After back-to-back losses for the first time since 2012, our Patriots find themselves in a position of real adversity for the first time this season. The bad is obvious: the Pats are banged up. They just played and coached their worst game since KC last year, and are now the 3rd seed in the AFC on the outside looking in of a “bye” and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. These are real issues, but there’s also no need to overreact and panic. There is plenty good as well. For starters, Gronk, Edelman and Hightower are expected back at various points this season. Secondly, Cincinnati and Denver (top 2 seeds in the AFC) not only play each other in a few weeks, but also have respective matchups with a hot Pittsburgh team peaking at the right time. That being said, it’ll be a moot point if the Patriots can’t take care of business moving forward starting this Sunday night in Houston against JJ Watt, Coach Bill O’Brien and the fiery Texans. Many interesting subplots and familiar faces in this one including the aforementioned O’Brien, Vince Wilfork, Brian Hoyer, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and linebacker coach Mike Vrabel…
Let’s take it around the table and see what the BBS staff thinks of this Sunday showdown…
Tom Brady: Over/Under 300 yards passing?
Niko: I’m going to go UNDER here for the GOAT. It’ll be close, but I think it will be around 275-280. Brady has to be near perfect on Sunday night, the margin for error with the recent O-line and receiver play is scarily thin.
Pete: It's hard to keep Brady under 300 yards, even with this terrible group of receivers and offensive line. He went over 300 against the Broncos, and did it again last week against Philly. Houston's D is pretty damn good, but if the Pats control JJ Watt, Brady will go off. I can't bet against the GOAT, OVER.
LeGarrette Blount: Over/Under 59 yards rushing?
Niko: Buffalo ran for 187 yards last week on this Texans D, and I do think McDaniels will make a conscious effort to establish the run. If Blount/White/Bolden can get anything going on the ground, it would open up this D a little, set up some play action, and keep the Texan pass rush on their toes. I’ll go OVER here.
Pete: I've said it 100 times, but I ham not a LeGarrette Blount guy. The Oregon product just doesn't have that explosive first step that is needed in this day and age of the NFL. Against a great defensive line, I would be surprised if the Pats rush it 25-30 times, especially with Blount. UNDER.
James White: Over/Under 65 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: Dion Lewis is not walking through that door for the rest of the season. James White is now the guy after his breakout performance last weekend (10 catches, 115 yards, TD). He can consistently beat Houston’s backers in man coverage, but my only reservation is that he will also frequently be used to chip, and help on JJ Watt. I’ll go OVER here, but it’ll be tight.
Pete: James White has his best game as a Patriot last week. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise terrible game. I think that last week showed Bill Belichick what James White does well, and the previous weeks have obviously shown the coaching staff what he doesn't do as well. He can't really make that first guy miss, but White is really quick and shifty. I will go OVER, as I think he has to have a big game if the Pats want to win.
Scott Chandler: Over/Under 4.5 catches, 58 receiving yards?
Niko: Fresh off giving up 4 catches, 66 yards and a touchdown to Buffalo’s Charles Clay, I’ll say stone hands hits these marks this weekend. If I think TB is tossing for 275+, someone has to catch them, right? OVER.
Pete: It's kind of sad that Chandler may have had his best game as a Patriot last week and he only caught 4 passes. Stone Hands Chandler needs to play a bigger role in the offense if the Patriots want to win. We may see more of Mike Williams and less of Scott Chandler just because of Houston's defensive line, but I will say OVER. Like White, he needs to have a good game if the Pats want to win.
Danny Amendola: Over/Under 7.5 catches, 75 receiving yards?
Niko: Romeo Crennel’s focus this weekend will be to take Danny A away. He’s the only guy performing at any kind of consistent level and Brady will continue to look his way early and often. I’ll say OVER for Danny on his return to his hometown. McDaniels has to earn his paycheck and get extremely creative to get Danny open.
Pete: I love Danny Amendola. When Wes Welker left and the Pats signed Amendola, fans were expecting him to be a 100 reception-type of guy. Obviously he isn't that, but in the past season or two, Amendola has turned into one of Brady's most trusted targets. OVER.
Brandon LaFell: Over/Under 4.5 catches, 62 receiving yards?
Niko: Jojo has been one of the biggest disappointments this season, especially considering the lofty expectations placed on him following the aforementioned injuries. He has been consistently underwhelming and was losing snaps to Aaron Dobson before he went down for the year. I have to go with the UNDERS here for LaFell until he proves otherwise. I really hope I’m wrong.
Pete: There isn't a spot on this team for Jojo LaFell if he doesn't go off for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. To be honest, he doesn't have the mental toughness or balls to play on this team. He has to be willing to get hit to make a play and not give up when the pocket collapses. UNDER.
Brian Hoyer: Over/Under 265 yards passing?
Niko: I’m going to go OVER for Hoyer here. I think the run will be taken away (see below), and Brian be given opportunities to pick up bulks of yardage on long second and third downs.
Pete: If Malcolm Butler can control DeAndre Hopkins, Hoyer is going to have a long day. However, the Texans don't have that #1 back, so they should be trying to go through the air to keep up with the Patriots. I am going to go UNDER here, however. The Patriots defense is awesome. I totally underrated them at the beginning of the season.
Running back committee (Chris Polk, Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes): Over/Under 110 rushing yards?
Niko: This all depends on the status of Pats linebacker Donta Hightower, which is still up in the air. If he plays, no way do these JAGS (just another guy) hit this mark. In my opinion, Hightower is a top 5 linebacker in football, and when he’s healthy, the Pats are extremely hard to run on. Coupled with the return of another stud Jamie Collins (who looked good vs. Philly) and the emergence of defensive tackles Alan Branch and rookie Malcolm Brown, I don’t think Houston will establish the ground game. UNDER.
Pete: I've never believed in a running back by committee. Even looking at the Pats in the past couple of season, a guy has always emerged as the clear cut #1. Unfortunately for the Texans, they don't have that guy. However, with Hightower out, I think that they will be able to run with relative ease. Nevertheless, 110 yards is a lot. I'm gonna go UNDER.
DeAndre Hopkins: Over/Under 6.5 catches, 99 receiving yards?
Niko: Going to go UNDER on both here. This kid is arguably the most explosive receiver in football right now, but Belichick and Patricia will maximize their assets to minimize his production. He’ll get close, and he’ll be targeted plenty, but I think Butler/Ryan with McCourty/Harmon over the top will be enough to keep him under the century mark.
Pete: If Malcolm Butler gets the nod on Hopkins, this could be an exciting night of football. Butler has emerged as a legit #1 defensive back, and has even graced us with a couple brilliant games. However, he is still pretty much a rookie and will have his hands full with one of the better receivers in the game. Hopkins will get his, but I am going to go just a shade UNDER on both.
Cecil Shorts: Over/Under 4.5 touches, 60 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: Shorts is coming off a season high 91 yards receiving and has been heavily involved over the last few weeks, in the running game as well (last 3 weeks: 8 rushes, 47 yards). He’ll benefit again this week from the expected ridiculous amount of attention Hopkins will get. OVER for Cecil.
Niko: While Hoyer has played largely mistake free football this season (modest 6 interceptions, one fumble lost), I have a gut feeling Patricia and Belichick will get the best of him Sunday. I’ll say the safety Rutgers grads Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon each come up with critical interceptions on Sunday night.
Pete: Similar to Niko, I think that it is going to be a No-Fly-Zone come Sunday Night. Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are actually playing fantastic, and, aside from DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans struggle to move the ball on offense.
Niko: Sorry to my comrades for taking the easy way out here, but there’s really no other key matchup. It’s the Patriot O-line against the Texan D-line and pass rush, specifically JJ Watt and a rejuvenated Jadeveon Clowney. Sans Edelman, Lewis, and Gronk, the remaining receiving group is having an extremely hard time getting open. When they do, it takes a lot longer than the 2 some odd seconds it was before, leaving Brady vulnerable in the pocket. Moving forward, he needs that extra half second from his line or he’ll continue to be hit and force throws he wouldn’t normally force.
Pete: I will mix it up and say Malcolm Butler vs. DeAndre Hopkins. I touched on it earlier, but this is going to be a very exciting matchup to watch. If Butler can defend Hopkins and take him out of the equation, it could be a long day for this Texans offense. On the flip side, if Hopkins goes off, it will be interesting to see if the Pats can keep up.
Game Total: Over/Under 44.5 points?
Niko: UNDER. Both teams will have some success moving the ball, but this could be a bit of a field goal/field position game. I would be very surprised if touchdowns were traded back and forth all game.
Pete: UNDER. The Patriots offense is a shell of itself from the beginning of the season, even if Gronk comes back and plays. The Patriots offense, however, should be able to move the ball with ease if they can contain JJ Watt. We will see...
Niko: Defense gets it done, special teams gets back on track, and Brady does just enough against the stout Houston D. 23-17 Pats. Can’t bleeping wait.
Pete: Like Niko said, this is a defensive game. However, the Patriots offense still has some Brady, so they should be able to score into the mid 20's, which, in my opinion, is going to be difficult for Houston. 24-13 Pats.