On Monday night the New England Patriots (9-3) will host the Houston Texans (11-1) in a match-up between two of the best teams in the AFC. The Patriots come into this game having already clinched the AFC East title but struggling with injuries. After losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm, wide receiver Julian Edelman was lost with a broken foot on Sunday. This will be a matchup between two teams attempting to secure a bye in the first round of the postseason.
While neither team is completely deficient on either side of the ball, the Patriots and Texans strengths are on opposite sides. The Patriots have the league’s best offense leading the NFL in both yards and points per game. Defensively the Texans rank sixth in yards allowed per game and fourth in points allowed per game. This will be the toughest matchup the Patriots offense and Texans defense have faced this season.
The Texans have receivers that can be dangerous, especially Andre Johnson, but their offense is centered around running back Arian Foster. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Foster has become one of the best running backs in the league breaking 1,200 yards in two of his first three seasons. This year he’s having his best season as he sits fifth in the league with 1,106 yards and leads all running backs with 13 touchdowns.
Stopping Foster will be key for the Patriots stopping the Texans offense. The Patriots started the year with one of the best rushing defenses in the league led by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Even though the rush defense has slipped a little bit for the Patriots, they still rank ninth in the league giving up 100.8 yards per game on the ground.
While mainly a rushing offense, the Texans may be influenced to go to the air more against a Patriots passing defense that ranks 29th in the league. The Patriots secondary was abysmal at the beginning of the season but have improved recently with the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib. They also moved Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty back to safety that, along with Steve Gregory, has caused problems for opposing offenses.
The Texans strength is most definitely on the defensive side of the ball where they’ve held teams to just 322.6 yards and 18.4 points per game. The defense is led by defensive end J.J. Watt who is currently second in the league with 15.5 sacks. While Texans defense has been stifling opposing offenses this season, they are without their captain Brian Cushing. A 2009 first-round draft pick, Cushing is the heart and soul of the Texans defense but suffered an injury to his left knee earlier this season which forced him to the injured reserve list.
The Patriots offense has been the best in the league this year but they’ve been crippled recently by injury. Just as they got Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez back from injury, they lost two key receivers. First the All-Pro Gronkowski suffered a broken forearm against the Indianapolis Colts then last week wide receiver Julian Edelman suffered a broken foot which will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
What the Patriots do have on their side is two-time MVP Tom Brady and a solid running game in Stevan Ridley. The MVP season Brady has had is no surprise as he’s done it before but the performances by the second year Ridley was not expected. With the injuries the Patriots have suffered over the last three weeks which also includes starting offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer, Ridley will be heavily depended on to provide stability to the Patriots offense.
With four weeks remaining in the regular season the Patriots and Texans have both already secured spots in the postseason but these two teams have two separate goals in their remaining games. While the Texans will be looking to lock down home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Patriots will be focused on keeping guys healthy and getting some of their injured players back. Even with the key injuries to both teams, Monday night’s battle will be between two of the league’s best teams and will show where each team is as the playoffs approach.