Thursday Night Football Preview: Can the Patriots Shock the NFL Again?
Bill Belichick-coached Patriots teams have thrived when they're able to circle the wagons and play with an "us against the world" mentality, especially at home. And with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett likely making his first NFL start with just three days of preparation, this game affords the Patriots to take that type of mindset into this game.
The Texans defense is no joke, and everything seems to point to a Houston win. Which likely means Belichcik and company finds a way to shock the NFL again, much like they did in Arizona two weeks ago.
The line is moving in the Patriots direction, but this could be just the third time in the past 11 seasons the Patriots will kick off as home underdogs, currently getting one point from Vegas. The Patriots won each of those games by an average of 17 points. Of course, that was with Tom Brady under center.
What to Expect From New England's Offense
We really have no idea what to expect from Brissett, but NFL Films' Greg Cossell had this to say about him: "Overall a big QB with a strong arm and excellent movement, looks the part of an NFL QB and has the tools to be a quality starter with coaching and refinement.”
Jimmy Garoppolo currently ranks second in the league with 30.49 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), and actually leads the league in Passing NEP per drop back at 0.49. It's safe to assume the Patriots coaching staff will attempt to put Brissett into situation where he can be efficient as well. But nobody knows how that will play out under the big lights of a nationally televised game in his first start.
LeGarrette Blount is getting a ton of volume, but has been relatively inefficient, accumulating -6.01 Rushing NEP, which is the seventh-worst total in the NFL among players who have attempted at least 15 rushes this season. His 31.3 percent Success Rate -- the percentage of positive runs made -- is the 17th-worst mark among that same group of backs, too.
Julian Edelman has totaled 14.69 Reception NEP, the 21st highest total this season. His 18 targets tie him for the 18th-highest total in the league, and his 12.99 Target NEP is eighth-best. After last week's two-touchdown performance, Danny Amendola climbed into 20th place with 1.08 Reception NEP per target among players who have seen more than five targets this season.
All in all, the Patriots are 2-0 in large part because of their backup quarterback. Expect a more conservative game plan with Brissett under center, but this is an offense that can allow inexperienced passers to thrive.
What Will the Texans Do?
Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler has attempted the 22nd-most passes (72) and accumulated the 25th-most Passing NEP (8.36) this year. His 0.11 Passing NEP per drop back is nowhere near as efficient as the top quarterbacks in the league this season, as there are 17 quarterbacks with a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.20 or higher.
Like Blount, Lamar Miller has gotten plenty of volume (53 carries), but has not put his attempts to good use. Miller's -6.28 Rushing NEP is the fifth-worst total this season.
Meanwhile, the Texans have two explosive receivers that both rank inside the top 20 in Reception NEP. Rookie Will Fuller has the fourth-highest Reception NEP in the NFL at 19.95 after two games. Teammate DeAndre Hopkins' 15.24 Reception NEP 'only' ranks 17th.
We know what the Texans ideally want to do: run the football and play good defense, even if that happens in an inefficient manner. But do our historical comparisons think that will happen?
According to our algorithm, the closest match for this game in the NFL database at a 92.37 percent match, a Pittsburgh Steelers 35-7 smackdown of the Cincinnati Bengals. In this case, the Steelers represent the Patriots. Meaning the top comp shows a New England victory.
The Steelers exploded for 28 second-quarter points in that one behind two Rashard Mendenhall rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line, a 12-yard Mike Wallace touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger, and a 60-yard punt return touchdown from Antonio Brown.
A.J. Green would catch a touchdown to get the Bengals on the board, but the game was officially iced in the fourth quarter when Wallace caught his second touchdown of the game.
It's safe to say that they NFL will effectively lose their collective minds if the Patriots do that to the Texans tonight. Many investigations on ball inflation rates, sideline communications, and video taping procedures are sure to ensue.
What the Algorithms Say
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