Divisional Preview: Does Houston Stand a Chance Against New England?
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: January 11, 2013
Monday, December 10th brought us one of the most-hyped AFC matchups of the season. Perennial contender and postseason mainstay New England hosted the up-and-coming Houston Texans, then-holders of the NFL's best record. The game itself was a letdown for all football fans outside of New England, as the Patriots took control in the opening minutes and maintained it for four quarters, teaching the Texans lesson after lesson in a 42-14 throttling.
Sunday's game marks the third time in as many seasons New England will face a Divisional Round opponent it previously dismantled in the regular season. AFC East rival New York entered Gillette Stadium as heavy underdogs in 2010, but earned a convincing win en route to the Jets' second consecutive AFC Championship appearance. Denver attempted to prolong its Tebow-themed magic for one more game last season, but the Broncos never even contended against the Patriots, as New England rolled to eventually appear in its fifth Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick.
If you're a journalist in the Boston area, you're not even sure this game needs to be played, but it will go on as scheduled, with the Texans following in the footsteps of either the 2010 Jets or 2011 Broncos. It's one or the other. Simple as that.
Houston will sack Tom Brady just once, regardless of the healthy presence of linebacker Brooks Reed along with Bradie James, Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus, allowing New England's quarterback to throw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns, as he did in Week 14. Or they won't.
Defensive end J.J. Watt will play another quiet game, posting fewer than five tackles and no sacks again, effectively allowing Brady to get comfortable and stay comfortable. Or he won't.
Defensive backs Glover Quinn, Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning will do little more than watch helplessly as Brandon Lloyd gains leverage on long bombs. They'll also allow tight end Rob Gronkowski to run rampant in his grand return from a broken forearm, racking up yards after the catch all afternoon. Or they won't.
Running back Arian Foster will be bested by Patriots defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, earning no more than the 46 rushing yards he accrued in the team's previous meeting. He won't find the end zone, and his streak of three consecutive 100+ yard playoff games will screech to a halt. Or he won't, and it won't.
Quarterback Matt Schaub will be outclassed from top to bottom. He'll continue to struggle as he did against Cincinnati and be eaten alive by a trio of former SEC linebackers Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. He'll go touchdown-less in his second NFL playoff game. Or he won't.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels will be overpowered by the likes of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Devin McCourty. Johnson will continue to drop crucial red zone (or end zone) passes and Daniels will be an ineffective blocker for Foster and his teammates. Or they won't.
Both teams have had time to reflect on their first meeting last month, with coaches, coordinators and players anticipating necessary adjustments for the rematch. One team will be better prepared and will execute more efficiently. Recent playoff history might appear to give the Patriots a mere 50-50 shot of being that team, and the Globe's Dan Schaughnessy may have been marginally out of line in his no-holds-barred prediction of a complete and utter shellacking, but I fully expect the Patriots to be packing for Denver this time next week.
Or I could be wrong.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @KimOHaraTFG
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