Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. (turf, outdoors)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Patriots by 3.5
Forecast: Temperatures in the 40s with a 60 percent chance of rain.
Records: Texans (11-1, AFC South 4-0); Patriots (9-3, AFC East 5-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Jan. 3, 2010: Texans 34, Patriots 27; Dec. 17, 2006: Patriots 40, Texans 7. Series record: Patriots lead 2-1.
What matters: The Texans conclude their three-game road stretch against the Patriots on Monday night in what has shaped up to be one of the biggest games in the NFL this season. With a win, Houston would have beaten all three of the other division leaders in the conference, and the Texans would put a stranglehold on the top seed in the AFC. Both teams are playing excellent football and riding six-game winning streaks into Monday night's showdown.
Who matters: The Texans have won 15 of their last 16 games in which QB Matt Schaub has started. Schaub leads a Houston offense that is second in the league in scoring, averaging 29.2 points per game. The team ahead of the Texans is New England, which is putting up 35.8 points per game with Tom Brady under center. The Texans will look to get after Brady without having to send a lot of players on blitzes. Texans DE J.J. Watt will help in that regard, as he is second in the league with 16.5 sacks. RB Arian Foster leads the NFL with 283 carries and is fifth with 1,102 yards. He will be instrumental in trying to grind out yards to keep the ball away from Brady.
Key matchups: Houston's secondary has been hit hard with injuries recently and will be tested against New England's passing attack. CB Brice McCain was placed on IR after hurting his foot last week against Tennessee. McCain was the nickelback and would primarily line up against the opponent's slot receiver. That responsibility now falls to second-year CB Brandon Harris. He will be lining up across from one of the best slot receivers in football in Patriots WR Wes Welker, who leads the NFL with 92 receptions and is seventh in receiving yards with 1,064.
Injuries of note: OLB Brooks Reed (groin) will miss his second straight game, and CB Alan Ball (foot) has missed practice this week with a foot injury. CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring), LB Bradie James (hamstring), RT Derek Newton (knee) and RG Antoine Caldwell (hamstring) all missed last week's game at Tennessee, but all four were limited participants in Thursday's practice. They will be game-time decisions on Monday.
Inside stuff: Watt has deservedly gotten a lot of attention along the defensive line, but DE Antonio Smith is playing really well opposite Watt. He is tied for second on the team with five sacks. Smith had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery at Tennessee on Sunday. Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Smith this week, saying he complements Watt in the same way Carl Banks complemented Lawrence Taylor with the New York Giants back in the 1980s.
Connections: Texans CB Kareem Jackson won a national championship at Alabama in 2009 with Patriots DE Brandon Deaderick and LB Dont'a Hightower. Patriots special teams assistant Joe Judge was on that staff. Texans C Chris Myers and WR Andre Johnson played at the University of Miami with Patriots DT Vince Wilfork. The three were on the 2001 national title team, which is widely considered one of the greatest college football teams of all time.
Stat you should know: Houston is 6-0 on the road this season, making it the only undefeated team on the road in the league. However, New England has won 19 consecutive home games in the month of December, last losing to the Jets on Dec. 22, 2002.
Bulletin board quote: Texans WR Johnson on Monday night's game: “It's big. You know how big it is, biggest game in the history of this franchise. It'll be a big test for us and we'll be ready to go.”
Looking ahead: The Texans will play their first home game since Nov. 18 when they take on division rival Indianapolis next Sunday. Houston plays the Colts twice in the last three weeks of the regular season, and both of those games have the potential to carry significant playoff implications.
Prediction: Texans 30, Patriots 27
Follow Texans blogger Sean Bielawski on Twitter, @CBSTexans.