The defending, six-time Super Bowl Champion, the New England Patriots, have defeated 10 of the 11 opponents they have faced this season, good enough for the NFL’s best record. But the Patriots will need to defeat another, more difficult type of opponent when they travel to Houston to face the Texans on Sunday night — the flu. No fewer than seven Patriots starting players were listed as questionable on Sunday afternoon due to illness, according to NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport, via Twitter.
The Patriots are also dealing with two significant injuries. Wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett, however, are expected to take the field in the NBC Sunday Night Football matchup, despite an ankle injury and concussion symptoms, respectively.
The illness that spread throughout the Patriots locker room reportedly started with offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, who played last weekend against the Dallas Cowboys despite battling the flu bug, according to a Mass Live report.
By mid-week, the illness had debilitated the team to the point where Coach Bill Belichick admitted that if New England had been scheduled to play on Thanksgiving, “it would have been hard.” Belichick also lauded Cannon for playing against the Cowboys and giving a “top effort” despite the fact that he “barely had enough strength to put on his uniform.”
Watch a preview of the Sunday night New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans showdown in the video below, courtesy of NBC Sports.
Perhaps as a result of the locker room plague, the Patriots are favored by just 3-and-a-half points, according to USA Today, even though they come in with the best record in the NFL, compared to 7-4 for Houston — though the Texans’ record is good enough to lead the AFC South.
The Patriots have also won 10 of the 11 meetings between the two teams, including the last eight in a row. In fact, the Pats have not lost to Houston since 2010, most recently defeating the Texans in the 2018 season opener, 27-20.
With Patriots future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady struggling so far this season, with an 88.5 passer rating which is his lowest since 2013, any hope that the New England receiving corps would get an upgrade by the rumored return of retired tight end Rob Gronkowski was extinguished this weekend. November 30 was the deadline by which “Gronk” would have needed to declare his eligibility to return.
But that date passed with the often-injured Gronkowski remaining true to his pledge to remain out of football.
After the San Francisco 49ers fell to 10-2 earlier on Sunday with a heartbreaking, last-minute 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots must win to maintain sole possession of the NFL’s best record. By moving to 11-1, the Pats would record their 21st NFL season with at least 11 victories — an NFL record. The Dallas Cowboys rank second with 19 seasons of 11 wins or more.