Despite a pair of close calls the past two weeks, the New England Patriots remain tied for the best overall record in football. The Patriots have a chance to wrap up a playoff spot when they visit the Houston Texans on Sunday night.
New England has dominated the series with Houston, winning eight in a row (6-2 ATS), including the playoffs, but eight players missed practice Wednesday due to flu-like symptoms sweeping through the locker room. But sick or not, oddsmakers still have the Pats set as 3-point road faves. From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, we break down the best ways to wager the odds for the Sunday nighter.
The Patriots have been one of the best teams in the NFL this season when it comes to getting off to good starts, ranking second in the league when it comes to first quarter scoring, averaging 8.5 points in the opening frame. However, the Pats have stumbled out of the gates recently, scoring just one touchdown total in the first quarter of their last three games combined.
While the Pats have struggled to score in the first recently, that has been a major problem for the Texans all season long. Houston ranks second to last in the NFL, notching just 2.1 first quarter points per game.
That’s due in part to the fact that the Texans have continued to try and establish the run early in games, despite not being overly successful at it. And now that the Texans have to go up against the Pats elite defense, the value with New England to end the opening frame with a lead is too good to pass up.
Pick: Patriots -0.5 First Quarter Spread (+115)
FIRST HALF BET
Despite the slow starts by the Texans, Watson is having a fantastic season and has thrown for 1,003 yards with 10 TDs and one pick in his last three at home. But he will have his hands full with the insanely good Pats defense.
New England ranks first in the league in defensive DVOA, including first against the pass. The Pats also rank first in points allowed, giving up just 10.6 per contest through 11 games. In fact, the only time they gave up more than 14 points in a game this season was back in their Week 9 loss to Baltimore.
That same Ravens team also beat up on the Texans just a couple of weeks ago. It was the only other Top 10 defense the Texans have faced this and they managed up one touchdown in the 41-7 beatdown. While Watson can keep any game close on his own, the Pats defense is the biggest advantage in this matchup and like they have done the past few weeks, look for them to ride this advantage to a halftime lead.
Pick: Patriots -2.5 First Half Spread
As we mentioned in Prop Shop, life is going to tough for Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins in this one as he has to go up against arguably the best shutdown corner in the league right now in Stephon Gilmore. The Pats corner is having such a good season that there is even a little MVP buzz around him. Now, that probably has something to do with the fact that Lamar Jackson is running away with the award and people want to talk about anyone else. But still, it shows how good he’s been.
Well, that and the numbers. Gilmore leads the league in quarterback rating when targeted this season, he hasn’t allowed a touchdown and he’s coming off a game where he held Amari Cooper to a big ol’ donut. That’s right zero catches for cooper last week. It was the first time in his career that happened. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Gilmore.
Granted, Hopkins did have a big game against the Pats last season, but Gilmore seems to be playing on a completely different level right now. And while Hopkins is having a solid season, he has been held in check in terms of yardage against good secondaries. This one is the best. Take the Under on his receiving yards.
Pick: DeAndre Hopkins Under 69.5 Receving Yards
FULL GAME TOTAL
While the Texans have trouble getting going, they sure make up for it in the second half, particularly at home. Houston’s 15.6 second half points per game at home trails only San Francisco and surprisingly, Tennessee. Watson is obviously the catalyst for that. He has 15 total touchdowns in the second half (three rushing) of games this season and has a sparkling 109.9 passer rating. In fact, in the fourth quarter Watson has a ridiculous 123.0 quarterback rating.
On the other side, while much has been made of the Patriots struggles on offense lately, it isn’t as bad as some are making it seem. Brady and the Pats faced two solid defenses in consecutive road games (Baltimore and Philadelphia) before a weather impeded game against Dallas. Despite this, New England still ranks 10th in DVOA and fifth in scoring.
On Sunday the offense will have a chance to get back on track against a Texans defense that ranks 26th in DVOA and has a secondary that seems to always be banged up. Look for Brady to connect with his boy Julian Edelman plenty in this game, while Watson will do just enough for the Texans to send this one Over the number.
Pick: Over 46
FULL GAME SIDE
The other thing that can make you think that the Patriots offense will get back on track in this one is that Brady will actually have time to throw in this one. The Texans are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to sacking the quarterback, particularly since J.J. Watt went down with injury.
Another reason to like the Pats here is the edge they have in the turnover battle. New England leads the league with 2.6 takeaways per game, while Houston ranks 22nd in that category.
And lastly, are you really going to back Bill O’Brien to defeat his old mentor Bill Belichick in a football game? No, we didn’t think so. Lay the points with the Pats as they clinch their zillionth consecutive playoff berth.
Pick: Patriots -3