PATRIOTS (8-3) vs. TEXANS (2-9)
Today, 1 p.m., at Reliant Stadium, Houston
TV: Ch. 4 (Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf)
Radio: 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci and Scott Zolak)
The series: Pats lead the series at 4-1, but the two games in Houston were a Texans win and an OT Pats win back in 2003. Last meeting: Pats 41, Texans 28; Jan. 13, 2013 at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro Latest line: Pats -7; Over/under total: 47.5
2013 STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
8-3 Record 2-9
1st, AFC East Standings 4th, AFC South
370.9 (9) Offense 363.5 (11)
125.9 (10) Rushing 116.4 (14)
245.0 (14) Passing 247.1 (13)
360.1 (21) Defense 290.4 (1)
139.7 (31) Rushing 118.5 (22)
220.4 (9) Passing 171.8 (1)
+8 Turnover margin -12
BY THE NUMBERS
.635 — New England’s overall winning percentage against the teams of the AFC South, the only division the Pats have winning records against all four teams all time. The Pats are: against Tennessee (23-16-1), Indianapolis (47-29), Jacksonville (9-1) and Houston (3-1) in the regular season.
11 — Rob Ninkovich’s fumble recovery total continues to grow, and he continues to lead the NFL in that category over the last four seasons. Vince Wilfork, despite his injury, remains second in the category with seven since 2010.
13 — Number of 20-plus yard runs for Stevan Ridley, which ties him for the team lead since 2000 with Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon. You have to wonder, with his fumbling issues, if Bill Belichick will allow Ridley to stretch those.
8 — Return TDs allowed by Houston, a number that coincides perfectly with the Texans’ -12 takeaway ratio.
35 — J.J. Watt’s total hits on the the quarterback this year, a number that when combined with his 9.5 sacks is very interesting. His counterpart, Patriot Chandler Jones, has 9.5 sacks but just 19 total quarterback hits overall.
90.9 — Andre Johnson’s average receiving yards per game since turning 30 years old, the best ever in NFL history, according to profootballreference.com.
Keys for the Patriots
1. Avoid distractions — You have the big Sunday night win vs. Denver and the Thanksgiving holiday as potential land mines to slow the Patriots train this week. Let’s hope they stuck to the Belichick way and kept their minds on business this week.
2. Ride one pony — For their own sake, the Pats have to find a reliable lead rusher and ride him. This committee approach of play Stevan Ridley or LeGarrette Blount until there’s a fumble simply won’t work in the playoffs.
3. Let Houston implode — The Texans have been killing themselves with mistakes. Play your game, force them to convert on third repeatedly, both offensively and on defense, and let them bury themselves.
Hector Longo’s prediction: Patriots 42, Texans 24 (7-4 straight up; 3-8 vs. the spread)
Analysis: The last thing a beaten-up Houston team needs to see now is the Patriots, the team that started this downward spiral in Texans country. Momentum is a crazy thing, and both teams have it clearly going in opposite directions. Houston may have the second, third and fourth best players in the game in J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Brooks Reed. The Pats have the No. 1 guy in Tom Brady, and that’s enough to soar here.