If there is one team in the NFL with whom the Houston Texans are familiar, outside of their annual AFC South foes, it's the New England Patriots. Over the past five seasons, the Texans and the Pats have met in all but one (Bill O'Brien's first season as head coach in 2014), and in two of those seasons, 2012 and 2016, they met twice, once in the regular season and once in the postseason.
Considering where the Patriots stand in the NFL's pecking order, staring down at everyone else, that's pure scheduling torture, and I don't need to reeducate all of you on how it's gone. For Texan fans, it's been ugly. The Texans are 0-6 in those six games, with the only single-digit loss, ironically, coming in 2013, when the Texans finished the season 2-14.
Perhaps the Texans have a sadomasochistic gene, because not only do they meet the Patriots in New England in Week 3 of the upcoming season, but they chose to practice with them in West Virginia this past week. This all culminates with a preseason game at NRG Stadium this Saturday night.
The practices this week were spirited and set up a handful of story lines for Saturday night's exhibition. Let's pick off the top four story lines, in one man's opinion...
4. Wide receiver triage
Many Texan fans didn't notice before the season just how precariously thin the wide receiver depth chart was for this team. Thin in numbers and thin in experience. It took Will Fuller going down with a broken collarbone to alert them, and now Braxton Miller is nursing an ankle and DeAndre Hopkins is healing up a hand. Bottom line, there are jobs available to be won this Saturday with decent games. Jaelen Strong will be the team's No. 1 receiver, for the love of all that's holy! JAELEN STRONG!! Riley McCarron, Wendell Williams, Bruce Ellington, go get a paycheck, kid! Make yourself famous!
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3. Safety dance
As great as this defense is, there is an Achilles heel, and it's the safety position. No team is going to consistently march down the field with 10- or 12-play drives against this defense, so they have to guard against big plays. That's where the safety spot comes in. Right now, it's a scary list of players vying for the starting spot next to Andre Hal, who himself was no great shakes last season. The good news might be coming from street free agent pickup Marcus Gilchrist (another Clemson guy!), who reportedly had a nice week in camp this past week. It'd be nice if he (or anyone) grabbed the reins this weekend.
2. Front seven heat
That said regarding the safety position, for whomever they put out there, life will be easier on the Texans than virtually any NFL team because of the other worldly front seven. This past week in practice, the Texans front carried over their performance from the playoff game against the Patriots last season, getting after Tom Brady enough for him to let loose with a curse barrage on his offensive line during practice. Continued affirmation of this unit's dominance would be a nice sendoff to go drinking in Midtown after the game tomorrow night.
1. Watson closing in
Ostensibly, Deshaun Watson is still in the same spot on the depth chart as he was after OTAs and has been throughout training camp — second string behind Tom Savage. But the seeming black and white of the depth chart doesn't embody the shades of gray enveloping this QB competition. The Bill O'Brien praise for Watson, the plays Watson continues to make that Savage simply cannot, Watson's reps in practice with the first team offensive line — these are all elements of what's shaping up to be an eventual takeover of the position by the rookie Watson. Saturday night could provide a very logical turning point in this saga.
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.