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New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans: Matchups, prediction between common foes

Two rookies will duel it out, but only one will go against Bill Belichick in today's New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans matchup.

The New England Patriots vs. the Houston Texans will take place this Sunday. Connected through personnel and high-level staff decision-makers, these two teams know each other very well.

Because of this similarity between the two and the connection of Texans GM Nick Caserio, Houston has actually defeated the Patriots in their last two meetings. However, heading into their Week 5 clash, this year’s iteration may resemble more of New England’s prior dominance.

New England Patriots offense vs. Houston Texans defense

Both teams are led by rookie quarterbacks, but only the Patriots were “supposed” to at this point of the 2021 season. Mac Jones was drafted 15th overall by Bill Belichick and Co. and defeated Cam Newton in camp to earn the starting nod. Despite a 1-3 record, the Patriots have fared well in most games, outscoring their opponents 71-70 combined through four weeks.

Jones won his first road start as well, the lone win of his young career. His first battle against the Texans is incredibly favorable for the former Alabama signal-caller.

Mac Jones vs. Texans Defense

Jones has completed 70% of his throws (112-of-160) so far this season but has only averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. He’s even at 4 touchdowns to 4 interceptions but has largely taken care of the football. Half of Jones’ interceptions were certainly not on him and rather to receivers who fell or dropped an on-target pass.

The Texans have lost three straight, and opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 768 passing yards during that stretch. Yet, the Texans have only allowed 3 passing touchdowns in that time. Houston’s secondary, anchored by Justin Reid at safety, has largely been their best unit this season. They’ve made 5 interceptions and allowed just 6 total touchdown passes — 2 of which came in garbage time in the win against Jacksonville in Week 1.

If New England beats Houston this week, it will be because Jones plays mistake-free football and their success on the ground.

Advantage: Push

Patriots weapons vs. Texans secondary

This is another area shaded gray when comparing these two teams. Perhaps one of the league’s more underrated players through four weeks, Texans LB Christian Kirksey is great in all facets. Reid and the secondary are also playing well. But outside of them, Houston’s clear disadvantage this season has been their linebacking corps and inability to stop the run.

Through four games, Houston has allowed 137.0 rushing yards on average and surrendered 8 rushing touchdowns. Nearly half of the first downs they’ve given up have come on the ground — that’s an unhealthy margin.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are fresh off the worst performance in franchise history, being held to -1 rushing yards against Tampa Bay. The Texans’ defense is not quite as good as the Buccaneers, but it needs to be stated: New England is not quite as good as they once were on the ground.

The Patriots have recorded just 2 rushing scores this season, averaging 3.5 yards as a team. Damien Harris has done nothing to manufacture his own yards this season, ranking 21st among full-time starters in total rushing yards over expectation, per Next Gen Stats. This is truly a battle of wills — will one unit break before the other?

Advantage: Push

Patriots offensive line vs. Texans defensive line

Houston has recorded 7 total sacks this season, getting home with 15 more QB hits as well. Jones, meanwhile, has been sacked 10 times. Some have been his fault, but others are certainly on the offensive line. In what has clearly become muddy waters, this is yet another battle of two units desperately in need of a good performance.

With as many injuries that they’ve had this year, it’s amazing the Patriots have only surrendered 10 sacks as a unit. However, right tackle Trent Brown and right guard Shaq Mason have been ruled out for this matchup. On the other side, left tackle Isaiah Wynn and left guard Mike Onwenu landed on the COVID-19 list this week, missing practices. Their statuses will be revealed at game time as one of the two will likely be out due to vaccination status.

It was reported that between Wynn and Onwenu, one of the two tested positive while the other was a “close contact” unvaccinated player. Per NFL rules, vaccinated players can return to the lineup with two negative tests, while an unvaccinated player must stay away from the team for 10 days if tested positive.

Regardless of the situation, the Patriots will be without at least two offensive linemen and up to four. The Texans’ defensive line isn’t great, but they’re certainly better than an all-reserve unit.

Advantage: Texans

New England Patriots defense vs. Houston Texans offense

Primarily an underrated staple of a Belichick-coached team, the Patriots’ defense hasn’t quite lived up to standards in 2021. Still, Belichick famously dominates rookie quarterbacks. So should this one be any different than New England’s Week 2 drubbing of the Jets?

Davis Mills vs. Patriots defense

Davis Mills has stood tall in the face of adversity. It was not a common prediction to see Mills in the Texans lineup — this much — to start the year. Save for a few good quarters, Mills has largely been a disaster so far.

He has completed 56.7% of his throws (38-of-67), with half of those completions coming against Carolina. He enters this game on the heels of a disastrous 11-of-21 performance against Buffalo in which he threw 4 interceptions. In fact, Mills finished the first half against the Bills with more interceptions than completions (1 completion for 3 yards, 2 interceptions). Mills led the Texans to -25 net yards in the first half against Buffalo.

This all goes without mentioning a Patriots defense that has recorded 10 sacks, 21 QB hits, and 5 interceptions as a unit. Matthew Judon is playing some of his best football, leading the team with 4.5 sacks, while J.C. Jackson continues to move up the cornerback ranks with 2 picks of his own.

This is a ball-hawking team against a sluggish, slow rookie quarterback.

Advantage: Patriots

Texans “weapons” vs. Patriots secondary

Houston’s weapons include Brandin Cooks and all the league’s top running backs from 2016. Aging veterans Mark Ingram and David Johnson would have put fear into the Patriots a half-decade ago, while Phillip Lindsay had a good year in Denver one time.

Cooks leads the Texans’ receivers with 369 yards and 1 touchdown, or 47.7% of the team’s receiving yards. New England’s coaching staff is terrific at eliminating the opposing team’s top threat, but rarely is it this clear who that is. The Patriots have allowed just over 50% of passes against them to be completed and 3 touchdowns all year long.

If there’s one unit that resembles those dominant Patriots teams of the past few decades, it’s the secondary, even without Stephon Gilmore.

Advantage: Patriots

Texans offensive line vs. Patriots front seven

As previously mentioned, Judon is playing arguably his best football to date. With his emergence in this lineup, it’s freed up singular battles for Deatrich Wise and Chase Winovich along the edge. Situational pass rusher Josh Uche has also had spotty dominant plays. The New England defensive line has recorded all but one of the team’s sacks this season.

On the offensive line, the Texans are a makeshift unit outside of left tackle Laremy Tunsil. They’ve been marginally average, at best, this season. However, just like their counterparts in this one, they could be without a starter. Right tackle Marcus Cannon is questionable and considered a game-time decision. If he’s ruled out, Charlie Heck would get the start.

No matter which way you slice it, it’s another battle on the defensive side that favors New England.

Advantage: Patriots

Betting line and game prediction

Belichick is largely famous for being a terrific coach and mentor to Tom Brady. Yet, he’s long since been a fabulous defensive mind. This year is no different as the Patriots have been carried by their defense in 2021. They’re allowing just 17.1 points per game and have surrendered a mere 7 touchdowns.

Houston doesn’t have the rushing attack, and Mills is in line to be yet another rookie quarterback to fall in the face of Belichick. It’ll be ugly, but expect the Patriots to cover as the touchdown favorite on the heels of a strong defensive performance. Houston may even struggle to score at all.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Texans 6

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor

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