NFL Week 3: Texans-Patriots — Four Things to Watch For

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It's nice when things seem to fall into place, and certainly for the Houston Texans, the football gods have been relatively kind early in this 2016 season. Sure, J.J. Watt is still rounding into form from disc surgery in his back, and a healthy Duane Brown would certainly seem to be an upgrade at left tackle, but all in all, things have broken the Texans' way, generally speaking.

The latest example? The New England Patriots, this week's opponent on Thursday night, are going to be starting a rookie third-string quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, because of Tom Brady's suspension for daring to challenge Roger Goodell the Almighty and Jimmy Garoppolo's AC joint sprain, suffered in the Miami game on Sunday. 

For the past four years, two of the Texans's biggest thorns in their side have been the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots. On Sunday, they squared up their family business with KC, and now they get to do the same with the Patriots, and the Pats' starting QB is a rookie making his first start. 

Is there any way we can schedule the Colts for Week 4?

Now, before we get too hyped up on the chances of the Texans' going 3-0 for the first time since 2012 (they are now a 2.5-point favorite in this game, by the way), let's remember that it's Bill Belichick coaching on the other sideline. He will have a Brissett-friendly game plan ready to go, and on a short week, the calendar is still to Emperor Belichick's advantage. 

Here are some things to keep an eye on, come Thursday night...

4. Wake up, fast start
In the Texans' first two games so far this season, their opening drives have had some decent juice on the first handful of plays — the Chicago game was a steady march up the field, and the Kansas City game saw a juggled bomb to Will Fuller put them deep into Kansas City's red zone. However, both drives ended with a Brock Osweiler interception. Let's also throw into the mix that the last two trips to New England saw the Texans shoot themselves in the foot early in those games, falling behind 28-0 in the Letterman Jacket Debacle and missing on a golden early scoring opportunity in the playoff loss in January 2013. So what I'm saying is Gillette Stadium is like the nexus of the "slow start" universe on Thursday night — the Texans can't let that happen. We don't know much about Brissett, but we do know the crowd will be drunk as hell amped for a prime-time game with the Pats as the underdog. Another early deep shot to Fuller would be a nice tranquilizer dart for that crowd.

3. Jacoby Brissett, Fresh Meat
If any coach knows that it's possible to coach up a quarterback on short notice to go "game manage" his team to a win, it's Bill O'Brien, who spent the entirety of the past two Decembers coaching up seemingly every walking quarterback with an operable cell phone on a diet version of the Texans' playbook to go win a game. Brissett obviously isn't a street guy like, say, Brandon Weeden last season. He's spent a whole offseason and preseason in the Patriots' playbook. However, he hasn't seen anything remotely resembling the fury that will be unleashed upon him Thursday night by J.J. Watt (more on him in a minute), Jadeveon Clowney (who's been highly active now that he's healthy), Whitney Mercilus (one week removed from Defensive Player of the Week) and a supporting cast who are all playing plus-level football right now. It's no coincidence that my autocorrect keeps changing "Brissett" to "Brisket" — the rookie will be fresh meat for the Texans dogs. (This is also further proof that computers are becoming self-aware and will take over the world sooner rather than later. My iPhone's autocorrecting of "Jeter" to "heterosexual" was the first sign.)

2. A.J. Bouye, Tight End Cheat Code
One way to keep Brisket safe (yeah, screw it, you win, computer...I'm gonna embrace it...he is Jacoby BRISKET until he wins an NFL start) is to run plays where the ball comes out of his hand quickly. The Texans faced a version of this last week when the Chiefs came to town, with tight end Travis Kelce and a couple of decent pass-catching running backs. The Patriots take this approach up several notches. Compare trying to kill one wasp with trying to kill a sea of gnats — that's the difference between shutting down Kelce and trying to contain the Patriots' short and intermediate passing game, especially if Rob Gronkowski plays. Even without Gronk, though, Marcellus Bennett has been fantastic so far this season, and their merry band of slot receiver types, like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, not to mention James White out of the backfield, will put pressure on the Texans' sub packages. This is where A.J. Bouye, who was outstanding on Kelce on Sunday, and possibly Kevin Johnson or Kareem Jackson, if both Patriots tight ends play, will come into heavy play, patrolling the middle of the field. It should be fascinating to see what type of playbook Belichick and Josh McDaniels have for Brisket on Thursday night. 

1. Return of Vintage Watt
After a first week of the season where he was clearly shaking off rust, and a second week of the season where he took a big leap forward, what should we expect out of J.J. Watt on Thursday night? If he is truly pain free in his back, then it should just be a normal "didn't do anything in training camp" rust cycle, should it not? And if we're looking at past history for something Watt-specific, here was his game log the last time he missed training camp (in 2012, with an arm injury):

Week 1: 2 tackles, 0.5 sacks (vs MIA)
Week 2: 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks (@JAC)
Week 3: 6 tackles, 2.5 sacks (@ DEN)

On Thursday night, will we see the final great leap forward back to Cyborg Watt, like in 2012? We will see, but I would imagine that it'll be fun for Watt to play against the Patriots with both hands available to him this season, as last year, in Week 14, he was dealing with the "club hand" on his broken mitt for the first time all year. Could be a long night for you, Brisket. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat...all of a sudden, I'm hungry for brisket. 

PREDICTION: Texans 20, Patriots 10
LINE: Pick Em

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.  

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