The NFL and ESPN will likely see their highest rating of the year for Monday Night Football this week. Both teams in this heavyweight showdown are currently riding six-game winning streaks, making their case for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Both teams come into this game with extremely positive point differentials. New England has the highest in the league at +170 while the Texans are 2nd at +130. Only two other teams carry a positive differential greater than 100 (49ers and Broncos both +118). Needless to say, these are two of the elite teams in the NFL, and this game could quite possibly be the AFC Championship matchup come January.
Houston came into this season with lofty expectations to morph this relatively new franchise into a yearly contender. After starting 2011 at 10-3, the Texans lost their final three games to finish 10-6, clinching the AFC South in the process. Matt Schaub was lost in week 10 to a foot injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates filled in admirably, but the loss of Schaub proved too much for the Texans to handle. Yates threw 3 interceptions in the conference semifinal against the Ravens while the Texans fell 20-13.
This year’s Texans, led by Schaub and Arian Foster, came out of the gates with a vengeance. They currently sit at 11-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Houston boasts the 2nd ranked rushing defense and the 6th ranked rushing offense. This is a power run team with a more than serviceable quarterback, who has an elite wide receiver in Andre Johnson at his disposal. Owen Daniels has been greatly improved this year, giving Schaub a trustworthy option over the middle. Foster continues to prove that he is one of the top backs in the league, leading all rushers in carries and touchdowns. Although he has 13 touchdowns in 12 games, the most amazing statistic of Foster’s season is that he has lost only one fumble in 280 carries.
New England came into this season just like any other in the past ten years. Expectations are sky-high and failure isn’t a consideration. After starting the year 1-2, you can bet panic started to set in with the fans in the Northeast. The Patriots proceeded to win eight of their next nine games; all but three by a hefty margin. Brady and McDaniels have put together four 2007-like performances putting up scoring totals of 45, 49, 52 and 59. With 25 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, Tom is continuing to flourish in Belichick’s system. The scariest part of the Patriots offense this year is the emergence of a running game.
Stevan Ridley, the second year running back out of LSU, has taken advantage of every opportunity handed to him this year. In his rookie season Ridley managed 5.1 ypc on limited touches. Coming into the season, he was given the reigns as the starter and exploded for 125 yards on 21 carries in his first game in Tennessee. He never looked back and has already surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, adding in 9 rushing touchdowns for good measure.
In games of this magnitude, there are bound to be exciting matchups to watch. Good teams are often judged based on their ability to convert, or get a stop, on third-downs. Houston’s defense holds the lowest third-down conversion rate in the NFL. Not surprisingly, New England has the league’s top third-down offense. Voila – a match made in Roger Goodell’s heaven. Another intriguing matchup is the Patriots 9th ranked rushing defense against Arian Foster. Behind Houston’s zone-blocking scheme, Foster hits holes decisively and has breakaway straight-line speed. He’s constantly falling forward and punishing defenders that get in his way. Houston will be looking to establish the ground game early and often, while the Patriots do everything in their power to minimize his yards per carry.
Both teams combine a high powered offense with a defense predicated on takeaways. New England leads the league with a +24 takeaway differential and Houston is tied for second with +14. The winner of the takeaway differential in this game will likely be the victor, as these teams are so evenly matched. We as fans of the NFL cannot ask for a better Monday Night Football game to watch in week 14. Neither team’s season will be in jeopardy after losing this game, but important statements will be made based on the final outcome.
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