This one is about as big as it gets in the regular season. The AFC East champion New England Patriots (9-3) host the AFC-leading Houston Texans (11-1) for a Monday night bout that could prove to have all sorts of playoff implications.
The Patriots' offense scores more than any other team, and its defense has been almost just as productive considering its incredible turnover rate and ability to put points on the board itself. New England, however, will be up against the best team it has played this season, and one that is right behind it in both those categories.
Third down. The Patriots boast the best third-down offense in the NFL, and the Texans maintain the league's best third-down defense. The Texans thrive on putting teams in negative situations on second and third down in order to let their elite defensive front, led by J.J. Watt, to attack the offensive backfield.
Turnovers. New England leads the league in turnover differential at plus-24. Meanwhile the Texans are third in the league in that category (plus-14) and second to New England in the AFC. The Patriots' defense has received a lot of criticism this season for giving up too many yards, but who cares if it is ending drives with takeaways? (photo: The Britt_2, Flickr)
Navigating Watt. Watt is well-known for his ability to swat balls out of the air, which lends a great hand to interceptions. The Patriots practiced with tennis racquets last week to simulate Watt's ability to take up throwing lanes with his mitts. Watt's constant migration from different positions on the defensive front vs. Tom Brady's navigation of the offense will be an intriguing chess match to watch.
Red zone rushing. Despite boasting two of the best passing units in the NFL, the Patriots and Texans are No. 1 and 2 in rushing touchdowns. Conversely, Houston has given up the fewest amount of rushing touchdowns (2), and the Patriots' run defense hasn't been too shabby this season, either.
---A week in Patriots posts at AFCEastDaily.com:
Week 14 AFC East game picks: Texans at Patriots
Patriots' stout third-down offense to face tough test
Some Dolphins 'disrespected' by Pats' run success
Stallworth: Playing football beats watching TV all day
Film Review: Dolphins' stout defense vs. Patriots
New England-bound Texans confident on road
Patriots preparing everyone to block J.J. Watt
Patriots' Hernandez didn't miss a snap vs. Dolphins
Unforced errors cost Dolphins in loss to Patriots
Brady won't call Patriots' division-clinching win 'ugly'