In this age of NFL football, where the schedule is put together through a formula that allows you to forecast it to about 90 percent accuracy into perpetuity, at least in terms of WHO your team will be playing (not so much WHEN each season), one of the oddest schedule quirks the Houston Texans have experienced is this — since 2012, they have played the New England Patriots every season except 2014, and in two of them (2012, 2016) they played twice, regular season and postseason:
2012: PATS 42, TEXANS 14
2012 PLAYOFFS: PATS 41, TEXANS 28
2013: PATS 34, TEXANS 31
2015: PATS 27, TEXANS 6
2016: PATS 27, TEXANS 0
2016 PLAYOFFS: PATS 34, TEXANS 16
2017: PATS 36, TEXANS 33
2018: PATS 27, TEXANS 20
2019: TEXANS 28, PATS 22
2020: TEXANS 27, PATS 20
For the first eight of these games, it did not go well for the Texans. They lost all eight of them, across two different coaching regimes, and six different starting quarterbacks, by an average margin of 15 points. Ironically, until Deshaun Watson came along, the closest game, by far, was a Case Keenum-skippered game in the horrific 2-14 season in 2013.
So in this downward spiral that began in 2019, with Bill O'Brien being handed general manager duties, ironically, the one thing in which this team has become proficient is beating the hated New England Patriots, winning two in a row. Hey, it's something! Now, the Texans find themselves a nearly double digit underdog at home to a 1-3 team, being quarterbacked by a rookie.
I don't know if the Texans win, but despite last week's 40-0 drubbing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, I expect the team to come out and compete. Here are four things to watch for on Sunday....
4. Patriot reunion
While it won't get nearly the attention that the "Patriot Reunion" of Week 4 got, with Tom Brady returning to Foxboro, the fact of the matter is that there are actually way more Patriot ties with this 2021 Texans team than there are between the Patriots and Tampa Bay. Here is the list of Houston Texans employees with ties to New England:
Nick Caserio, General Manager
Jack Easterby, EVP of Football Operations
Frank Ross, special teams coordinator
Brandin Cooks, WR
Danny Amendola, WR
Rex Burkhead, RB
Marcus Cannon, OL
Terrance Brooks, S
It won't provide the "will he or won't he" drama of Bill Belichick hugging Tom Brady, but it's a storyline worth noting, especially considering how much the Texans seem to bristle at the notion that they are "Patriots South."
3. The trials of Davis Mills continue
In the 40-0 loss to the Bills this past Sunday, Mills had a 0.8 QBR (ESPN's proprietary QB rating stat). That is the lowest in the history of the existence of that stat. It is a metric that is graded on a scale of 0 to 100, and Mills had a 0.8. ZERO POINT EIGHT. Is it weird that my first thought was "Wow, how was it THAT high?" Mills was abysmal against Buffalo on Sunday, but it certainly wasn't all his fault. The running game right now with this team is horrific, and the offseason decisions at wide receiver have left him with a group that is basically Brandin Cooks and "several dudes who may as well not have hands." Still, it's up to Mills and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly to figure something out, to make this offense at least serviceable on Sunday against Bill Belichick and a Patriots defense that is very good against the pass (not so good against the run).
2. Lovie Smith versus the OTHER rookie QB
Since facing rookie Trevor Lawrence (and forcing him to throw three picks) in Week 1, it's been uphill sledding for the Texans in the "opposing QB" department, facing Baker Mayfield, a rejuvenated Sam Darnold, and MVP candidate Josh Allen. It's back to "rookie level" competition on Sunday, which means that Lovie Smith might be able to pull off some shenanigans in his coverages, if he so chooses. It would be nice to see him use a blitz package or two, as well. This is the one part of this game where the 9.5 point spread looks very curious — are bettors sure they want to back a rookie of a 1-3 team on the road, laying 9.5 points, against a team that is likely angry from losing by 40 last weekend? I wouldn't think so.
1. Will there be resilience?
This group of vagabond Texans, with a couple dozen veteran players on one year deals, have faced their share of adversity since arriving in the spring. First, it was Deshaun Watson wanting to be traded, essentially telling the whole bunch of them "I can do better than you guys." Then, it was the subsequent prognostication from various experts that the Texans would be historically bad. Finally, there was some in season adversity tossed their way when Tyrod Taylor went down with a hamstring injury. Here's the thing about all of those instances — those are all potholes that UNITE a team, that bring them together. A 40-0 loss, like we saw in Buffalo, is where fingers begin to get pointed, factions begin to form. It will be very interesting to see how this team bounces back from LITERALLY the worst loss in franchise history.
SPREAD: Texans +9.5
PREDICTION: Patriots 23, Texans 16
RECORD: 4-0 SU, 4-0 ATS
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