A few things to watch
Despite both teams entering this game with a 2-0 record, there remains questions at each teams quarterback position.
The Patriots are entering the back-half of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, and unfortunately lost his replacement last week when Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a shoulder sprain. Enter Jacoby Brissett, a rookie selected in the third round this year by the Patriots.
Meanwhile, the Texans (for the moment) appear to finally have an answer to the position that has plagued them since their inception, with Brock Osweiler striving to take the Texans to 3-0 for the first time since 2012. However, being 2-0 has oddly been a bit of a rough patch for the Texans, as the last time they started 2-0 in 2013 they lost their last 14 games.
Brock Osweiler was signed to a four-year, $72 million contract back in March. While Osweiler (who has a passer rating of 79.2 through the first two games) hasn’t played like a $72 million quarterback (unless you believe Ryan Tannehill is worthy of a $77 million contract, but I digress), he has managed to win his first two games, including beating the Chiefs, the team that beat the Texans twice last year. The Texans cannot ask for much more than that.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans have been dominant through the first two weeks. Coming into week three with the 3rd best statistical defense, they have only given up 26 points this year (the Patriots have given up 45 and rank 23rd in defense).
JJ Watt’s dominance doesn’t have to be stated here; the focus of this defense’s progress has to be on Jadeveon Clowney, who was drafted 1st overall back in 2014, but didn’t make an impact in his first two years due to injuries. This may be the year we will actually get to see the player dubbed by some as “a once in a generation defensive player” live up to the hype (or begin his fall into bust status). Brian Cushing will still be out with an injury, and while his presence is missed, the Texans seemingly are not missing too many beats. Houston so far this year ranks 1st in sacks, with nine.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are struggling defensively. Going into halftime against the Dolphins last week, they were up 24-3. They were outscored 21-7 in the 2nd half, against a Dolphins offense that has struggled in the past couple of seasons, including what we’ve seen of them this year. They squeezed out the win, but it is concerning. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s presence is clearly missed, as the Patriots have only managed three sacks on the year. While offensively they have several weapons (even with Rob Gronkowski out), with a third string rookie quarterback under center, the defense will have to carry a little more weight for the next couple of weeks. The question is, can they? While on paper they are not as good as their opponents, it’s never wise to doubt Bill Belichick.
For each teams full injury report, click here.
Jim Mora screaming about the playoffs always comes to mind when analysts and “experts” begin talking about them this early in the season. And while playoff talk should be irrelevant this early, it could matter in this matchup.
For full disclosure, the Patriots and Texans probably will not have the same record at the end of the year. That said, if by (small) chance they do, this could act as the tie-breaker. It is always upsetting to see two teams fighting for a playoff spot, only to have the tie-breaker be a game that was played 12 weeks ago. Unfortunately, that’s the sports world we live in. This game seems small now, but it could potentially be the thing that keeps one of these teams out of the playoffs (assuming they’re both going for wildcard).
Prediction: 23-20 Patriots