I said last week how I was going to split up my weekly NFL predictions into two parts to include both the Thursday Night game as well as some of the less interesting 1:00 games. I’m making an exception this week. The Patriots will play the Texans tonight and there is a lot that needs to be analyzed.
Spread: HOU -1.5 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: HOU (25) < NE (5)
Public Betting: HOU 58%
I’ll start by talking about the New England offense. It’s been quite impressive so far, but there success may with Jimmy Garoppolo may have been unsustainable. Even with Garoppolo at quarterback in place of Tom Brady, the Patriots were executing extremely well on third downs: Their 56% conversion rate ranks number one in the NFL after two weeks. Yet what’s interesting is that many of these conversions have come in third-and-long situations. In fact, New England’s average distance to go on third down has been a staggering 8.7 yards.
There are two ways to explain this success. First, Jimmy Garoppolo is a beast. It’s certainly possible that that statement is true given how well he played before getting hurt against Miami. With that said, it’s practically unheard of–even for the game’s most elite quarterbacks–to convert third-and-longs at the rate Garoppolo was. This brings me to my second point: The Patriots success in these situations was more luck than skill. In short, unless Garoppolo and the offense could find their way into more manageable third downs, their success at continuing to convert at their current clip is unsustainable.
However, as we know, Garoppolo likely won’t have that opportunity tonight after sustaining what appeared to be a bad shoulder injury last week against the Dolphins. Enter Jacoby Brissett, a rookie out of N.C. State with no regular season experience. Is J.J. Watt frothing at the mouth right now? He should be.
Though the Patriots haven’t had any trouble against Watt and the Texans defense of late, they could have a very tough time moving the ball against them tonight. Brissett’s inexperience aside, this Houston defense is very good. Through two games this season, the Texans are ranked 6th in defense according to Football Outsiders. Sure, they haven’t played an elite offense yet; but given that they ranked 8th in this same category a year ago, it’s safe to say Houston’s D is at least pretty good. Moreover, they do an above-average job at defending the pass in large part due to their ability to put loads of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Particularly since Rob Gronkowski is questionable to play, I have to imagine that the unseasoned Brissett will have a tough time getting the Patriots offense into rhythm.
But let’s look at what the Patriots have going for them tonight. For starters, as much as I was just hyping up the Houston defense, it should be noted that New England has been successful against the Texans in the past. In their previous four meetings, the Patriots have averaged 36 points per game and they’ve held Watt to just a half a sack. Additionally, if there is a weakness in the Texans defense it’s their ability to stop the run. After ranking a pedestrian 17th in opponent yards per rush attempt last season, they’re ranked 30th in that same category to begin 2016. Given how well the Patriots were able to establish their run game last weekend with LeGarrette Blount, I expect Josh McDaniels to exploit this matchup.
Switching gears, let’s not forget about the other key battle in this game: The Houston offense vs the New England defense. The Texans haven’t exactly been prolific in their first two games, as they have only averaged a mere 4.9 yards per play (27th in the NFL through two games). They weren’t going up against elite defenses, either. The Bears are…well, the Bears and Kansas City was without their top edge rusher in Justin Houston. As cool as it is to see DeAndre Hopkins haul in Brock Osweiler touchdown passes, there really isn’t much to see with the Houston offense otherwise.
The onus, therefore, is on the Patriots defense. Many of the numbers don’t look pretty (29th in DVOA, 30th in opponent yards per play), but the New England defense still deserves praise for the way they’ve played through two games. All things considered, they contained Carson Palmer and Arizona’s explosive offense in Week One and, second half slippage aside, they were able to create three turnovers and stifle the Dolphins enough to get out to a 31-3 second half lead in Week Two. The Patriots will certainly need to make some adjustments, particularly in the secondary, but there is definitely reason to believe that Jamie Collins and the rest of the New England defense can carry them to victory.
So what will happen tonight? You’d think that Houston is good enough to take advantage of both Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo’s absence. For that reason, if I was totally objective, I’d pick the Texans to grind out a close win. But I am hesitant to for five reasons:
- Even with Brissett at quarterback, I trust that New England can establish their running game enough to control the time of possession battle
- I also have faith in whatever New England’s strategy in past years to neutralize Watt has been–he’s been practically invisible whenever his Texans have played the Patriots
- I think Brock Osweiler has two turnovers in him
- The Patriots are 10-1 in their last 11 games as home underdogs
- I already picked against the Patriots for the first time ever when they played the Cardinals…I’m not making that mistake again
Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I should make that mistake again. Of all people, I should know that the Patriots play their best football when everyone is picking against them.
I basically had no confidence that New England could go into Arizona and win two weeks ago. I basically have no confidence that rookie Jacoby Brissett (Jacoby Brissett?) can win his first game as a starting quarterback against a pretty good Texans team now. Prove me wrong again fellas!
Houston 20, New England 19
Stay tuned for more predictions for this week’s NFL games, which I’ll release this weekend.