---- — Tonight, 8:30 p.m., at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro.
TV: ESPN and Ch. 5 (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Lisa Salters)
Radio: 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos and Scott Zolak)
The series: Patriots lead 2-1 Previous meeting: Texans 34, Patriots 27, Jan. 3, 2010 at Reliant Stadium, Houston Las Vegas line: Patriots -3; Over-under total: 51
2012 STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
9-3 Record 10-1
1st, AFC East Standings 1st, AFC South
426.3 (1) Offense 389.6 (4)
140.8 (8) Rushing 142.5 (6)
285.5 (6) Passing 247.1 (10)
380.8 (26) Defense 322.6 (6)
100.8 (9) Rushing 87.6 (2)
279.9 (29) Passing 235.0 (19)
+24 Turnover margin +14
BY THE NUMBERS
.488 — At 21-22, the Patriots franchise winning percentage on Monday Night Football. Of course, the Pats are 14-5 on Monday nights under Bill Belichick, also 6-1 at home under the current coach. Belichick is 15-8 all time on Monday night.
10 — Division championships for Tom Brady as a starting quarterback, more than any QB in NFL history. Joe Montana had nine.
35.8 — The Pats lead the NFL in scoring average right now. With a closing flurry in the final four games, they could actually break the mark of 36.8 set in the amazing, undefeated 2007 season. To accomplish that, the Pats would have to average 40 points a game in the last four — scoring 160 total, 590 for the season.
2 — Rushing TDs allowed this year by the Texans’ defense. Over the last two seasons, Houston leads the AFC in this category with 10 and is second in the NFL to San Francisco’s 8.
6 — Houston’s current win streak, also the number of road wins the Texans have posted this year without a loss.
36 — Houston’s sack total for the season, led by the 15.5 from J.J. Watt. The Texans are third in the game in sacks, behind Cincy and Denver – each with 39. The Patriots are 19th with 26 sacks. By the way, Watt has an amazing 15 swatted passes.
Keys for Patriots
1. Turnovers are tops — You knew against the likes of the bumbling Bills, the joke that is the Jets and mediocre Miami that the Patriots would pounce on a slew of mistakes. But these are the Texans, who actually value the football. They are +14 in turnovers, not +24 like the Pats but still sensational. This showdown might hinge on the one turnover committed. The Pats have to be the beneficiary in this category, not the victim.
2. Recharged batteries — An ankle injury has basically sidelined pass-rusher Chandler Jones the last three games. Until that, the rookie looked to be slowing down a bit. The Patriots need their home run hitter on defense at his best, not a beaten down rookie gasping for the finish line. Hopefully, the time off has done him some good.
3. Another sawbuck — A dime, 10-spot, twin figures .... Wes Welker will need another 10-plus catch night to keep this offense clicking, especially on third down. Let this guy drive Wade Phillips and the Texans’ defense batty. Then, pay him $27 million for the next three years ($19 million guaranteed) because you need him here desperately.
Hector Longo’s prediction: Patriots 45, Texans 38 (Longo’s record: 8-4 straight up; 3-8-1 vs. the spread)
Analysis: The prospect of J.J. Watt and this Houston defense inflicting its will on the Patriots simply does not scare me this week, not here at Gillette Stadium anyway. Of course, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson? You’re talking cold sweats. The anguish that once circled this Patriots defense returns as it gets shredded to pieces. Fortunately, Tommy B takes the national spotlight to win one for little Vivian on her 5-day-old birthday.