not being must-watch TV. Look for the Patriots to emerge as victors.
Final Score: Patriots 21, Texans 14
Follow Andersen Pickard on Twitter @AndersenPickard
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