Texans Huge Dogs Visiting Pats

By Charles Jay

The Houston Texans won the AFC South division for the second consecutive season, but also kind of backed into it for the second straight season. And they practically got a free pass in their playoff game last week against the Oakland Raiders. But things become more probl;ematic for them as they tackle the New England Patriots and one of the best quarterbacks of all-time. The game is scheduled to start at 8:15 PM ET at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, and America’s Bookie patrons can get in on the action even after the opening kickoff as they take advantage of two “Live Betting” options.

The Pats have won all eight games without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, and that is a key thing to remember, because it gives you an idea of how well they are able to improvise. It almost seems like a “plug and play” situation, as Tom Brady always seems to find a different outlet. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler, who was supposed to supply the Texans with a quarterback well into the future, got benched in favor of Tom Savage and only got his job back when Savage suffered a concussion. They are next to last in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, and you just can’t trade with this team with field goals.

And they got to face third-string Oakland quarterback Connor Cook, who was making his first NFL start. Interestingly, the Patriots beat them in Week 4 with a third-stringer making his first start as well.

In the NFL playoff betting odds posted on this game, the Patriots are laying more than two touchdowns:

New England Patriots -15.5
Houston Texans +15.5

Over 44.5 points -110
Under 44.5 points -110

So Brady, who would live to have Gronk in the lineup, will do whatever he needs to with people like his other tight end, Martellus Bennett, as well as rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, ex-Buffalo speedster Chris Hogan, former Arizona Cardinal Michael Floyd, who was released after a DUI and picked right up by Bill Belichick. Then there are running backs James White and Dion Lewis, capable of catching a lot of passes out of the backfield. It seemingly never ends.

Houston’s problems involve not just being able to get over the goal line when they are in the red zone, they also involve getting the ball up the field behind the arm of Osweiler, who averaged only 5.8 yards per attempt. The general consensus is that he did not utilize a pair of receivers who could have been deadly; DeAndre Hopkins did catch 78 passes, and they had over 200 yards the last couple of games, but he didn’t even reach 1000 yards. Rookie Will Fuller was virtually absent from the offense for long stretches, even when healthy.

What has to keep Houston alive here is the defense, and it deserves respect, as they gave up fewer yards per game than any other team in the NFL. What New England does on first down is going to be important; LeGarrette Blount, who scored a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns, has to put his team in position where it gets favorable third-down situations. That allows Brady to do his best work. Without JJ Watt, Houston didn’t have as formidable a pass rush (just 31 sacks), but they obviously have athletes on the outside with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. The Patriots’ offensive line has been a very pleasant surprise, as Brady threw the ball 432 times and was sacked on only 15 occasions.

This is just going to be a real struggle for Houston to score all day long; what seems to be forgotten by a lot of NFL playoff bettors is the fact that New England surrendered fewer points per game (15.6) that anybody in the NFL. And while the Patriots will convert in the red zone, the Texans will not. Also, consider that Bill Belichick started a third-string quarterback when these teams met earlier in the campaign, and didn’t even bring an emergency backup aboard. Such was his level of confidence that he could beat Houston and his former assistant coach, Bill O’Brien. The result, with Jacoby Brissett making his first NFL start with an injured thumb, was a 27-0 victory. Maybe we get something similar here. We’re going with the Patriots minus the points as the Charles Jay/America’s Bookie Challenge continues.

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