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Patriots vs Texans keys to the game: Keep it rolling

Related: Patriots vs Texans preview: How New England’s defense might find success against Houston

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference six quarters can be in the National Football League. Just under two weeks ago, the New England Patriots trailed at the half versus the lowly New York Jets and “Tanking Twitter” was in full effect around Patriots Nation. However, after a comeback win against the Jets and an upset home win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots are starting to turn things around the healthier that they get.

With the 2-7 Houston Texans now on deck and several ties between the two teams, Bill Belichick spent minutes praising his upcoming opponent this week. “This is a very good and talented football team. Their record doesn’t mean anything to me,” New England’s head coach said during one of his media conference calls.

The Texans, who upset the Patriots last year at NRG Stadium which contributed to the team’s early wild card playoff exit, will look to spoil New England’s playoff hopes as a whole this year.

For the Patriots, it’s a one-week-at-a-time mentality knowing they hold the tiebreakers on three of the six 6-3 teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff picture. If they want to make a run here in the final weeks of the season, it has to continue with getting back to .500 and getting ready for a stretch of tough games to come both at home and on the road.

Keep it rolling on the ground

Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and a splash of Cam Newton have been dominant on the ground since the Patriots’ 24-21 loss in Buffalo in Week 8. Dating back to Over the last four games, Damien Harris has touched the ball 62 times for 352 yards and a score while Rex Burkhead has been moving the chains with his tough running both on the ground and in the receiving game.

For the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, it’s don’t fix what’s not broken.

Going up against a Texans defense that ranks dead-last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt, the Patriots shouldn’t have any issue continuing to bully teams up front and keep the chains moving on the ground. If New England wants to be successful this afternoon, the offense will need to gash Houston on the ground 30+ times. It’s just the type of football team that they are this year and should again be versus the Texans’ moribund run defense.

Contain Deshaun Watson

The Texans have been a mess this year but quarterback Deshaun Watson is still making plays and keeping this team in games despite the Texans’ poor record. The former first-round draft pick hasn’t turned the ball over since Week 5 in Jacksonville and has gone over 300 yards passing in five out of his last six games.

Watson becomes even more dangerous with his scrambling and ability to extend the pocket and create big plays. The Patriots are expected to get Stephon Gilmore back on Sunday, but Houston still has a ton of speed on the outside in Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller. Containing Watson by keeping him in the pocket, wrapping him up on tackle attempts and generally not allowing him to extend plays will make life a lot easier for the Patriots defense.

Dominate in all three phases

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but the Patriots are oozing with confidence after their last two impressive wins. However, all of that can be put to a halt with a loss on Sunday. The Patriots are certainly the better team on both sides of the ball and need to continue to string wins together in hopes of making a late-season push in the AFC.

With six teams — Indianapolis, Tennessee, Cleveland, Miami, Las Vegas and Baltimore — at 6-3 and currently ahead of them in the playoff picture, the Patriots desperately need a win on Sunday and some help around the league to inch a bit closer at one of the three wild card spots this year. With Arizona, two games in Los Angeles, and three divisional matchups to wrap up the year following Sunday’s game in Houston, and with the tie-breaker against three of the six teams ahead of them, the Patriots are nipping at the heels inside the conference.

A win on Sunday will allow the Patriots to really get rolling and continue to build their identity as a football team to put the rest of the league on notice that it isn’t finished yet.

Prediction: Patriots 30 - Texans 20

Did you know?

  • Dating back to 2013 (including the playoffs) this will be the eighth meeting between the Patriots and Texans.
  • The Patriots rank third in the NFL with an average of 161.1 rushing yards per game facing a Houston team that is allowing an average of 242 on the ground.
  • J.C. Jackson will look to become the first player since 2003 to record an interception in six straight games. Bill Russell of the Minnesota Vikings was the last player to accomplish this and Oakland’s Tom Morrow currently holds the NFL record with eight straight games with a pick.
  • Cam Newton (9 rushing touchdowns) is on pace to break the single-season record of most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 16.