Protecting Brady: The New England Patriots' biggest key to success is protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and they will have a tall task blocking the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Houston is third in the NFL with 36 sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. New England’s pass protection has been up and down this season. Brady has been sacked in nine games, including last week when the Patriots allowed four sacks against the Miami Dolphins. Houston and Watt will be bringing the heat to disrupt Brady, and the Patriots have to do a better job of keeping Brady upright.
The Texans could have trouble finding room to run against Vince Wilfork, right, and the Patriots.
Focus on Foster: The Texans can beat you in a variety of ways, but their first option is the running game. Houston runs the ball more than any other NFL team at 34.4 attempts per game. Texans running back Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 1,102 yards and first with 13 rushing touchdowns. He is the engine for the Texans. In Houston’s only defeat, Foster rushed for 29 yards on 17 carries in a 42-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots have a physical front seven and are ninth against the run. So expect a war of attrition in the trenches.
Sanchez’s time to respond:New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez returns under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting benched last week in the third quarter. This was a stern wake-up call for the four-year starter. Sanchez has a good chance to have a bounce-back game Sunday against the lowly Jaguars (2-10). The Jaguars are 28th against the pass and 31st against the run, which is tailor-made for the offensively inept Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan proved once that he’s not afraid to pull Sanchez if he’s playing poorly. Expect Sanchez to be on a short leash.
Martin vs. Smith: Miami rookie Jonathan Martin will make his first NFL start at left tackle Sunday at the San Francisco 49ers. Martin's reward: San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon SmithJake Long (triceps) for the season this week and put him on injured reserve. Long will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Martin has a four-game audition for the left tackle spot. If Martin does a good job, starting this week against Smith, the rookie could replace Long next season.
Buffalo's shift at center: The Buffalo Bills lost starting center Eric Wood for the next two to four weeks with a knee injury. If last season was any indication, this is awful news for the Bills. Wood is one of the top leaders on offense, but he has been injury prone. Wood missed seven games last season with an ACL tear, and the Bills were 1-6 without him. Buffalo has been working guard Kraig Urbik and rookie David Snow at center this week.