Game Scout: Patriots at Texans

Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

New England Patriots (8-3) at Houston Texans (2-9)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Reliant Stadium, Houston - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
*Keys to the game: The silver lining for the Texans? Eight of New England's 11 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Patriots were also trucked through - and over - for 280 rushing yards by the Broncos. Houston will attempt to keep the game close and keep pounding away with RB Ben Tate at the soft interior of New England's run defense. QB Case Keenum's completion percentage is down to 55.0 after consecutive rough outings in which he has thrown one touchdown against two interceptions, but he'll be set up in favorable situations if Tate is effective on first and second down. Houston's defense ranks first against the pass but is allowing 118.5 rushing yards per game as opponents regularly ground out victories. Who will line up in the Patriots' backfield? Stevan Ridley was benched again last week and LeGarrette Blount also put the ball on the ground. QB Tom Brady will use short drops to combat Houston's pass rush and exploit a Texans secondary that has taken a marked step backward this season.
*Matchup to watch - Patriots RB Shane Vereen vs. Houston linebackers: Vereen was targeted 11 times last week, catching eight passes while coping with a soft cast on his wrist. He's a good route-runner and trusted target for Brady on third down.
*Player spotlight - Patriots RT Will Svitek: With Marcus Cannon's status uncertain due to an ankle injury, Svitek could be the third Patriot to start at right tackle this season. Svitek struggled in relief against Von Miller, and his follow-up assignment would be J.J. Watt.
*Fast facts: The Patriots are 15-1 in their past 16 December games. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson has averaged 90.9 receiving yards per game since turning 30, the highest mark in NFL history.
The Texans have certain matchups that can help them compete longer than the teams' records would indicate. But QB Case Keenum has struggled the past two weeks with defenses throwing new looks at him, and inexperienced starters have traditionally struggled against Bill Belichick defenses.
*Our pick: Patriots 27-17

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