New England Patriots vs Houston Texans prediction, preview, pick to win

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange  |  Updated Sept. 22, 2016 at 3:11 PM
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KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 PM, ET, Gillette Stadium, TV: CBS/NFLN, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson.

SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead the all-time series 5-1. These two teams has alternated over the years between blowouts and hard-fought battles. The first-ever meeting in 2003 was a New England overtime win in Houston. Three years later the Patriots owned a 40-7 blowout in Foxborough. The next meeting in the 2009 finale was a Texans 34-27 win in Houston, a game marked by Wes Welker tearing his ACL in an essentially meaningless game. The most recent battle came in December 2015 with a Patriots 27-6 victory in Houston. New England has never lost to the Texans at Gillette, holding a 3-0 mark.

GAMEDATE: 9/22/16

LATEST NEWS:

-- New England Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett is expected to receive his first NFL start on Thursday night against the visiting Houston Texans, according to multiple reports.

The third-round selection will get the nod against the Texans (2-0) four days after filling in for Jimmy Garoppolo, who sustained a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder during the Patriots' 31-24 win over the Miami Dolphins. Brissett, 22, completed 6 of 9 passes for 92 yards last week for New England (2-0).

-- Rob Gronkowski is expected to make his season debut after being sidelined by a hamstring injury.

"We'll see," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "It will definitely be a coach's decision, a trainer's decision. We'll all come together.

"I'm just doing everything I can right now to be as healthy as I can be. I'm improving every single day. Basically, day by day right now. ... Obviously, you just don't wake up and you're 100 percent, but I'm satisfied with the improvements."

-- Julian Edelman could serve as an emergency QB option behind center. The veteran wideout played quarterback at Kent State prior to being selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.

KEYS TO THE GAME: It is hardly news that the Patriots will be without QB's Tom Brady (Deflate-gate suspension) or his stand-in, Jimmy Garoppolo (Shoulder injury). So New England's offensive game plan is a major question in the first career start for third-round rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Some things OC Josh McDaniels drew up for Garoppolo should carry over to his new pupil. That will include screens and quick, high-percentage throws. Look some boot-leg passes and moving pockets, to cut down the field and reads and buy time/health against a Texans' ferocious defensive front that features J. J. Watt. Running back LeGarrette Blount could get a workout.

Perhaps the biggest decider will be the Patriots trying to do what Belchick teams do best -- stop big plays. Texans' QB Brock Osweiler will push the ball down the field to talented WRs, veteran DeAndre Hopkins and rookie Will Fuller. The Patriots are giving up 401.5 yards per game but shouldn't be able to reach their average of 414 yards on offense against these Texans.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

-- Patriots Master, HC Bill Belichick, vs. Texans' Student(s), HC Bill O'Brien, formerly Belichick's assistant. Houston's coaching staff includes a several former Patriots assistants in O'Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrable, Larry Izzo and Georgia Godsey. That could create an advantage as they prepare for the Patriots. Conversely, Belichick certainly knows his former assistants very well. The battle of game plans, adjustments and chess moves could be interesting and impactful.

--Patriots DBs vs. Texans WRs. A week after the Patriots allowed a pair of 100-yard performances by Dolphins wide receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, New England's secondary faces another impressive challenge. DeAndre Hopkins and rookie Will Fuller combined for 21 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Fuller is averaging a crazy 23.4 per catch. Malcolm Butler, New England's Pro Bowl No. 1 cornerback is struggling with an ankle injury.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots CB Logan Ryan. New England's No. 2 cornerback is a polarizing player. Some think he is similar in play and production to Pro Bowl teammate Malcolm Butler. Others, see a guy who leaves opponents open way too often and is lucky more often than good. Ryan and the entire secondary fell apart last week in the second half against Miami. Now, the unit faces a Texans team that sports one of the better young receiver duos in the game to open the new season as DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller have been on fire to open the season, combining for 21 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Whoever draws Ryan will likely be Brock Osweiler's first option. The fourth-year cornerback has a chance to prove his worth.

FAST FACTS: Texans QB Brock Osweiler won only start vs. PatriotsNE (11/29/15 with Denver). . . .Texans punter Shane Lechter has gross average of 49.2 yards per punt and Pats' Ryan Allen 36.2.

PREDICTION: Patriots are running out of chess pieces for coach Belichick to maneuver and Texans' defense should be able to use sheer muscle to outmatch the master's next-man-up mindset.

OUR PICK: Texans, 24-17.

--Frank Cooney

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