The lights shine the brightest on Monday Night Football.
For the NFL's grand stage of the regular season, the prime time slot has finally landed a marquee game worthy of its pedigree.
In only the fourth matchup between the two franchises, the Patriots and Houston Texans will fight for a shot at a first-round bye and ultimately home field advantage in the NFL playoffs. The winner will have a leg up on which team claims the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
This is the first game the Patriots have faced an opponent that is ranked in the top 10 of the league in both offense and defense since Week 5 against the Denver Broncos. The Texans come into Monday's game on a six-game winning streak, sporting the NFL's No. 5 offense (389.6 yards per game) and No. 6 defense (322.6 yards allowed per game).
With a trio of offensive stars, the Texans' Arian Foster (1,102 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) leads the way for Houston. Foster has helped the Texans to a sixth best 142.5 rushing yards per game in the NFL. He's backed up by two stalwart runners in Ben Tate and Justin Forsett, allowing the the Texans to have a steady play-action based offense quarterbacked by Matt Schaub (94.5 quarterback rating, 3,062 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions).
The Patriots will match new cornerback Aqib Talib, playing his fourth game for New England, against Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson (74 catches, 1,114 yards, 3 touchdowns).
The Texans will be boosted on defense by the return of cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Joseph missed the past two games with hamstring and groin injuries. He'll be tasked with slowing down the Patriots top-ranked offense.
For Tom Brady and company, this game provides a measuring stick against one of the NFL's elite teams. They'll do it without utility player Julian Edelman, who was placed on injured reserve with a leg injury.
Brady (102.6 quarterback rating, 3,537 yards, 25 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) will be looking to Wes Welker (92 catches, 1,064 yards, 4 touchdowns) who is vying for his fifth 100-reception season, an NFL record. Brady is 12-4 on Monday night. The last time he was on Monday night, he put up 517 yards passing against the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 regular season opener.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m
Records: Patriots 9-3; Texans 11-1.
TV/Radio info: ESPN/WCVB-TV Ch. 5 (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Radio Sports (Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Mark Malone).
Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.
Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Donald Thomas, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Daniel Fells, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.
Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.
Texans offense: WR Andre Johnson, LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Ben Jones, RT Ryan Harris, TE Owen Daniels, WR Kevin Walter, QB Mat Schaub, FB James Casey, RB Arian Foster.
Texans defense: DE J.J. Watt, NT Shaun Cody, DE Antonio Smith, SLB Connor Barwin, MLB Tim Dobbins, MLB Bradie James, WLB WHitney Mercilus, LCB Kareem Jackson, RCB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning, FS Glover Quin.
(more to come)
Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm).
Texans: T Derek Newton (knee), OLB Brooks Reed (groin).