The upcoming battle of AFC giants on Monday Night Football between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans should make for a phenomenal game. But with healthy weapons and an improving defense, the Pats will roll to their seventh win in a row.
Here's a shakedown of six reasons why New England has the edge over Houston.
The best way to beat Tom Brady is to bring the pressure and break his rhythm. The best way to do that is with a superior pass rush.
Houston certainly fits the bill, with star defensive end J.J. Watt (15.5 sacks, 15 passes defended) leading the way.
But Watt will have a tough task breaking through New England's O-line, which ranks fifth in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed this season.
Even without Logan Mankins (ankle and calf), the Pats' left side has done very well this season, thanks in part to the development of Nate Solder and emerging diamond in the rough Donald Thomas.
As long as the Pats can limit Watt, Tom Brady should have a pretty comfortable game.
While Houston has played great defense this season—which would usually be considered the difference-maker in this game—that side of the ball has hit a bit of a rough patch.
Over its last three games, the Houston secondary has allowed opposing quarterbacks 1,104 yards and eight touchdowns.
Not helping matters is that the secondary is currently mired in injures. Houston could be without Alan Ball (foot), Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) and Brice McCain (foot) in this one.
If they're not at full strength, they'll have a hell of a time slowing down New England's elite receivers.
As if New England didn't have enough weapons, now it looks like Aaron Hernandez is back in full force.
The big tight end has always been a stud, but injuries have constantly limited his game this season. Hernandez had missed three games in a row before returning against the New York Jets in Week 12.
Hernandez didn't have a great impact on that game but looked much better in Week 13, putting up 97 yards receiving on eight catches against the Miami Dolphins.
Now that he appears to be fully healthy, Hernandez becomes just one more weapon the Texans have to worry about.
What the Pats lack in their secondary—more on that later—they make up for up front.
New England has a great run defense, ranking ninth in the NFL in yards per game (100.8). Slowing down the Texans' potent ground attack could break Houston's offensive rhythm.
In Houston's one loss this season, running back Arian Foster was limited to 29 yards on 17 carries. During Houston's recent four-game struggles, Foster has been limited to 3.6 yards per carry and three touchdowns.
Speaking of Foster, he was limited in last weeks game against the Tennessee Titans to just 14 carries. It appears that he's either tired, or Houston is trying to give him some rest for the final stretch.
If he remains limited against New England, the Patriots defense should have a strong game against the run.
The lone factor holding New England back from being the best team in the NFL is its shaky secondary.
However, they seem to be heating up. A big factor in that has been the acquisition of Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the three games Talib has played for the Pats, opposing quarterbacks are completing 57 percent of their passes, averaging 274 yards per game. Opponents have averaged just 20 points in that span.
Another huge contributor has been rookie Alfonzo Dennard, who is developing into a stud for New England. He has 30 tackles and three interceptions—one return for a touchdown—in just eight games.
With a sturdy attack up front, and a strengthening secondary, New England becomes that much harder for Houston to beat with offense.
Never underestimate the effect of a great home stadium, which New England certainly has.
The Pats are 4-1 his season at Foxboro, and have outscored opponents 174-122. Over its last two-game homestand, New England averaged 48 points per game.
With a home crowd to feed off, New England automatically has an advantage in this game.