How important is Monday Night's game for the Patriots? How do you predict the game will play out?
Jason: Monday night's game is a big one, no question. But I don't think any regular season game will make or break the Pats at this point. Five of the last seven Super Bowl champs have started out in the Wild Card round. Taking another step toward a bye would be a nice luxury, but even if the Pats lost every other game the rest of the regular season, they're still hosting a playoff game against an opponent that shouldn't be terribly imposing (most likely the Steelers or Colts).
Rick: In my opinion, this game is very crucial for the Patriots in terms of their playoff implications. A win could get them in a good position to overtake Houston and still have a chance at home-field advantage. On the other hand, a loss could drop them below the Broncos and Ravens in the AFC playoff picture and put them in jeopardy of having to play on Wild Card Weekend. I expect this game to be a high scoring game because we have seen over the past couple of weeks, you can throw on the Texan secondary. However, Jonathan Joseph is going to return to the lineup for Houston coming off of a hamstring injury. Both teams will be on their A game, but I expect J.J Watt and Antonio Smith to take advantage of a banged up Patriots’ offensive line that gave up 4 sacks to the Miami Dolphins last week. Can the Patriots also keep up in the secondary with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels? That remains to be seen. If New England wins this game, they are the team to beat in the AFC. However, I think with all the injuries, I am going for only the second time on this site to pick against the Pats in this one because their front seven matches up better with the Pats’ offensive line.
Stephen: Monday's showdown against the Houston Texans shouldn't be taken lightly, but I don't think it's a must-win. New England would have a chance at the No. 1 seed if it beats Houston, but if not, everything should be okay. The Pats should use this as a barometer to see how they stack up to the Texans and use it as a learning experience for the playoffs. Ultimately, I think New England wins a close game because of home-field advantage, and I haven't seen Matt Schaub rise in big games consistently enough in his career. It'll be interesting to see how the Patriots' offense stacks up minus Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.
Raj: The Patriots have already locked up the AFC East. If Pats fans are worried about that aspect of the game, then this game has virtually no meaning because the Patriots will have a shot at another Super Bowl run. However, in my opinion, this game is the first step towards earning the top seed. Baltimore lost for us last week and Houston leads by a hair. The Patriots have to win this game because if they do, then the race for the top seed gets really interesting. I also think the Colts can help us out by beating the Texans at least once. But New England has to win this one and from those expectation, I think they'll pull it off. Ridley and Welker should and will have a great game. If the Pats defense can hold off Foster, Johnson, and Daniels, we should be well on our way.
Derek: Here's a fun fact for you. The Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl seven times. Six of those times (1985 being the lone exception), they had a first-round bye. On the flip side, the Patriots have also had a first-round bye seven times. Six of those times (2010 being the lone exception), they went to the Super Bowl. Is it impossible for the Patriots to make it to New Orleans if they play during Wild Card Weekend? Of course not. But history suggests that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have a track record of making the most of that week of rest. If the Patriots lose on Sunday, they can pretty much kiss their shot at the bye goodbye.
Monday Night (and the three weeks that follow) are really all about setting this team up for post-season success. Four more wins will almost guarantee them that week off. Instead of traveling to Houston, Denver, or Baltimore, one of those teams would be coming to New England. It puts this team a single home win away from playing for the AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.
The four people above me are right. Monday Night is not a must-win situation. It is, however, a game that would be very, very, very nice for the Patriots to win. Taking the current momentum of both teams into account, I like New England's chances of doing just that.