Monday Night Football is always big, but this Monday could be the game of the year as two of the best teams in the AFC face off in a potential AFC Championship game preview. The Houston Texans, owning the AFC’s best record at 11-1, travel to Foxboro to take on the 9-3 New England Patriots. Despite the Texans having the better record, they are 3.5 point underdogs in New England.
The Patriots have played in lots of big games, including five Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, but the Texans are new to games at this level. The Texans aren’t taking it lightly.
“You know how big it is?” four-time All Pro receiver Andre Johnson told the Houston Chronicle. “The biggest game in the history of this franchise. As long as we keep winning, every game is going to get bigger and bigger.”
Arian Foster, the Texans two-time All Pro running back, backed up Johnson completely, saying, “I’d say it’s a really big game and if Andre says it’s the biggest game in team history then that’s exactly what it is.”
History supports Johnson as well. The Texans were formed as an expansion team in 2002 and have only won their division once. They toiled in the shadow of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts until last year, and although they broke out and won the division last season, they were plagued by injuries as most of their stars missed some playing time. Without a major injury problem this season, 2012 has turned into the Texans coming out party.
The Texans come into the game with the best W-L record in the NFL (tied with Atlanta) and possessing the second highest scoring offense in the NFL (29.3 points per game) and the fourth stingiest defense (giving up a mere 18.4 points per game), showing the kind of balance that can lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Their opponent has the top scoring offense in the NFL, and by a huge margin as they have been averaging 35.8 points per game. And although the Patriots defense is ranked 14th in points allowed, their offense is scoring so easily that they have been blowing people out. Despite having three losses, they have the largest point differential in the NFL by a huge margin. New England has outscored their opponents by 170 points, and the Texans are second, but 40 points back despite only losing 1 game.
The Texans will be looking for some prime time credibility by knocking off the Patriots – one of the top franchises in the league for the last decade. And while the Patriots will be facing a tougher defense, they are going to look to put points up early and put the game out of reach, as they’ve done so many times this season.
The Patriots O-line versus the Texans D-line, which leads the league in batted passes by a huge margin, will ultimately decide the game. If the Patriots can keep the passing lanes open for Brady, the Patriots get the win. But if the Texans get multiple balls batted down to disrupt the precision timing of the Patriots offense, the Texans will pull off the upset. While it doesn’t have the marquise feel of Brady versus Manning, this could be the game of the year in the AFC.
The Patriots deep and talented receiving corps might be getting a little thin on Monday. The Pats put receiver Julian Edelman on IR this week. Rob Gronkowski continues to recover in hopes of returning for the playoffs. Aaron Hernandez is listed as questionable (ankle) for Monday’s game. If Hernandez is out, look for a healthy dose of Wes Welker, and potentially a breakout game for Brandon Lloyd.
Tom Brady and super-model wife Gisele had a baby daughter this week. When asked, “How has the birth of his daughter affected Tom Brady’s mood and preparation?” Bill Belichick replied in typical Belichick panache, “He was like an hour late coming in the day after but otherwise good.”
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