Isn’t it when the big games are actually on in prime time? That hasn’t always been the case this year on Thursday/Sunday/Monday nights. Nobody wants to watch Browns-Raiders every week, but it seems like that’s been more common than Steelers-Ravens or something.
We don’t have to worry about that tonight, though. Tonight, with Pats-Texans, we get to have our cake and eat it too. I might even smear some of it on my face because I’m so excited. It’s the game of the year in the AFC.
- This game is huge for both sides, but for completely different reasons. For the Patriots, it’s all about actual playoff positioning. A win, and they have the inside track for the No. 2 seed and possibly the No. 1 seed if Houston loses one more game after this (and they play Indy twice, so it’s very possible). For Houston, they’re almost guaranteed a bye, so the game to them is all about perception. Everyone knows the Patriots are contenders. Not everybody believes Houston in. If you want to be the best, usually you have to beat the best at some point, and this the Texans’ chance to make a statement – on the road, against the defending AFC Champion and perennially contending Patriots on Monday night. Houston would silence a lot of critics and take a huge step towards being considered the favorite to reach the Super Bowl with a win. It wouldn’t hurt from a confidence standpoint either. If the Texans lose, and still get the No. 1 seed, they’ll always have in the back of their minds that they lost to the team right behind them. If they win, that takes care of that.
- People seem to think the Patriots schedule is easy because they play in the AFC East, and that certainly does help them, but it’s still not easy. At all. Think about this: If the Jets sneak into the No. 6 seed (and they very easily good finish 9-7 and get in over the reeling Steelers and Bengals), the Patriots will have played every playoff team in the AFC. Not easy. They’ll have played Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Indy and the Jets twice. Plus, they’ll have faced San Francisco (No. 2 or 3 seed in the NFC), Seattle (No. 5 seed in the NFC) and St. Louis (potential No. 6 seed in the NFC). Anybody who thinks the Pats play cupcakes every week isn’t looking at reality. Just because they blow teams out doesn’t mean those teams aren’t good. It just means the Patriots have separated themselves from the upper-middle of the pack
- Who does bad weather help more? A general rule of football is that a wet track would benefit the team with the better running game, and that’s the Texans. Yet, the Patriots don’t seem to struggle throwing the ball in bad conditions, which could lead to a scenario where they score at their usual rapid rate, forcing Houston to the air as opposed to controlling the ball with Arian Foster. Advantage Pats in that situation, no?
- I think I might know what J.J Watt does for fun. Keep in mind that he wears a robotic arm sleeve, which – in my mind, at least – signifies that he’s not quite like you and me. My guess is that on rainy nights (much like tonight, actually), Watt knocks on unsuspecting people’s doors. Then, when they open the door, he just stands there covered in rain and mud with blood on his face and his robotic arm on. After about four seconds of just staring at the unsuspecting person, Watt just starts screaming at the top his lungs. The other person either faints or just screams back in horror. Then Watt stops, turns around and walks away. That’s like his standard Tuesday night, I’m telling you.
- Everybody seems to think Matt Schaub is some sort of upper-echelon quarterback, but I’ve never seen it. I know his team is 11-1, and if we’re going to judge on quarterbacks on wins (which we do, let’s face it), then he fits the bill. I just haven’t seen it with any sort of consistency. Maybe he gets overshadowed by a dominant ground game and a sometimes-dominant defense, but when I think of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league, Schaub does not pop into my head. Here’s 10 (in no particular order) that I think I’d rather have: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton. Then, Schaub falls into that 11-15 group with Cam Newton and Joe Flacco. Maybe I’m just underrating him.
- If the Patriots are going to be successful throwing the ball tonight, it involves throwing balls away from where Watt lines up or stunts to. Apparently Bill Belichick brought in racquetball rackets to practice and had people hold them up as faux-defensive linemen to give Brady an idea of what it’s going to be like. That’s all true, but I think the best way to avoid getting a pass batted down by Watt is to simply not throw near him. Know where he is (which they will, at all times, I’m sure) and, usually, keep it out of the middle of the field. There figures to be a lot of quick stuff (Welker) and a lot of sideline routes (Lloyd). It’s hard to imagine Brady taking a ton of 7-step drops and scanning for open guys in-between the hash marks.
- Andre Johnson scares the ever-loving Christ out of me. I’m aware that everyone already knows this, but he had a two-game stretch with 23 catches and 461 yards. If he could do that against teams that employ actual defensive backs (as opposed to the Patriots, who strictly play undrafted rookies and journeymen), what’s he going to do tonight? Yikes.
- But, to play devil’s advocate with myself, Belichick excels at taking away what the opposition does best. Now, that could mean that the singular focus is on stopping Foster, but I don’t think that’s reasonable. Foster is going to get his, one way or another, and it’s not like the Pats can put eight men in the box with Johnson on the outside. It’s more reasonable, with that logic, that they’ll play some sort of man-zone combination with a corner in man coverage on Johnson and a safety always over the top. You can’t stop everybody, but you can stop Johnson with the right gameplan. Hopefully Schaub still forces it to him, the Pats win the turnover battle and, in turn, the game.
- The name “Gary Kubiak” sounds like it should belong to a host on the Food Network. Something like “Grilling Indoors with Gary Kubiak,” or “Crock Pot Nation with Gary Kubiak.”
- Absolutely everybody around the country is picking the Pats, and that’s a little scary…yet…
- So am I. Prediction: Pats (-5.5) over Texans, 31-21.