Tonight’s Thursday night matchup figures to be a good one as two teams with the potential to make deep playoff runs in the AFC meet. The Houston Texans will be in Foxboro taking on the Patriots who are now moving on to their second quarterback during Tom Brady’s suspension. Despite that, this game should be extremely close as this is yet another matchup that figures to show how brilliant a tactician Bill Belichick truly is.
While the potential is there for the Patriots to come up with a brilliant defensive scheme, on paper this appears to be a favorable matchup for the Texans offense. Between playing the Cardinals and the Dolphins in comeback mode, the Patriots have been one of the more vulnerable pass defenses in the first few weeks. This should come as great news to Brock Osweiler who has both a top tier receiver and a serious vertical threat at his disposal.
DeAndre Hopkins is one of those receivers who usually finds a way to put up his numbers regardless of the opponent. Despite that, the Patriots kept him in check the last time these two played. However, Hopkins didn’t have a player who could take the top off opposing secondaries the way Will Fuller has shown lining up opposite him. Fuller had some doubters in the draft community, but through two games he has shown the skills many thought would translate to the next level. In both of his first two contests, he has had 100 plus yards while averaging over 20 yards a catch. With slot receiver, Braxton Miller slated to miss this game, both Hopkins and Fuller appear locked in to receive double digit targets and are safe to start in all fantasy formats.
With key players such as Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower out, the Patriots run defense has also had some holes through the first two games. For that reason, this looks to be a nice matchup for Lamar Miller who hasn’t had to worry about touches like he did during his time with the Dolphins. Miller should see around 25 total touches in what looks like in a nice matchup. This makes him a must start fantasy player at a position without week to week certainty.
In the game and a half Jimmy Garoppolo was in before his injury, the Patriots offense looked like a well-oiled machine where very little had changed. However, there is much more uncertainty this week with rookie Jacoby Brissett slated to start his first career game. As a developmental player, Brissett has a lot of attributes teams would look for. However even for the Patriots counting on him to come up big in a short week against one of the league’s better defenses is tough to count on. For that reason, I’m expecting plenty of short passes and LeGarrette Blount.
Through two weeks, the Texans have allowed over five yards a carry to opposing running backs. Not only is it favorable matchup for Blount, but he has actually had a consistent amount of touches through the first two games. James White certainly figures to contribute in the passing game and maybe get a few touches running the ball, but this should be Blount’s backfield tonight. If what we saw of Brissett this past Sunday is any indication, there figure to be plenty of short, quick passes many of which may not travel past the line of scrimmage.
This figures to bode extremely well for Julian Edelman who has shown consistently over the years he can win matchups in the short to intermediate passing game. There is also heavy speculation that Rob Gronkowski makes his 2016 season debut tonight. Even if “on a snap count, his presence alone figures to help open things up for Brissett. However, that also makes it extremely tough to project how the other Patriots pass catchers will perform tonight. If Gronkowski is out, Martellus Bennett should see at least six to seven passes his way. He can create after the catch in the flat, and his catch radius makes him an appealing option for Brissett if he does throw vertically.
This game is extremely tough to predict as this very well could be an early playoff preview in the AFC. In the end, it’s hard to bet against Belichick in any circumstance. Even if said circumstance this week is a rookie quarterback making his first start on a short week. My prediction is Texans 20 Patriots (+2.5) 23.