Saturday, January 12, 2013

Patriots vs. Texans

A Boston Globe columnist wrote last week about how the New England Patriots were the first team in NFL history to get a double bye, inferring that their divisional round opponents, the Houston Texans, were such a non-threat that the game could be written off as a win and didn't even have to be played. Not only is this incredibly false (the Texans are one of the best teams in the AFC and were the #1 seed up until Week 17), but this writer has given Houston some serious bulletin board material. Running back Arian Foster has already put it to good use, making the column his Twitter avatar. Foster will be the driving force in the effort to upset the mighty Pats.

Foster has been a monster this year, especially in the red zone. He's piled up 16 touchdowns and 1,564 yards in 17 games this season. Yes, many may point to his somewhat low YPC (4.1 in the regular season) and his heavy amount of carries (383 in the regular season and playoffs combined), he's still been a workhorse and is the focal point of the Texans' offense. In the last meeting with New England, the Patriots took a 21-0 lead into the half and it was all over by then. When a team like Houston goes down big, it's hard for them to come back. I expect them to deploy Foster early and often in an attempt to control the game flow.

The injury to Matt Schaub last year was what many believed was the reason why Houston didn't advance. They had a rookie quarterback who hadn't played all season nearly lead them to a victory over the Ravens. Now, Schaub's experience and skills in the play action should be a big factor. While he's not an elite quarterback and this is only his second playoff start, Schaub should be capable of throwing to Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels on the league's 29th ranked pass defense.

The Texans' pass rush will have the daunting task of putting pressure under Tom Brady. If they can, they may just win the game. J. J. Watt, a candidate for defense player of the year, has gotten 20.5 sacks this year and has constantly been a disruptive force, deflecting 16 passes with his phenomenal awareness. While Brady is one of, if not the best QB in the NFL, the one thing he struggles with is pressure. If Watt and company can get to him, it could change the landscape of the game and help a secondary that has been beaten up pretty bad as of late.

Over the years, the Patriots have always been a top team, but have lacked something recently: a running game. Stevan Ridley has been the best back New England arguably since Corey Dillon. He rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns this season as the bell cow. Throw in Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen and you have a multi-dimensional running attack that opens things up for Brady like never before. The Texans are 7th against the run, but there are a lot of players they have to account for in the passing game (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez), that they may just not be able to stop everyone.

While I think Foster will help Houston have more success than the previous meeting between these two teams, the Patriots should get the victory. There's just so much to stop in Brady's offense, and Gronk wasn't even on the field when these two teams met last. I expect it to be somewhat close throughout the game, with the Patriots pulling away late and making it to yet another AFC championship game.

Patriots 30, Texans 21

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