Who would have thought when New England's 2013 schedule was released that its Week 13 matchup against Houston could be a trap game?
The Texans went 12-4 last season to win the AFC South. When they rolled into Foxboro December 10, it was on the back of a six-game winning streak and an overall 9-1 record. New England put a humbling hurt on them then via a 42-14 win. And the team could, should, beat the Texans this season. Things just look a lot different this time around.
Houston is currently riding a nine-game losing streak. Its offense is scoring just 18.1 points a game and is ranked 30th in the NFL. Quarterbacks -- and there have been three -- have thrown only 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. The team has a -12 giveaway-takeaway differential.
And yet Bill Belichick doffed his cap to Houston on his Tuesday conference call.
"I think that this football team looks a lot like last year's football team," he said. "They're very, very good on defense. They have a lot of very good players very disruptive up front. They're fast. The offensive line is intact; it's really the same guys they had last year with the exception of [Antoine] Caldwell. [Offensive guard Brandon] Brooks has obviously taken on a bigger role. They've added another quality receiver [in rookie DeAndre Hopkins].
"So in going back and looking at last year's games, this group looks a lot like last year's group. It really does."
Was Belichick being polite? Not really. He knows the worst thing his players can do, especially after overthrowing Denver last weekend, is underrate the next opponent.
The coach is also looking at the fact Houston has lost its last four games by a mere average of four points.
"We've been in a lot of games this year that could have gone either way," Belichick noted. "If we won all our close games our record could be one thing. You could probably say that about most teams in the league. There's not too many teams out there winning by 21, 24 points every week. I see them as a real good football team. They've obviously had disappointing results on the record, but they're well coached, they have good players, they play hard.
"I have a lot of respect for them and I know the kind of football they're capable of playing because they've played it on a weekly basis against the opponents that they've gone up against recently."
Maybe the Texans are due to break out. Maybe not. But the Patriots do have to make sure they don't ride too high after beating the Broncos and drop off to Houston's level. In that light, it wouldn't do well to undersell the Texans now.
"They're a play or two away from breaking out and winning a whole bunch of games," Belichick said. "And they're going to win them, too."