Winter football is especially sweet around these parts when a southern dome team heads north to play outdoors, at night, in the cold, on national television, at frosty Foxborough.
The weather doesn't look like it will be particularly chilling Monday when the Houston Texans face your New England Patriots. In fact, it might be downright balmy by our standards.
Still, it's yet another dramatic layer to a game we circled back in August as the Game of the Year in the entire NFL: the Texans have played only eight games in northern cities in December since they were founded in 2002.
Texans-Patriots looks like it will live up to the hype, regardless of the weather.
The 11-1 Texans have pretty much been the best team in football wire to wire, both by record and by statistical proficiency. They are solid everywhere.
But the 9-3 Patriots are on a six-game winning streak, possess one of the greatest offenses in football history, and are playing at home in an arena where they rarely lose games.
The Patriots CAN win the game. But will they?
Well, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, as always, provide the guiding statistical lights. They are, as always, quite illuminating.
We size up every opponent in every game at CHFF Insider in 20 different Quality Stats. It paints a clear, unvarnished, indisputable statistical picture of every single team's strengths and weaknesses.
Games almost always follow the statistical patterns outlined by these indicators. There is no 100 percent sure thing in sports. After all, games are played by flawed humans and not by the flawless data. But, still, games in most instances can be expected to follow certainly statistical patterns that we outline in our game charts.
Here, for example, is roughly what our game chart looks like for Texans-Patriots.
Rushing Yards per Attempt
Negative Pass Plays
Success % on 3rd Down
Defensive Rushing Yards per Attempt
Defensive Negative Pass Plays
Defensive Success % on 3rd Down
Quality Stats Power Rankings
Here's what the game charts tell us:
Fairly even performances against Quality Teams
Each team has played four Quality Opponents, which we define simply as a team with a winning record. The Texans are 3-1, beating the Broncos, Ravens and Bears, but getting wiped out by the Packers.
The Patriots are 2-2, beating the Broncos and Colts, but losing to the Ravens and Seahawks. More importantly, the Patriots lost those two games by 1 point each. The Texans were run off their own field by the Packers, 42-24.
Houston has outscored its four Quality Opponents by an average of 27.8 to 21.5 (+6.3); the Patriots have outscored their four Quality Opponents by an average of 35.8 to 25.0 (+13.8).
Both of New England's Quality Wins have come at home.
Tom Brady, of course, is better than Matt Schaub**
No surprise that the Patriots enjoy a distinct advantage in the passing game: No. 2 in Real QB Rating, No. 4 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 5 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, compared with No. 7, 8 and 9, respectively, for the Texans in the same indicators.
The Patriots, not the Texans, are better in the ground game
The Patriots also enjoy advantages in the running game, and on both sides of the ball.
The New England offense averages 4.2 YPA on the ground, compared with 4.1 YPA for Arian Foster and the Texans. The Patriots, not shown on this chart, lead the NFL with 19 rushing TDs. The Texans are second, with 16.
The Patriots are also better against the run than the vaunted Houston defense. New England surrenders 3.89 YPA on the ground; the Texans are cut up for 4.09 YPA.
So, the Texans will not win by dominating on the ground. That battle is advantage, New England.
The well-oiled New England efficiency machine
The Patriots are consistently one of the most efficient teams in the NFL and a master of what we call situational football.
The evidence is here in this chart: the Patriots are No. 1 in Scoreability, the most efficient offense in football, and No. 7 in Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency that quantifies the "bend but don't break" phenomenon.
The Texans are just a shade behind, at No. 4 and No. 8.
Essentially, you can count on both teams to play smart, efficient football – but New England is just slightly better.
By the way, the Patriots are a league-best plus-24 in turnovers. It's one of their greatest assets. That success manifests itself in numerous CHFF indicators, such as passer rating, Real QB Rating, Scoreabilty and Bendability. Turnovers have a direct impact in all those measures of team success.
The well-known statistical weak link
Every fan knows that New England's weakness is its pass defense. Our game chart lays open this ugly statistical wound. The Patriots are:
- No. 16 in Defensive Real QB Rating
- No. 22 in Defensive Passer Rating
- No. 28 in Defensive Passing YPA (7.10 YPA)
In other words, the Patriots are gashed for big yards through their air. Their ability to force turnovers, and their aforementioned "Bendability" (defensive efficiency), helps mitigate some of the pain and improves the team's performance in Defensive Real QB Rating and Defensive Passer Rating.
But, at the end of the day, this pass defense is still a liability week in and week out. The Texans, by the way, are Top 6 in all three of those measures of defense.
The Final Verdict
At the end of the day, the NFL is a very simple game: you win when your quarterback outplays the opposing quarterback. And by "outplay" we mean he produces far more efficient performance, not necessarily more yards through the air.
In fact, teams better in CHFF Real Quarterback Rating this year are an incredible 160-31 (.838). In other words, if you do nothing but play more efficiently at QB, you win nearly 85 percent of all NFL games, a number consistent with historic norms.
So Texans-Patriots will come down to one thing and one thing only: the battle of QBs.
Is Houston's Matt Schaub good enough to exploit a weak New England secondary? Can he protect the football against one of best teams in the NFL at creating turnovers?
Conversely, we've seen Tom Brady rip up great defenses throughout his career. Is he good enough to do it again Monday against one of the league's best pass defenses?
We say yes, Brady can get it done. Look for the Patriots to eke out a tough, hard-fought win at home against the mighty Texans.
But don't count on a win in a potential January rematch. We picked the Texans to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season. We still like that pick today. Even with a loss in Foxborough, Houston would still be the most balanced team in football.
And balance usually wins in January.