The Houston Texans took on the New England Patriots in Week 14 a year ago as an 11-1 team that had Super Bowl champion aspirations. They lost, went 2-4 down the stretch (including the playoffs), and have only won two games this season, currently sitting in the pole position for the first overall pick in next year's NFL Draft. Meanwhile, the Patriots have gone 12-5 in the same time (still counting playoffs), and now are worried about playoff seeding. The face off again Sunday in a 1 p.m. ET game in Houston, and just like New England is more relevant than Houston, New England's players are more fantasy-relevant than Houston's:
Start if you're desperate: Shane Vereen
This is probably the weirdest team for fantasy, if nothing else. After his early-season struggles, Brady is averaging 23 fantasy points a game in his last three, including a 33-point outing. He's firmly back in QB1 territory. ... While the Patriots' offense has been an inconsistent mishmash that has robbed many of the players of value, Gronkowski has stayed high, with 11 or more fantasy points in four of his five games this season. ... No kicker has more fantasy points this season than Gostkowski, with only three games in single digits. ... The Patriots' defense has been decent-to-above-average this season, and faces a Texans offense that makes friends with every defense.
Between fumbles and just a general battle for touches, no pure running back with New England is trustworthy. But the fact that Vereen catches more passes than any of the others gives him an extra dimension that helps a lot, and he is the most likely one to have decent scoring among the team's running backs and wide receivers.
Here's the thing about the glut of running backs and wide receivers on New England -- they'd all have significant value if the group were, like, cut in half. But Ridley and Blount are seeing the field less and less because of fumbles, and Bolden hasn't done enough in their stead. In the receiving game, meanwhile, the Patriots have played 11 games this season, and wide receivers have scored double-digit fantasy points 11 teams. Except that Edelman, Dobson, and Thompkins have done it three times each, while Amendola has done it twice. If you can start "whichever Patriot WR does best," you're golden. But if you think you can guess which one it will be, good luck.
Start in every league: Andre Johnson
Start if you're desperate: Ben Tate
Last week was disastrous for Johnson -- and, frankly, all the Texans -- but he's still a top-10 overall wide receiver who had double-digit fantasy scoring in three straight weeks, including a 40-point explosion in Week 9. The struggles at quarterback in Houston will always be a problem for him, but he's not a guy you can realistically sit.
Speaking of Week 12 disasters, Tate averaged 0.14 yards per carry over seven carries a week ago. He's been very underwhelming since starting running back Arian Foster went down, and he's killing his value in the upcoming free-agent market. The team has said he's still the guy, though, so who knows, maybe something happens.
And that's it for even semi-positive things in Houston. The shine has completely come off Keenum, who has scored 28, 19, 8, and 4 fantasy points in his last four games in a row. There's not much lower it can go. ... Johnson looked decent filling in for Tate a week ago, and if he were to start it would at least be interesting, but it's hard to imagine the Houston offense can support two running backs. ... Hopkins has been a late-season disaster, and hasn't scored a fantasy point in his last two games. ... Graham had a big game in Week 11, with 136 yards and a score as a tight end, but hasn't had that many yards in the other four of his last five games combined. ... Bullock has gone from "historically bad kicker" to just "low-end kicker" in recent weeks, which is nice for him, but he's still far from fantasy consideration. ... If the Patriots keep fumbling like they did against Denver, sure, that makes any defense worthwhile. But in general, no, they're a bad opponent, and the Texans' defense has been mediocre at best on the season.