The Houston Texans (12-4) are playing in the division round of the playoffs for the second straight year. They are also playing in a road game after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Houston for the second straight year. However, this year they are playing the heavily favored New England Patriots (12-4), who are coming off a first round bye week. These two teams met back in week 14, in New England, where the Patriots blew out the Texans 42-14. This rematch should be different.
The Texans finished out the 2012 regular season losing three of their last four games, including the beat down against the Patriots. Last week, in the wild-card game, the Houston defense dominated the game, holding Cincinnati’s offense to just 6 points. The pressure was the key to the game, with Brooks Reed coming back from injury. The pass rush was more balanced. They were able to harass quarterback Andy Dalton all game long, just as they did to other teams all season long. That pass rush will have to show up again if they want to have a chance at slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots’ high octane offense. The last time these two teams faced off, Brooks Reed did not play and J.J. Watt could not get to Brady before he got rid of the ball. Brady was able to pick apart the Texans defense with ease as the pass rush failed to get to him. With Reed coming back, the Texans should have a better chance at getting to Brady, as Reed has 4.5 sacks in the three playoff games Houston has played. If the defense plays as well as they did against the Bengals, they will have a great shot at beating the Patriots.
The other key factor to this game, for the Texans, is getting off to a fast start and establishing the run; as well as scoring touchdowns rather than field goals when they get to the red-zone. Getting off to a fast start is important, as it will allow the Texans to set the pace, which leads to them establishing the run. Feeding Arian Foster the rock gives the Texans the best chance of winning games, not only against New England, but against any team in the National Football League. When the Texans have run the ball 30 or more times, they went 12-0 this season and have gone 45-5, including postseason, with Gary Kubiak as the head coach. The running game sets up play action and bootlegs in the passing game, and it also helps Houston win the time of possession battle. In the game with Cincinnati, Arian Foster had 32 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown, causing them to have the ball for nearly 40 minutes of the game. This kept the defense fresh and the opposing offense off the field. If the Texans can sustain long drives that end with touchdowns rather than field goals, they will be able to keep the Brady bunch off the field. It will still be difficult as Brady can set his offense’s pace to a high tempo attack and lead them to quick scores, but the Texans must stick to this plan.
The Texans are the obvious underdogs in this game, although experts have predicted a much more close game this time around. Neither the Texans nor Patriots are looking at the week 14 blowout as to why they will win or lose this game. That game is in the past and this is a new game, where anything can happen. The Texans will definitely come back this weekend giving it their all.
Prediction: The game remains close, but Arian Foster and the Texans establish the running game, as Foster gets close to 30 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Schaub does enough in this game, throwing a touchdown pass to end his drought. The defense gets two sacks and another interception, but Brady still throws for 3 touchdowns. In the end the defense makes enough stops to help win this one; Texans 27 Patriots 24
Division Round Predictions:
Broncos 28 Ravens 24 – Ray Lewis plays his final game, the Ravens keep it close as Joe Flacco throws two touchdowns and Ray Rice runs for another, but Denver’s Peyton Manning throws four touchdowns with no interceptions as they advance to the AFC Championship game.
Packers 31 49ers 21 – Colin Kaepernick’s inexperience shows in this game, but he throws for a touchdown and rushes for another. Aaron Rodgers throws four touchdowns and leads a drive to a field goal as the Packers win this one.
Falcons 21 Seahawks 17 – Matt Ryan gets his first playoff victory at home, and throws for 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Russel Wilson runs for a touchdown, and Marshawn Lynch runs for another, and although Seattle’s defense keeps it close, the Falcons get the win.