Eight Patriots Out With Illness As New England Aims To Keep Lead Over Baltimore In AFC
Flu-Like Symptoms Make Key Players Miss Practice
On Wednesday, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty saw something unlike anything he’s experienced in 10 years in the NFL. Due to flu-like symptoms, eight of McCourty’s teammates missed practice ahead of a showdown with the Texans in Houston on Sunday.
According to McCourty, “We had guys come in, you’d look in their eyes, and you could just tell they were out of it.”
The good news for New England is that there’s time to recover before Sunday night. The bad news, however, is that the Patriots will be without several key starters if the players affected by this bug aren’t healthy enough to play this weekend.
Defense especially vulnerable
The defense would be especially vulnerable in the latter scenario. Safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Jamie Collins, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all missed practice due to illness.
All four of those men play key roles in a dominant Patriots defense that ranks first in points allowed per game (10.6) and second in yards allowed per game (256.4).
Gilmore, who’s considered to be arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, would perhaps be the most noticeable absence. Last Sunday, Gilmore earned an interception and held Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper without a catch.
On the offensive end, starting tackle Isaiah Wynn also missed Wednesday’s practice.
Pats Headed For Sunday Night Showdown In Houston
The stakes will be plentiful on Sunday evening when the 10-1 Patriots go into Houston to take on the 7-4 Texans, both of whom are in first place of their respective divisions.
For Houston, which leads both 6-5 Indianapolis and 6-5 Tennessee, a loss could mean falling into a tie for the lead in the AFC South. Meanwhile, a win over the Patriots would ensure the Texans retain their first-place status while notching a season-defining victory.
All About Keeping The Lead In The AFC
For New England, which owns a comfortable lead in the AFC East, Sunday Night Football is all about keeping its lead in the race for the conference’s top overall seed.
The Patriots currently hold a one-game advantage over the 9-2 Ravens, but Baltimore owns the head-to-head tie-breaker after its 37-20 win over New England several weeks ago.
Baltimore is also headed into a pivotal game on Sunday. It will be hosting the 49ers during the early slate of games, so the Patriots will be well aware if they’ll be in danger of giving up the AFC’s top ranking should the Ravens take down San Francisco earlier in the day.
While the Texans don’t appear to pose the greatest threat to New England, they are 4-1 at home and have won three of their last four contests.
So, if several key starters aren’t able to suit up for the Patriots on Sunday night, the advantage could easily sway towards Houston.
Houston Posing a Real Threat
While flu-like symptoms may sound relatively harmless in the middle of the week, the Patriots may have less margin for error than many people realize.
At this point, New England and its overwhelming defense is just a 3.5-point favorite for Sunday’s clash with Houston. This shows just how much of a threat Deshaun Watson and company are to the Pats, and a weakened defensive lineup could prove fatal for Bill Belichick’s team.
The Watson-Hopkins Connection Is The Patriots’ Biggest Challenge
The New England defense has been forced to carry the team to victory recently, as the offense has managed only 17 points or fewer over each of its past three games. In contrast, the Texans have scored 26 points or more on six occasions, and have put up as many as 53 points in a single contest.
New England’s biggest challenge on Sunday will be dealing with the Watson and DeAndre Hopkins connection. So far, Hopkins has caught 81 balls for 839 yards and six touchdowns.
While the Patriots would expect to have an answer to Hopkins in the form of Gilmore, the star corner is one of the players out with flu-like symptoms. If Gilmore is unable to go Sunday night, he would leave a large hole in the New England defense.