There are times throughout the NFL season when we are faced with difficult decisions.
For me, one of those times is now, as I make my three bold predictions for this Monday night's game between the Houston Texans (11-1) and the New England Patriots (9-3).
Then again, if the decision wasn't difficult, it wouldn't be bold.
Monday night's matchup is between two teams with very little familiarity of each other. The Patriots and Texans have met only three times previously and the Patriots are 2-1 in those games.
The last time these two teams met was 2009, in Houston and the Texans won the game 34-27. Previous to 2009, the first time these teams met, the Patriots won 23-20 in overtime back in 2003 and the only game the Texans played in New England was in 2006; the Patriots won 40-7.
That was then and this is now. A lot has changed about both of these teams since the last time they met, and we could be on the verge of a new rivalry, especially if these teams meet in the postseason. Currently the Texans hold the No. 1 seed and the Patriots are the No. 3 seed.
Monday's game will be the second Monday Night Football game this season for the Texans. In Week 5 they beat the New York Jets. For the Patriots, it will be their first Monday night game this season and the 12th for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who are 10-1 on Monday night.
With that said, here is the first of three bold predictions for the Texans at the Patriots.
Patriots Hand Texans First Road Loss of 2012
Heading into Week 14, the Texans have played six games on the road and are 6-0 in those games. They have won on the road in Jacksonville, Denver, New York (Jets), Chicago, Detroit (Thanksgiving), and Tennessee. The Texans average 25.3 points per game on the road and are giving up a paltry 16.
Good luck to the Texans in trying to hold the Patriots' offense to 16 points. The Patriots' lowest point total of the season was 18 in a Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and they are currently first in the league, averaging 35.8 points per game and 34.8 at home.
The Patriots come into this game on a six-game winning streak, including four straight at home. During Belichick's tenure (2000 - present) in New England, the Patriots have the best home record at 80-21, a .729 winning percentage. An even more impressive number is 39-2. The Patriots' home record in their last 41 games.
Both teams have clinched a playoff spot, but the Patriots are still chasing the Texans for the No. 1 seed and will move a game closer after Monday night, taking their home record to 5-1.
The Patriots Will Rush For 100-Plus Yards and Ridley Will Score a TD
This may not seem like a very bold prediction, considering the Patriots have rushed for over 100 yards their past six games and eight of last nine; including games of 247 against Buffalo and 251 against Denver.
However, when you look on the other side of the ball, the Texans have allowed 100-plus yards rushing only three times this season. Not to mention, they have been without All-Pro linebacker, Brian Cushing, since Week 5. Cushing tore his ACL in the second-quarter of their game against the Jets and was placed on season-ending IR.
Chris Johnson was the lone back to go over the century mark, when he rushed for 141 yards against them in Week 4. The Bears and Lions are the only other teams to rush for 100-plus yards.
As I stated, the Patriots have had success rushing this season. It is due in part to a focused effort on running the ball more than in years past.
Second-year back Stevan Ridley is just the second back since Corey Dillon (1,635), in 2004 to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 1,008 in 2010 and Ridley is at 1,010 through the first 12 games. He is averaging 4.5 yards per attempt and has nine rushing touchdowns on the year.
It is interesting to note that in the 2011 Draft, Belichick traded the Patriots' 60th pick to the Texans for their 73rd pick and 138th pick. That 73rd pick turned out to be Stevan Ridley and he was the second running back taken by the Patriots in the Draft. They took Shane Vereen with the 56th pick.
Patriots' Defense Will Force Two Turnovers and Score a Defensive TD
Through 12 games, Matt Schaub has thrown nine interceptions and lost three fumbles. You can add another two turnovers to his total after leaving Gillette Stadium on Monday night. The Patriots enter the game with the leagues best turnover differential at + 24.
They average two turnovers a game and have had at least one in every game this season and two or more in 10 of 12 games.
The Patriots have returned two interceptions and three fumbles for touchdowns, including two during their 52-second scoring spree against the Jets. The Patriots are quietly becoming much better on defense than people perceive them to be.
They are primed to have a big game on Monday night against the Texans. This is the highlight game of the week. I expect it to be a high scoring game that comes down to the final possession or two.
Outcome: Patriots 34-30.