In every game there is a couple of crucial individual matchups that decide the outcome of the game. Here are the three that will tilt the scales in favor of either the Texans or Patriots:
1. J.J. Watt vs. Patriots offensive line
Due to injuries the Patriots offensive line has played a bit of musical chairs. Starting left tackle Nate Solder is out for the season, and a mix of Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon and others have rotated in protecting Brady’s blind side. This week Bill Belichick had high praise for Watt, saying he was LT [Lawrence Taylor], whom Belichick coached as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in the 80’s. I imagine Watt will spend a lot of time on the left side of the Patriots offensive line, but I think Houston needs to take a page out of Rex Ryan’s playbook and move Watt around to confuse Tom Brady and this young offensive line. Use Watt a little like Justin Tuck was used in the two Giants Super Bowl victories–move him inside on third down and give David Andrews, an undrafted rookie center, something else to think about. Advantage: Texans.
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No matter what Malcolm Butler does for the rest of his life he will be known for one play, the one that saved Super Bowl 49 on one of the most infamous play calls of all time. Butler has been out to prove he is more than just a one play wonder, and so far this year he has delivered. Against some very good receivers like Sammy Watkins, Brandon Marshall and others the West Alabama product has held his own. But this will be by far his stiffest challenge yet against the explosive Hopkins, who is third in the league with 1169 receiving yards and in receiving touchdowns with ten. However, this is a Belichick defense that takes away what you do best, which is why I imagine Hopkins will be limited but it will allow other guys the chance to step up. Advantage: Even.
3. Scott Chandler vs. Texans linebackers
The Texans have been burned by tight ends this season. In the opener Travis Kelce scored twice and had over 100 receiving yards. Greg Olsen followed with 70 of his own. Julius Thomas caught seven passes and scored for the Jaguars against Houston. Delanie Walker caught six passes for 62 yards in the first meeting against the Titans as well. The usually quiet Charles Clay scored on one of his four receptions for 66 yards for the Bills last week as well. Even Ben Watson was the leading receiver for the Saints against the Texans. On the positive side, the Texans did contain Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati and won’t have to face Rob Gronkowski in all likelihood. Still, with Brady back there slinging it around, I think Chandler has a solid outing. Advantage: Patriots.