While he wouldn't admit it publicly because he admits nothing publicly, if you had told New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick that his team would be 3-1 when Tom Brady returned from his four-game suspension in Week 5 at Cleveland, I think Belichick would have been happy with that result as would most Patriots fans.
Having seen so little of Jimmy Garoppolo, I thought the Patriots would go 2-2 sans Brady. That's still in play now that Garoppolo will miss at least this week with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. That means third-round rookie Jacoby Brissett will make his first NFL start this week, and it comes in a matchup of 2-0 teams on Thursday night against Houston. Even if New England were to lose this game, it should beat imploding Buffalo in Foxboro next week and then all is well with Brady back. The Jets look decent, but Miami and Buffalo aren't very good and thus New England should take another AFC East title.
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Houston is in good shape to repeat as the AFC South champion as it is the only team with a positive points differential in the division and the Colts and Jaguars are each 0-2. Tennessee got a nice win in Detroit in Week 2 to improve to 1-1, but the Titans aren't a threat to win the division this year.
Because I believe both these teams will win their division, Thursday's winner could have a crucial tiebreaker in the playoffs. Just like Denver did last year over New England thanks to a regular-season victory over the Patriots. That proved vitally important.
Texans at Patriots Betting Story Lines
In typical Patriots fashion, they are saying very little about Garoppolo's shoulder injury. I've heard everything to 3-4 weeks that he will miss to Garoppolo suiting up as the backup to Brissett on Thursday night but only able to play a base set of plays with that injured wing. It does seem telling that New England hasn't added a veteran quarterback yet. Receiver Julian Edelman, a quarterback in college at Kent State, would be the No. 3. It's a shame for Garoppolo as he has played fantastic in his six quarters of action (rating of 117.2 is fourth in the NFL) and probably made himself a lot of money down the road. Jimmy G has one year left on his contact. Do the Patriots perhaps trade him this offseason while his value is sky high? You already hear rumors the Chicago Bears might pursue the Eastern Illinois grad this offseason. Brady says he wants to play into his 40s. The Pats are in position of strength regardless.
So perhaps if Brissett plays well, he can be the long-term backup. He did look good in the preseason, but that was against third-stringers. Brissett was 6-for-9 for 92 yards and rushed four times for 12 yards in place of Garoppolo in Sunday's 31-24 win over Miami. New England ran a very base offense for him. I expect to see plenty of LeGarrette Blount on Thursday. Blount finished with 123 yards in 29 carries and one touchdown against the Dolphins. Will Brissett have Rob Gronkowski to throw to? Gronk has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, and he's questionable for Thursday. Fellow tight end Martellus Bennett did nothing in Gronk's place in Week 1 but had four catches for 114 yards and a TD vs. Miami. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower is expected to miss a second straight game.
Houston coach Bill O'Brien says his team is preparing for Garoppolo and Brissett as well as the potential return of Gronkowski, but what else would he say? The Texans were dominated by the Chiefs twice in 2015, including a 30-0 wipeout in the wild-card game, but Houston got payback Sunday in a 19-12 home win. Brock Osweiler has been OK the first two weeks. He had two picks against the Chiefs but did hit DeAndre Hopkins on a TD pass. Will Fuller is an early Rookie of the Year candidate as the former Notre Dame star receiver has topped 100 yards in both games.
The defense has been the most impressive thing about Houston as the Texans have nine sacks already, and "only" 1.5 of those are from three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Jadeveon Clowney is finally starting to play like the No. 1 overall pick he was in 2014. Houston set a team record with three fumble recoveries in the first half against the Chiefs.
New England visited Houston on a two-game losing streak in Week 14 last year and won 27-6. Brady threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns, one to Gronk. Brian Hoyer was terrible under center for the Texans, who have one all-time win in the series (seven games).
Texans at Patriots Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Houston is a 2.5-point favorite with a total of 41.The Texans are -135 on the moneyline and the Patriots +115. On the alternate lines, the Texans are -2 (-115), -1.5 (-120) and -1 (-125). Houston is 2-0 ATS this season and 0-2 "over/under" as it plays its first road game. New England is 2-0 ATS (1-0 at home) and 1-1 O/U (1-0 at home).
The Texans are 5-1 ATS in their past six games. They are 0-6 ATS in their past six on Thursday. The Patriots have covered one of their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. They are 4-0 ATS in their past four September games. The under is 5-1 in Houston's past six vs. the AFC. The over is 9-3 in New England's past 12 at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The home team is 5-1-1 in the past seven meetings. The over is 6-1 in those seven.
Texans at Patriots Betting Prediction
Do I really dare bet against New England? I thought the Pats would be toast in Week 1 in Arizona, but Garoppolo and Belichick proved me wrong. The Patriots also had the entire offseason to get Garoppolo ready and weeks to prepare for the Cardinals. True, the short week should benefit the home team here, but only three days to get Brissett ready is tough. I just can't take a third-round rookie against a very good Houston defense even as rare as New England losing at home to an AFC team is -- and the fact the Pats have won six straight on Thursday. Give the points and go under. For more free NFL picks for this weekend click here.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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