It’s rubber hits the road time, the biggest game of the year, the big chalupa... Today's Baltimore loss opens the door for the Patriots to slide into the 2nd seed and get right behind Houston by beating the Texans Monday night. They can make a triple play all in one night with three games to play. They are as healthy as they have been since opening day.
Bill Belichick and the boys fought hard against Miami, grinding out a victory and showed toughness we haven’t seen much in these parts since 2007. It’s an AFC king of the hill contest and the Patriots have an opportunity to position themselves snugly for some home cooking in the playoffs.
Key Pressure Points
Schaub the deck – The Patriots defense has to get pressure on Matt Schaub or it will be a long day for the secondary. Schaub has thrown for 3,062 yards, 21 touchdowns vs. 9 interceptions with a 94.5 passer rating. He’s knocking on the door of being an elite quarterback, but hasn’t kicked it in yet. That being said, the Patriots have to bring constant pressure, force his hand in getting rid of the ball. Schaub is dangerous on roll outs, so look for the Patriots to try to pressure from the edges, but keep Schaub in the pocket.
Andre 3000 – No not the rapper, Andre Johnson silly head, he’s a problem. The Patriots secondary can’t afford this guy to get started; he is going to get his catches, it’s how many that matters, and when. The Texans are last in the NFL on 3rd with 10 or more yard conversions. Bill Belichick can live with catches on 1st or second downs from Johnson, but big 3rd down conversions will be killers.
Ride Ridley – This is what the Patriots have been building towards, a hard nosed running game. The Patriots are 9th in the NFL in rushing, but at some points, it’s been with the hurry up, at other just lining up and gashing defenses. The team that has the most balance will win this game and Stevan Ridley is a key cog in the plan. If the Patriots can get ahead, they will want to go to Ridley and try to wear down the Texans defense. Ridley is 7th in the NFL rushing and at times has been outstanding in piling up yards while running hard. He can earn that title in a big game, when he gets the touches; he has to make the most of them.
Big Vince Wilfork – He’s a captain, he’s immoveable, and he’s going to have to play a big game for the Patriots to win. Controlling the center of the field and not letting the Texans running game to get untracked is only one key, Wilfork will have to collapse the pocket because the Patriots will want to contain Schaub, who's a threat outside the pocket. Houston will try to run off tackle and Wilfork is the guy who has to fill those gaps. Expect Brandon Spikes to play over the center at times to give Wilfork the ability to get a favorable match up.
Baby, Bright lights and Tom Brady – Come on, do really you think Tom Brady is distracted? This isn’t his first rodeo into fatherhood and the bright lights on Monday night is Brady’s big stage. He is 12-4 on Monday night, and he’s been playing lights out all year. Everyone is singing MVP for Peyton Manning, but we’re sure Brady wants to put together a nice defense of his own. He’s thrown 25 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, the Patriots have clinched the division, and there's only one thing left, and with Baltimore’s loss, Brady smells blood. He has a running game to help him out, but he won’t need any help.
Texans-Patrios Injury Report
Out: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip).Questionable: DT Ron Brace (elbow), S Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring), G Dan Connolly (back),TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), DE Chandler Jones (ankle), WR Brandon Lloyd (knee), DT Kyle Love (knee), G Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), WR Wes Welker (ankle).Probable: LB Jerod Mayo (elbow).
Out: T Derek Newton (knee), OLB Brooks Reed (groin).Questionable: CB Alan Ball (foot), TE Garrett Graham (concussion)Probable: OLB Bryan Braman (neck), T Duane Brown (back), NT Shaun Cody (ribs/back), ILB Tim Dobbins (shoulder), ILB Bradie James (hamstring), CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring/groin), DE Antonio Smith (ankle), G Wade Smith (knee/ribs), G Antoine Caldwell (hamstring), DE Jared Crick (neck), TE Owen Daniels (back), WR Lestar Jean (knee), OLB Whitney Mercilus (hip), OLB Jesse Nading (foot), WR DeVier Posey (knee/hamstring), ILB Darryl Sharpton (toe), RB Ben Tate (hamstring), QB T.J. Yates (right elbow).
Three and Out
The Pats' and Texans' combined record of 20-4 in Monday night contests ties a Monday Night Football best for records of teams playing at least 12 games each. As you can see from the above paragraph, those 4 losses are Brady's.
Speaking of Brady, remember Bobby Grier? He's now the Texans' senior personnel adviser. Grier was Bill Parcells' director of player personnel and, if you remember, was responsible for drafting WR Terry Glenn, which prompted Parcells' infamous "buy the groceries" comment. He was dumped once the Belichick regime entered and replaced with Scott Pioli, but not before Grier was instrumental in drafting a not so highly regarded Tom Brady. In fact, Grier was the only NFL exec to contact Brady's college coach Lloyd Carr. Not a bad purchase at the grocery store.
J.J. Watt is first player since the sack became an official stat (1982) to have at least 15 sacks and 15 deflected passes in a season. That's why Bill Belichick took the rackets out of the bag this week. "It's like throwing over this wall: it's hard," Tom Brady said. "You've just got to try to find an area."
The 9-3 Patriots at home are 4 point favorites over the 11-1 Texans. O/U is 53.
Patriots are 3-2-1 ATS over its 6-0 streakn Texans are 4-2 ATS.
The most wonderful time of the year: Pats are 10-0 in December, past 2 seasons. Texans 4-6.
Officiating: Terry McAulay
Weather: 55, Rain. Wind: SSW at 16 mph.