Patriots vs. Texans preview: Five things to watch for on Monday Night Football

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots meet the AFC leading Houston Texans in the game of the year in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA.

After holding on for a 23-16 win over the division rival Miami Dolphins last week, the New England Patriots (9-3) will be back on the field Monday evening against the AFC-leading Houston Texans (11-1).

Here are the five most important things to watch for.

Can the Patriots' offensive line contain JJ Watt?

JJ Watt is a baaaaad man. When Bill Belichick dubbed him "the most disruptive player in the league" earlier in the week, he did so with good reason. The second-year man from Wisconsin has sacked the quarterback 16.5 times thus far this season and deflected 19 balls at the line of scrimmage with his tremendous NBA center-type wingspan. What makes JJ Watt different is the inside position that he lines up at, as opposed to the traditional pass-rusher's spot on the end of the defensive line. The expected return of left guard Logan Mankins should help the Patriots tremendously in the pass blocking department, but they'll need a group effort from the offensive line if they hope to contain Watt and fellow pass-rusher Antonio Smith.

This will be the toughest test of the season for the New England run defense

The Patriots' run defense has performed admirably this season, often neutralizing the opposing tailback in each of the team's games. However, this week they will be facing their most difficult test of the season in Texans' all-star Arian Foster. The fifth-year man out of Tennessee has already rushed for 1,102 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and is widely regarded as the best running back in the entire NFL. By the end of the night we should know exactly how good the New England front-seven is at stopping the run.

Can the Patriots neutralize Andre Johnson?

Outside of tight end Owen Daniels, Andre Johnson is the only real big-play threat in the Texans' passing game. The wily veteran is currently working on a 1,100-yard season and is sporting an impressive 15.1 yards-per-reception average. With Johnson being such a big and physical wide receiver, standing at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, I'd expect the Patriots to match him up against Aqib Talib, the team's largest cornerback. One would also think that Talib will be given a lot of help over the top from physical safety Devin McCourty. If the Patriots are able to take away Andre Johnson, things are going to get awful tough for Matt Schaub and the Houston offense on Monday night.

Can the Patriots exploit the injuries in the Houston defense?

Starting middle linebacker Brian Cushing, starting cornerback Brice McCain, starting left outside linebacker Brooks Reed, and possibly reserve defensive back Alan Ball will all be absent from the lineup for Houston when the Texans take the field against the Patriots. Ordinarily, the Texans defense is about as tough as they come in the NFL and the return of number one corner Jonathan Joseph will definitely benefit their pass defense, but I can't help but think that the large number of injuries they've faced this season will go unexposed against a Tom Brady offense. Look for tight end Aaron Hernandez to have a huge game this week as Houston doesn't have a healthy linebacker good enough to keep up with him running down the field.

Is this a playoff preview?

Under any one of a number of scenarios, the Patriots and Texans could wind up as playoff opponents, be it in the divisional round of the AFC championship. The outcome of Monday's game will go a long way towards deciding where that potential rematch will be played. If the Patriots are to be defeated by the Texans, they will no longer have a shot to catch them in the standings. If the Patriots can win this game and the remaining four on their schedule, it would only take one Houston loss to put New England into the driver's seat. On Sunday afternoon, the Washington Redskins did the Pats a huge solid in coming from behind to defeat their mid-Atlantic rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. With the Ravens' loss, and their impeccably tough schedule to conclude the year, the Patriots can almost afford to lose one of their final four games and still have a solid shot at a first round bye. Being that this could wind up as a playoff match-up in just a few weeks, I wouldn't expect Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to show a lot of his best defensive looks.

Prediction: The Houston Texans are a much better football team than a lot of people around here are giving them credit for. In fact, Monday could be the night they really display just how good of a team they are in front of a nationally-televised audience. However, at home in December, I just can't pick against Tom Brady. Patriots win a nail-biter, 27-24.



For more New England Patriots coverage, visit our team blog, Pats Pulpit.

Trending Discussions

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SB Nation Boston

You must be a member of SB Nation Boston to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SB Nation Boston. You should read them.

Join SB Nation Boston

You must be a member of SB Nation Boston to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SB Nation Boston. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.