People say that the next game is always the biggest, but that actually might be the case for the New England Patriots this time.
The Patriots (9-3) will host the Houston Texans (11-1) on Monday Night Football (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in a battle of the AFC’s best.
The Patriots’ six straight wins vaulted them back into the first round bye discussion, but they’ll need a win in order to keep that talk alive. Houston sits pretty as the AFC’s No. 1 seed right now, but a loss to New England will obviously give the Pats the tiebreaker if both teams end the season with the same record.
“They're a great football team, so anytime you play the best you want to see how you match up,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “I think that our guys are excited, and it’s a big challenge for us. They’re an excellent football team in all three phases; they do a great job, so it’ll be fun.”
The Texans’ defensive line is one of the best – and biggest – in football. Brady said coach Bill Belichick will give racquetball racquets to his defensive line in practice so Brady can get a feel for throwing over a bigger line known to bat down balls.
“They certainly get after the football,” Brady said of Houston. “They can rush the quarterback, they do a great job stopping the run. I think Coach said they have pretty much every statistic you can name; they’re on the tops of the league. That’s why they’re 11-1, because they’re playing great, they’re taking the ball away, they get a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage; interceptions, fumbles.”
And Houston’s defense gets tougher as the downs progress. They lead the NFL in third down defense, allowing teams to convert just 28.4 percent of the time. The Patriots rank 29th there, allowing opponents a new set of downs often - 43.0 percent of the time.
“They’re a good third down defense, one of the best in the last nine, ten years statistically. To be under 30 percent is pretty impressive,” Belichick said. “They do everything well. They rush, they cover, they blitz, they mix it up, but you have to really work to convert on third down against them.”