On Sunday, the New England Patriots begin their playoff quest for the Lombardi Trophy against an opponent that they saw only a month ago. At 4:30 PM EST on CBS, the Patriots will face the AFC South Champion, the Houston Texans. This is a re-match of the game that took place on Monday Night Football in Week 14 when the Patriots rolled over the Texans 42-14. The Patriots dominated that night and controlled every facet of the game. Therefore, a lot of the prognosticators do not give the Texans a great chance to win in this contest. Partly, that reason is because the Patriots will actually have tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field for this matchup.
Last week, the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in the AFC Wild Card matchup. Houston did not do a good job throwing the football, but they made Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton day miserable and Houston’s best player, running back Arian Foster, rushed for 140 yards on 32 carries. But, can Houston find a way this weekend to avoid history from happening at Foxboro as Tom Brady tries to pass Joe Montana for the most postseason wins by a quarterback? We will find out!
Here are my keys to the AFC Divisional Playoff Matchup:
1. Bite Off The “Graham” Cracker: When you talk about the Houston Texans’ skill players, the names Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson, and tight end Owen Daniels. But, the X-Factor for the Texans might be another tight end that goes under radar. I am talking about Garrett Graham. Graham does not wow you on the stat sheet, but he is intricate to Gary Kubiak’s offensive game plan. Houston likes to run the majority of their offensive formation with multiple tight ends. This helps them, especially, with the play action pass that they love to run so much. Graham was limited in practice this week with a concussion and missed the first matchup between these two teams. Speaking of injury, the Texans will get linebacker Brooks Reed back to help their beleaguered linebacking corps.
2. Aiming at Arian: As we continue our discussion on the Houston Texans’ offense, it is plainly clear that the player to stop on their offense is Arian Foster. In the first matchup, the Patriots were able to take the run game away by forcing Foster to run directly on Vince Wilfork rather than run to the right side of the Pats’ defensive line. Foster’s stat line on that night was 15 carries for a mere 46 yards. Since then, the former Tennessee RB has 96+ yards in 3 of his last 4 games. If the Texans are going to win this game, they have to take the pressure off of Matt Schaub by having Foster pick up huge chunks of yards on the ground, thus keeping Tom Brady on that sideline.
3. Not Enough Watts In Their Lightbulb: When we talk about the Texans, the defensive star of the team is obviously defensive end J.J Watt. Watt led the league this season with 20.5 sacks. However, in the Week 14 matchup, the former Wisconsin Badger had one of his few games this season where he did not register a sack. The Texans did have a stretch in the 2nd and 3rd quarter where they got pressure on Brady, but didn’t put him to the turf. However, since that game, Watt has recorded 5 sacks combined over his last four. I have to think he will get to Brady at least once this game, but he will need help to create more havoc for that Pats’ defensive line.
The help from the Texans has to come from the alleged originators of the letterman jackets. Defensive end Antonio Smith and outside linebacker Connor Barwin have to be the catalysts of the pass rush to make the Patriots have to respect other defenders besides Watt. Barwin will be back at his natural position with the return of Brooks Reed, which will allow him to rush the passer. As for Smith, the ninja had seven sacks this season and 11 combined tackles in his last three games. He will
have more than the one tackle he had against the Pats in Week 14.
First off, I will tell you readers right now that this will not be a repeat of the 42-14 domination from a month ago. Houston is going to come in extremely motivated and not just from Dan Shaughnessey’s column in the Boston Globe. They want to
show the world they are better than the team that showed up in the varsity jackets last month to Foxboro.
Plus, the Patriots have not fared well in the past when it comes to re-matches in the postseason with teams they played in the regular season. The Patriots say their mindset is different from the 2010 season when they lost to the Jets after beating
them 45-3 in December, but I have to see it to believe it before I predict a blowout.
I think Houston is going to have some success early with their running game and Brady will be rattled for about a half. However, I am still going with the Patriots in this game.
The reason for that is I do not trust Matt Schaub to win his first road playoff game in Gillette Stadium. I made the mistake of picking the Texans in the first matchup because I thought Schaub had turned a corner with 21 TD’s and 9 INT’s coming into
the game. However, Schaub has one touchdown in his last 23 quarters!
The Texans hang around, but Schaub makes a mistake or two in the 4 th quarter that will decide this game because of the solid play in the secondary from players like Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard.
PATRIOTS 27 TEXANS 17