The Houston Texans will travel to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots Saturday night in the most lopsided game of the playoffs so far. The Patriots are currently 16 point favorites, and there is not a single person in sports media who believes the Texans have even a sliver of a chance at winning this game. However, no game is a complete walk in the park. As Chris Berman always says, that’s why they play the game.
The Texans earned the right to travel to Foxboro by defeating the Oakland Raiders 27-14 on Wild Card Weekend. Brock Osweiler led Houston with a passing and rushing touchdown, and the defense came up with three interceptions to get past a Raiders team that had been plummeting since the injury to Derek Carr.
Despite the double digit win, the Texans did not blow anyone away with their play. The Texans have the number one ranked defense in the NFL, and that defense came to play against Oakland with their three interceptions and three sacks. However, it is hard to judge how impressive those stats truly are. When you have a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start in a playoff game, you can almost definitely expect some interceptions to be thrown, no matter who the opponent is. The Raiders threw the ball a ridiculous 45 times with Connor Cook, which was a poor decision considering how unprepared he was. The Texans defense is certainly a talented group. Jadeveon Clowny, Whitney Mercilus, and Brian Cushing are all top notch players and can drastically change games. However, they will need to play much better than they did against Oakland if they want to stand a chance against the high-powered New England offense.
Houston’s offense was not particularly impressive either. They scored 27 points against a Raiders defense that gave up an average of 24 points per game on the season. Brock Osweiler only managed to throw for 168 yards against a below average Oakland passing defense. The one highlight for the passing game was the reintegration of Deandre Hopkins, the one payer that they will need if they want to score against the Patriots. On paper, the Texans rushing game looked great, running for 123 yards. However, they ran the ball 44 times, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Lamar Miller only managed 73 yards on 31 carries. They compiled those stats against a below average defensive unit. The Patriots defense, on the other hand, ranks at the top of the league in every category. If the Texans play like they against Oakland, the game on Saturday will be over by the end of the first quarter.
One of the most important things for the New England defense is momentum. Over the second half of the season they have been getting better in every facet of their game; run defense, sacking the quarterback, turnovers. They have been on a great run, and need to continue that if the Patriots want to have a shot at another Super Bowl title. While the Texans offense isn’t exactly elite, the Patriots need to treat them as such. Whichever team they would play in the AFC Championship game will have a star studded offense, and if the Patriots defense loses focus because of their weak opponent this week then they could be in big trouble if they make it to the AFC Championship.
They also need to continue turning the ball over. They have been on fire in that category as of late, with multiple interceptions and turnovers over the last six weeks. Turnovers are one of the most important factors in the NFL playoffs; the Texans-Raiders game was a great example of that, because the Texans might not have won had they not come away with three interceptions. The New England defenders will need to play aggressive, and look for every opportunity to turn the ball over.
The Patriots offense comes up with a tough opponent in the Houston defense. As was mentioned, they have a number of great players, particularly in their front seven. New England will need to continue it’s streak of balancing the offense, establishing the run game early so that they can expose the Texans secondary with play-action later on in the game. The Patriots will also have a plethora of receiving weapons, with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, a healthy Danny Amendola, Malcolm Floyd, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Lengel. That’s not even including their threats out of the backfield with Dion Lewis and James White. They will most likely spread the wealth, and get everyone involved because of the huge mismatches that they can create with different personnel groups. Tom Brady has also seemed to have an incredible amount of focus this week, and I expect him to come out firing on all cylinders.
Not to be overlooked is special teams, and in particular the kickoff and punt teams. Field position is a crucial part of games, even more so in the playoffs. There were examples of that all throughout Wild Card Weekend (see the Giants kick off returner stepping out of bounds at the three yard line). Good kickoff protection or a perfect punt can be the difference between a team scoring or stalling out on offense. Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski will play crucial roles over the next game/few games for the Patriots.
I hate games like this. The Patriots should win. They are better than the Texans in every phase of the game, and it really isn’t even close. However, that is exactly the problem. It’s almost too easy. Any team can beat any other team on any given day. Anything is possible. So it can be almost unnerving when everyone in the world is picking one team to win, and even mocking the game for it’s almost certain lopsidedness. The Texans could use that as motivation and find a way to win. Stranger things have happened.
With that being said, the Patriots are going to win handily on Saturday. Tom Brady has been too focused to lose against an opponent like the Texans, and he will be ready to go.
New England 31 Houston 13
Until next time- B$