The Patriots are coming off two uninspiring losses, but still have a chance to clinch a playoff bye in the AFC. The focus is on Houston, who is also trying to punch in their ticket to the playoffs. The Patriots will meet some familiar faces in Bill O'Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork, and others that were a part of the Patriots organization in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots sit at 10-2, but still control their destiny for a playoff bye and could clinch the #1 seed with some help from the Steelers and Bengals.
Attack the Linebacker Coverage: The Texans have a really good pass rush between JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. The Patriots have struggled lately due to their inability to separate from coverage or hold up against a 3 or 4-man rush. The reduction in talent and the collective OL struggling at all five positions has really handicapped Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels' creativity with the play-calling and as a result has neutered the Patriots' potent offense. If there is only one good thing that has come from this, it's James White has shown to be somewhat reliable of a threat. I believe White would be more potent a threat if the Patriots OL gave them a reason to widen the formations and allow White to operate more in space. White isn't Dion Lewis when it comes to making a highlight reel when he touches the ball, but is still very effective in space as a receiver and in run after catch abilities.
Establish the Run Game: This is going to be a tough challenge with the Patriots deficiencies on both the offensive line and the running back position, but they need to keep the Texans defense honest. This is not going to be easy by any means and will lead to some stalled drives on the early going while they try to set up the Texans for play action passing.
Take Away DeAndre Hopkins: Hopkins is by far the most potent threat for the Houston Texans and is virtually impossible to cover with just one player. I expect the Patriots to bracket him with a trailing CB and Devin McCourty over the top. I'm not sure who the underneath CB is, but based on what I've seen from the Texans depth chart it will probably be Malcolm Butler with Logan Ryan covering Nate Washington. The Patriots likely have a strong idea of what the strengths and weaknesses of Brian Hoyer are, but taking away the Texans top WR and his impact will allow for the Patriots to buy time for their pass rush to get there.
The road ahead for the Patriots will be tough, but I do have them winning 23-17 over the Texans on Sunday Night Football. The Texans defense will do a solid job of containing the banged up Patriots offense, but a big play on Special Teams will help the Patriots get a late touchdown and then force a stop in enemy territory for a game-sealing FG attempt. Texans will score a garbage-time FG, but the Patriots will recover the onside kick before the final kneel down.