What looked like a big-time matchup at the beginning of the season has become just another game on the schedule. While the New England Patriots have lived up to expectations this season, winning often enough be firmly in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Houston Texans have been a massive disappointment.
Coming off a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans are heavy underdogs, even at home. While Patriots fans are hoping for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Texans fans have their sights set on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
It's been that kind of season in Houston.
Meet the New England Patriots
The Patriots are coming off an exciting, come-from-behind victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football in Week 12. Tom Brady had arguably his best game of the season, throwing for nearly 350 yards and three touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski appears to be finding his groove again, and Brady is finally starting to get the rest of his offensive teammates healthy.
Defensively, the Patriots did a fine job holding Peyton Manning in check. A handful of young players really stepped up for New England, particularly in the secondary. They should have an even easier time against the struggling Texans.
Meet the Houston Texans
What happened to the Houston Texans? A preseason Super Bowl pick for some, the Texans have struggled on both sides of the ball this season. Injuries have played a factor, but the offense has been particularly bad in 2013. Matt Schaub and Case Keenum have both been inconsistent, and the running game isn't what it once was.
Maybe the Week 12 loss to the Jaguars was enough to spark something in the Texans, who do have the luxury of playing at home. It's tough to imagine them pulling off an upset against one of the AFC's best teams, though.
Local Takes: New England Patriots
The folks over at Pats Pulpit, SB Nation's New England Patriots blog, recognize the team's need to rebound quickly from the win and focus on the Texans.
Tom Brady understands the importance of games in the second half of the season. Now is when teams prove whether they are contenders or pretenders. To prove themselves as a contender, the Patriots must first move on quickly from wins and losses, which Brady says his teammates have done. He said, "We were in here today and had a good practice. That's a good way to start."
Local Takes: Houston Texans
Remember when the Texans were good at football? That was waaay back about a year ago when our beloved 11-1 team went to Massachusetts (or New England, as it may be) and began a streak of losing 12 of the next 15.
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It was nearly clean sweep from SB Nation's prediction panel. Only Matt Ufford picked the Texans to win.
The Patriots are favored by nine points, according to Odds Shark.
Cleveland at New England, Dec. 8, 1 p.m. ET
Houston at Jacksonville, Dec. 5, 8:25 p.m.