Nickel issues: When the Patriots see a nickel package on the field, Tom Brady hands off the ball. New England runs against defenses with five or more defensive backs a league-high 73.5 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Texans have allowed 6.0 yards per rush when using such defenses this season, the worst rate in the NFL, but have allowed the second-fewest yards per rush (3.3) with four or fewer defensive backs on field. Brice McCain (foot) is out, so the fifth defensive back in this game will be safety Quintin Demps, inexperienced second-year corner Brandon Harris or corner Stanford Routt, who signed this week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is out, so the Patriots are likely to go three-wide a lot. If the Texans don't play better nickel run defense and have a corner on the field that Tom Brady can really pick on, it could be a recipe for big problems.
Titans QB Jake Locker could wind up facing heavy defensive heat the rest of the season.
Locker and Luck under pressure: Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Colts bring five or more pass-rushers 41 percent of the time, the third-most often in the league. That’s bad news for Jake Locker, who has struggled this season against the blitz. His .480 completion percentage against five or more pass-rushers is the worst in the NFL, a point and a half worse than Michael Vick. The Titans would be wise to put Locker on the move more often and earlier than they did last week against the Texans. In Dowell Loggains’ second game as the playcaller, I suspect we’ll see some major adjustments based on what worked and what didn’t for him last week. On the other side, Andrew Luck has been getting better under pressure. In his past six games, he’s completed 54.9 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt when under duress or hit while throwing, including a league-best 91.7 QBR (since Week 8). Over his first six games, Luck completed 29.4 percent of his passes under such pressure and failed to throw a touchdown.
The Jets in Jacksonville: The Jets have never won in Jacksonville (0-3), and they’ve scored fewer than 10 points in an NFL-high four games. But the Jaguars haven’t held anyone under 17 points this season, and they are allowing an average of 28.5 a game. Defensive end Jason Babin will play in his second game for the Jaguars and looks to boost an anemic pass rush as it chases Mark Sanchez. There will be a Landry brother on field at safety at all times. LaRon Landry of the Jets and Dawan Landry of the Jaguars have combined to play in 170 games, but this will be first time they’ll be on same field in a regular-season game.
Monday night bigness: The combined 20-4 record of these teams is tied for the best on "Monday Night Football" when each team has played at least 12 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1987, the 10-2 49ers beat the 10-2 Bears. New England has won 12 straight December games, tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. With a win, the Patriots would tie the 1968-72 Cowboys for the second-longest December win streak (the Chargers won 18 straight from 2006 to 2009). If the Texans lose, they will hear a lot about how they still aren’t a championship-caliber team. But even with a loss, 10,000 simulations by AccuScore say Houston still ends up winning the No. 1 seed 63% percent of the time while the Patriots win it in 36% of simulations.
Also: Thirty-seven teams have lost at least 14 regular-season games in a single season. A win Sunday for the Colts makes them the sixth to rebound to post a winning record the following season. … According to Stats & Info, Luck has had six potential interceptions dropped by defenders this season, most in the NFL. … Chris Johnson needs seven rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the fifth straight season. Johnson would be the eighth player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first five seasons and would match the Titans' last longtime feature back, Eddie George. … The Jaguars have scored only eight offensive touchdowns at home this season, tied for the NFL low with Cleveland. ... Although Houston has the most passes disrupted (40) when sending five or more pass-rushers, it also has allowed the most touchdowns and 30-plus yard passes in such situations. It's a risk-reward deal. ... The Titans are 0-4 against the AFC South this season and 4-4 against the rest of the NFL. They are one of four teams this season winless in divisional games, along with the Chiefs, Seahawks and Lions. Only the Chiefs (minus-53) have a worse scoring margin in divisional games than the Titans’ minus-49. ... We’ll see two of the league‘s best rookie receivers in this game. Kendall Wright’s 54 receptions leads all rookies by a wide margin. The next two receivers on the list are Indy’s T.Y. Hilton and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon with 39.