On Sunday, Dec. 1, the NFL community will bear witness to a game that many expected to have Super Bowl implications. In a rematch of the 2013 AFC Divisional Round, the 8-3 New England Patriots will hit the road to take on the astonishingly poor 2-9 Houston Texans.
So much for meeting expectations.
Regardless of how things have shaped up for these two teams, both are dangerous in their own ways. New England is back on track as a Super Bowl contender, while Houston's defense is still strong enough to keep it in any game.
Here's how you can watch it all transpire when these two on-paper elites meet in Houston.
Date: Sunday, Dec. 1
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Patriots (-9) via Bovada
Player to Watch: New England's Running Backs
The Texans aren't having a great season, but that doesn't mean there aren't areas in which they're still dominant. For instance, Houston enters Week 13 with the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL.
In order to help Tom Brady survive Houston's elite pass rush, the Patriots' running backs need to be at their best.
The Patriots have a deep crop of quality runners in LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Each have played critical roles in victories this season, and all will be turned to for some form of production against Houston.
While the Texans may have the No. 1 pass defense, they also rank No. 22 against the run. All signs point toward Blount, Bolden, Ridley and Vereen experiencing success.
Bolden and Vereen are the most versatile threats, serving as both runners and receivers for Brady. Blount is the power back, while Ridley continues to be one of the best goal-line runners in the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns through 11 games.
Fumbles have been an issue, but Ridley now has 19 rushing touchdowns over the course of his past two seasons.
Head coach Bill Belichick has been successful in finding balance between his four talented backs. Against Houston, however, Brady will be under heavy pressure on every dropback with J.J. Watt and company rushing the passer.
If New England's running game doesn't get going, the Patriots could drop one on the road.
Player to Watch: Case Keenum, Houston Texans
If the pressure is on New England's running game, then I'm not sure what word describes the situation that Case Keenum is in. He's been solid through five appearances, but at this point in the year, he's playing for a starting job.
If Keenum closes out the year well enough, Houston may not have to look to the first round of the draft for a quarterback. That's a major if.
Keenum currently has 1,161 passing yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in his five games played. That's a refreshing stat line, considering Matt Schaub threw more pick-sixes than Keenum has total interceptions.
Unfortunately, Keenum is also completing just 55.0 percent of his passes.
The former Houston Cougars star is displaying promise, but the Texans haven't been winning games, and that's all that counts at this juncture. There's reason to believe in the talent that's currently on the roster, but the only feeling in Houston is uncertainty.
Keenum drew the short straw in a "prove yourself" game against Tom Brady.
If I were predicting this game before the season had started, I'd likely have gone with the Texans over the Patriots. Houston was 11-5 at home during the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons, and its defense is still strong enough to bring down the best of teams.
Unfortunately, Houston is currently 2-9 and without both an established franchise quarterback and superstar running back Arian Foster. New England will win.
Even if Brady does struggle against Houston's dominant pass rush, the Patriots have discovered balance with a deep rushing attack. Taking care of the football will be a key against a physical defense like Houston's, but New England has proven capable of putting points on the board via the run.
Furthermore, this one could end up coming down to a clutch clash between Brady and Keenum. With all due respect to the latter, Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and Keenum is attempting to win a starting job.
The disparity is clear.
It's worth noting that each of Houston's past five losses has been decided by seven points or less. That includes road losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
New England will win, but it won't be easy.
New England 23, Houston 17