Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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*ARI at SEA *DAL at CIN *NO at NYG *STL at BUF
*Updated BAL at WAS KC at CLE PHI at TB HOU at NE (MON)

Prediction: HOU 31, NE 27 (Line: NE by 4)

Players to Watch: Arian Foster, Tom Brady

Now this is a good Monday Night Football game. The 11-1 Texans have already clinched a playoff berth and are two games ahead of New England, Baltimore and Denver for the #1 seed in the AFC. So far, the Texans are a perfect 6-0 on the road and are on a six game winning streak. The 9-3 Patriots are 4-1 at home and also on a six game winning streak. Here is another wonderful angle - this pits the #1 against the #2 scoring team. And the Texans secondary has been hard hit by injuries to make this even more fun.

Houston Texans
Homefield: Reliant Stadium
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 MIA 30-10 10 @CHI 13-6
2 @JAC 27-7 11 JAC 43-37
3 @DEN 31-25 12 @DET 34-31
4 TEN 38-14 13 @TEN 24-10
5 @NYJ 23-17 14 @NE -----
6 GB 24-42 15 IND -----
7 BAL 43-13 16 MIN -----
8 BYE ----- 17 @IND -----
9 BUF 21-9 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
HOU @ NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 10 180,1
RB Arian Foster 90,1 5-30
TE Garrett Graham 2-20

Pregame Notes: This is an all important game for the Texans and could well be the precursor to the AFC Championship game. With two home games to follow against the Colts and Vikings, the Texans could make that season finale' against in Indianapolis a moot point by remaining two games ahead of the AFC pack. While this may be a particularly bad time to be missing a couple of cornerbacks, the Texans have risen up and got the job done before and tend to play up or down to whatever their opponent is like.

If this moves entirely to the air later in the game, Matt Schaub can hang with that having thrown for multiple scores in half his games and scorching the Jaguars for 527 yards and five scores in week 11 followed by 315 yards and a score in Detroit. This will not be a game decided purely by the Texans running offense and Schaub can mix it up when needed.

Arian Foster scored his fifteenth touchdown on the year in Tennessee last Sunday but was limited to only 14 carries partly to rest him up for this week. Foster has shouldered a heavy load this year and even added three to five receptions per week as well. Ben Tate remains the #3 thanks to Justin Forsett's recent three game streak of over 60 yards per game. Those came against weaker defenses to be sure and his role is likely to be scaled back in a tough game like this with such important consequences at play. The Patriots rank well against running backs and yet have not faced many of the top backs. And Foster is the top back.

Owen Daniels already has six touchdowns this year and now will face the weakest secondary against tight ends. He was turning in 60+ yard efforts every week until recently when the opponents became easier to beat. He's sure to play a big role this week and Garrett Graham may be out this week which would call up James Casey into play and further the importance of Daniels.

The Patriots secondary is better but still allows big yardage and scores to primary receivers like Andre Johnson. He's no hidden weapon to be sure but did just post 9-188 and 14-273 in two of the last three games. No doubt he'll come into heavy play again this week. Foster could do better in New England than they expect and if so, that could lower the passing production from both sides.

I like a defensive score in this game.

Gaining Fantasy Points HOU 17 1 27 2 4 8
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 30 13 28 32 3 1

QB Case Keenum, HOU JAC 20000018000 ***
At this point it's no longer a surprise that the Jags aren't the cupcake matchup many assume; Tony Romo in Week 10 is the last quarterback to throw multiple touchdowns against them, and not since Philip Rivers in Week 4 have they surrendered a 300-yard game. No reason to think Keenum's stat line gets well this week.
RB Arian Foster, HOU JAC 13023200000 ***
Foster has seven touchdowns in seven career games against the Titans; that total includes four 100-yard rushing days as well. He's averaged 25 carries per game over the past three, producing 322 yards in the process. No reason to think he won't find similar success against the Jags this week.
RB Alfred Blue, HOU JAC 301000000 **
If Arian Foster goes down with an injury, or if the Texans get ahead by so much they can start playing the backups, or if Foster just needs to share the load in what by necessity will be a run-first game plan for Houston... well, then, you're my boy, Blue!
WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU JAC 004700000 ***
Reduced quarterback numbers trickle down to reduced receiver numbers, as the Texans haven't had a WR TD or a receiver top 80 yards in almost a month. That stretch includes a combined 10 WR catches (on 14 targets) against the Jags; tough to carve fantasy value out of such a small number, even though Hopkins has taken over as the Texan's WR1.
TE Garrett Graham, HOU JAC 002200000 ***
Graham's been dinged up, leaving Ryan Griffin to get the targets... except when CJ Fiedorowicz steals the touchdowns. It's a cluster, with not nearly enough production to float one boat let alone three.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Randy Bullock, HOU JAC 1144 ***
Bullock has at least nine points in three of his last four, including Week 14 in Jacksonville. Balance the motivation of a Houston squad still alive for the postseason with the issues of a backup-to-the-backup quarterback and you should still get a solid kicker outing this week.

New England Patriots
Homefield: Gillette Stadium
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 @TEN 34-13 10 BUF 37-31
2 ARI 18-20 11 IND 59-24
3 @BAL 30-31 12 @NYJ 49-19
4 @BUF 52-28 13 @MIA 23-16
5 DEN 31-21 14 HOU -----
6 @SEA 23-24 15 SF -----
7 NYJ 29-26 16 @JAC -----
8 @STL 45-7 17 MIA -----
9 BYE ----- ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
NE vs HOU Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 290,3
RB Stevan Ridley 70 2-10
RB Shane Vereen 30 2-10
WR Danny Amendola
WR Brandon LaFell 1-10
PK Stephen Gostkowski 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: Not unlike the Texans, this is a big game for the Patriots and as soon as this is over, the 49ers show up next week for two games against likely the two toughest defenses they will face this year. The final weeks in Jacksonville and hosting the Fins are sort of "gimmees" but these next two weeks will go far in defining what the Patriots are going to do in the playoffs and where they will fall in the seeding. With a current three-way tie for the #2 seed, any loss is going to be hard to compensate.

Tom Brady comes off his worst game of the year when he only managed 238 pass yards and one score in Miami that included only his fourth interception of the year. He was also sacked a season-high four times. But Brady has been golden almost every week this year with seven efforts over 300 yards and multiple scores in the previous six games. Catching the Texans with a banged up secondary only makes it better.

The Patriots placed Julian Edelman on injured reserve from his broken foot which leaves them thin enough at wideout to call back Donte Stallworth. With Rob Gronkowski still out, the passing game has shrunk to mostly Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Lloyd has just gone cold despite the need for help and last week comes off a single catch in Miami of his only pass target in the game. Edelman was starting to take hold on a role in the offense but now his workload is likely just absorbed by Welker and Hernandez.

Brandon Bolden has concluded his four-game suspension but the Pats rushing effort has been more than solid and combined ranks #2 in fantasy points. Stevan Ridley is currently on a five game scoring streak and gets help from Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead already. No real place for Bolden currently. This week they all face the best rushing defense in the league so their stats are bound to take a dip. In the end, this will be mostly about Brady exploiting the banged up Texans secondary and Houston trying to run Foster as much as they can to delay the inevitable aerial war that will break out.

Gaining Fantasy Points NE 3 2 15 1 2 2
Preventing Fantasy Points HOU 15 1 20 24 7 5

QB Tom Brady, NE BUF 0000020020 *
Brady's 361 and 4 in the earlier meeting with Buffalo was easily the biggest game they've allowed to an opposing QB--but, ho hum, the eight time Brady has topped 300 yards against Buffalo and the ninth time he's taken them for at least three TDs. In fact, Brady has multiple scoring strikes in 14 of his last 16 against Buffalo, with the only misses being late December games in 2013 (122 and 1 on 24 attempts) and 2009 (115 and 1 on 23 attempts). See what we're getting at here? Brady owns the Bills, but with nothing to play for don't be surprised if he doesn't take his full bite here.
RB Jonas Gray, NE BUF 301000000 *
Gray made it out of Bill Belichick's doghouse last week just long enough to score a touchdown. With LeGarrette Blount likely to sit this one out it's between Gray and Brandon Bolden for carries. You call the coin toss, then Bill Belichick decides to give carries to the back you didn't pick. Good luck with that.
Update: Gray has been ruled out of this week's tilt with an ankle injury. So much for his shot at redemption.
RB Shane Vereen, NE BUF 2002100000 ***
Running backs in general haven't done much against the Bills but especially pass-catching backs haven't done much--and that doesn't bode well for Vereen. Only three backs have topped 31 receiving yards all year against the Bills, only one of them since Week 4, and Buffalo has only allowed one flukey RB receiving score--last week to lightly-used Raider Jamize Olawale. There's also the chance of Bill Belichick turning to his JV for much of this game, so look elsewhere for running back help.
WR Brandon LaFell, NE BUF 004601000 *
It's already tough enough figuring out which defensive flaw Bill Belichick will exploit in any given week; now factor in the possibility of New England resting regulars after getting in a couple quarters of work, and any Patriot becomes a risky fantasy play in Week 17. At least LaFell tallied a couple TDs against the Bills the last time they met, so he has a track record of production against this secondary. Still...
WR Danny Amendola, NE BUF 004500000 ***
No reason for the Patriots to expose Julian Edelman to further injury, which might bean another 11 targets for Amendola. He did enough with that number against a bad Jets secondary last week to at least warrant fantasy consideration here.
WR Julian Edelman, NE BUF 001100000 *
Edelman sat out last week's game due to injury, and there's no need to rush him back to the lineup in this meaningless contest.
TE Rob Gronkowski, NE BUF 004501000 *
Gronk bash Bills. Gronk's 7-94 in earlier meeting first time Gronk no score vs. Bills... ever. Gronk score in three straight. Gronk stick around long enough to get TD vs. Bills D that's allowed only two TE TD all year? Gronk no block on extra points, though.
TE Timothy Wright, NE BUF 004500000 **
Wright scored in the earlier meeting with Buffalo, one of only two TE TDs they've allowed all year. His value here comes if (when?) the Pats pull Rob Gronkowski from the game, encase him in bubble wrap, and put him on the shelf until the playoffs start.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Stephen Gostkowski, NE BUF 1133 **
Gostkowski averages a cool dozen points per game at home and had 13 in Buffalo earlier this year. Assuming the starters put some points on the board in the first half and the backups get him close in the second, it should be another robust outing.

*ARI at SEA *DAL at CIN *NO at NYG *STL at BUF
*Updated BAL at WAS KC at CLE PHI at TB HOU at NE (MON)

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