New England Patriots: 5 toughest defensive opponents in 2017

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Cornerback Marcus Peters
KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Cornerback Marcus Peters /
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New England Patriots
HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 09: Defensive end J.J. Watt /

Week 3: Houston Texans

J.J. Watt is back and healthy, and that’s not good for the Patriots this year. The Texans have tons of questions on their offense, but their defense will contend as one of the best in the NFL.

Watt’s head coach Bill O’Brien is excited to have Watt back in the lineup.

"”Anytime the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and ready to go, that makes me feel really good,” O’Brien said. ”So that gives me a lot of confidence. I like the way he’s practiced this training camp … I’m looking forward to watching him play.”"

Watt and Jadaveon Clowney are strong, big men, and they’ll likely get a sack or two of Tom Brady. The issue is a similar one that the Chiefs present, so week 1 will give us a lot of insight as to how the Patriots can slow the pass rush. A solid mix of play calling could be crucial, with all 4 running backs and a ton of receivers getting the ball.

Rob Gronkowski will need to have a big day to draw pressure away from the line, but I’m looking at Rex Burkhead here in a breakout game. He can line up in the backfield before motioning out as a slot receiver, or he can run it straight up. The versatility and motion of Burkhead, and potentially Dion Lewis, could keep Houston on their toes.