New England Patriots Face Biggest Test of Season So Far in Houston Texans
By: Cian Fahey | Published Monday, December 17, 2012, 6:46 PM | Updated Monday, December 17, 2012, 6:46 PM
|JJ Watt is a Potential MVP Winner|
With the top two offenses in the NFL facing off on Monday night, the New England Patriots and Houston Texans are averaging a combined 65 points per game, every NFL fan in the world will have their eyes glued to what could easily be the best game of the regular season. One would expect that the fans of the two teams who will actually compete in the game may be less interested, because both teams have already sealed a playoff spot, but that certainly isn't the case for the New England Patriots.
Having rolled their way, at times into a pothole or two, to a 9-3 record on the season, the Patriots have already sealed the division crown in the AFC East. That said, they are still competing with multiple teams for playoff seeding, including the Texans. Regardless of their spot of entry for the playoffs, the Patriots will be desperate to perform well in this game because it represents their toughest test of the whole year.
Outside of beating their lowly division rivals, the Patriots have faced the Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots' two closest competition for playoff preparation were likely the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. The Ravens beat the Patriots by just a point at home in a game that could have easily went the other way. Even though the Ravens, Seahawks and Cardinals beat the Patriots this year, none of those teams really reflect the class of the NFL. The Cardinals caught the Patriots with crucial turnovers, the Ravens snuck by with a questionable field goal while the Seahawks only won by a point, but did so convincingly at home. The Seahawks are an unpredictable outfit at times however. The Patriots did beat Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, but the Broncos were still coming together at that point of the season while Manning was only re-establishing himself as a starting quarterback.
The Texans will come to Foxboro with an 11-1 record. Despite some minor injury concerns, they are very much at full strength compared to this time last season. Even though it could be argued that they, like the Patriots, benefit from a weak division, it is very noteworthy that the Texans only loss this season came against the Green Bay Packers. Or should that be Aaron Rodgers. In Week 6, Rodgers played his best football of the season and reminded everyone of why he is the best quarterback of any in the league on his day. The Packers put up 42 points against the fourth ranked defense in the NFL with ease. It would be unrealistic for the Patriots to have similar expectations entering the game, especially as they have their own injury issues to deal with on both sides of the football.
Defensively the Patriots will have to find a way to contain Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Both Foster and Johnson rank fifth in the league in their respective categories, while Johnson represents an incredibly difficult matchup for the Patriots' secondary in particular. Ever since the Patriots acquired Aqib Talib, they have had a greater physical presence outside the numbers, but Johnson still has a serious size advantage as well as the ability to take over games. Johnson has only three touchdowns this year, but over his past seven games he has accounted for 57 receptions and 831 yards. Included in that is a walk-off touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in overtime.
While the defense must deal with Foster and Johnson, the offense has the unenviable task of containing the impact of JJ Watt. Watt is a defensive player of the year candidate and could even potentially land the MVP award with a strong finish to the season. Despite being a 3-4 defensive end, Watt has accounted for 60 tackles, 16.5 sacks, one forced fumble and astounding 15 pass deflections. Watt is the worst possible defensive lineman for the Patriots' passing attack. While players like Aldon Smith and Von Miller provide relentless pass rushing off of the edges, Watt will be pushing his way through the middle of the pocket on a consistent basis. That will force Brady out of the pocket or force him to throw under pressure. When Watt isn't doing that, he should be able to get his hands on multiple passes from the Patriots' short passing attack.
The Texans have very good depth, but it is their high quality and notable quantity of stars makes them a difficult matchup for anyone.Offensively, they can light up the scoreboard on the ground or through the air. Defensively they can contain passing attacks and shut down running backs while still creating turnovers. They can suck the life out of the clock on offense or put points on the board with their defense. Essentially, they are the most well-rounded team in football.