When you’re the New England Patriots, a single loss is enough to make headlines across the nation. But two losses in a row? That’s grounds for widespread panic across New England, and music to the ears of everyone else.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Texans (8:30 p.m., NBC), the Patriots will look to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002.That’s right, the last time the Patriots lost three straight games, people still used road maps to get around. Oh, and they actually talked to each other face to face – not through social media or a smart phone.

But plenty of people are talking about the Patriots lately because they just don’t look like themselves. That’s probably because some of their most familiar faces aren’t on the field currently – and it’s showing.

So do they have enough to take down the 6-6 Texans, winners of four of their last five? Here’s what to watch for:


1. Hop on Hopkins

If you play fantasy football, you’ve either benefited greatly from owning DeAndre Hopkins on your team, or he’s been instrumental in beating you. This guy has been a top wide receiver this season, already with 86 receptions for 1,169 yards and 10 touchdowns – and that’s with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Hopkins has seen his least amount of targets over the last two weeks (17 total) but has at least 11 (and a high of 22) every other week. Expect Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler to be extremely busy as that’s a matchup that will be fun to watch. I’d also expect some safety help, because if the Pats can take away Hopkins, the Texans don’t have a ton of other options. 


2. Watch out for Watt

J.J. Watt may love to ham it up for the cameras, but you can’t say he hasn’t earned the airtime. Watt is arguably the game’s best defensive player, and has won two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, including last season’s award. He comes into the game leading the NFL in sacks with 13.5 and would certainly love to get his hands on Tom Brady. It’s a scary thought, especially when you consider how much the Patriots offensive line struggled last week against the Eagles. To make matters worse, Josh Kline, one of the steadier linemen this season, is dealing with a shoulder injury.


3. Statement game

It sound strange to say that a 10-2 team with the division all but wrapped up needs to put in a strong showing on Sunday, but that’s the case with the Patriots. They’ve looked flat-out bad since the fourth quarter in Denver, and even showed signs of struggling against the Giants and Bills.