The New England Patriots and Houston Texans will play for the second time this season, however, this time the stakes are much higher. The teams met in Week 14 during the regular season, but now the winner of Sunday's game will advance to the AFC Championship.
New England dominated the first game, but as the Patriots learned in 2009 against the Jets, just because you won the first game doesn't mean a playoff victory is guaranteed.
Meet the Patriots
Tom Brady and the high-powered New England offense will once again lead the way. The Patriots led the NFL in both yards per game (427.9) and points per game (34.8) during the regular season. They won nine of their last 10 games, including a 42-14 rout of the Texans in Week 14.
While the Patriots offense gets most of the headlines, the New England defense is rounding into form as well. The Patriots have allowed 19 or fewer points in five of their last six games. They closed the regular season with a 28-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins.
A win would advance the Patriots to the AFC Championship game, but it would also make some history in the process. With a win, Brady would break the NFL record for postseason wins by a quarterback. His 16 postseason wins are currently tied with Joe Montana for the most ever.
Meet the Texans
While the Patriots are riding high heading into the rematch, the Texans are moving in the opposite direction. Houston lost three of its final four regular season games to drop from the potential No. 1 seed and home-field advantage to the No. 3 seed.
The Texans knocked off Cincinnati, 19-13, in the Wild Card round, but weren't terribly impressive in doing so. Houston's offense struggled down the stretch and the Texans have averaged 16.8 points per game over their last five games. The Texans defense will get a boost on Sunday as linebacker Brooks Reed is expected to play. Reed missed four of the final five regular season games, including the first game against New England.
As they have all season, the Texans will likely rely on running back Arian Foster against the Patriots. Foster ran for 140 yards against Cincinnati, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 or more yards in each of his first three postseason games. Foster has a career average of 170.0 yards from scrimmage in the postseason.
Local Takes: Patriots
The Patriots dominated the Texans earlier this season, but is it harder to beat a team a second time in a season? Tony Santorsa of Pats Pulpit investigated.
What I want to know is: Is it really that hard to beat the same team twice?
Without doing any research and simply going with my gut feeling, I have to say no.
Local Takes: Texans
The Texans defense will face a challenge against the Patriots and the Battle Red Blog took a closer look at some analysis of the Patriots' play action passing game.
And the Texans will play a much better brand of football on defense if they focus on their base run/pass keys vs. play action. As a coach would say: "Keep your eyes on your work."
Follow the Fun
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@GregABedard - Patriots beat writer
Diff Pats team, diff opponent RT @heals11: I'm worried about this Houston game being like 2009 against the Jets— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) January 7, 2013
@McClain_on_NFL - Texans beat writer
In the 42-14 loss at New England, Texans played without RT Derek Newton and OLB Brooks Reed. "Having them back will be good," Kubiak said.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) January 7, 2013
The last time these two teams played it was T.J. Yates finishing the game. And that wasn't because Matt Schaub was hurt or because the Texans won big. It was because they were down five touchdowns. In what was supposed to be a battle of AFC powerhouses, the Patriots unloaded on the Texans, 42-14, in Week 14.
The pick: 35-20, Patriots
The Patriots opened as a 9-1/2-point favorite according to OddsShark. New England was a 5-1/2-point favorite when they faced Houston in Week 14.
The winner of this game will face the winner of the other AFC Divisional round game between Denver and Baltimore. If the Ravens win, either the Patriots or Texans would host Baltimore. If the Broncos win, New England or Houston would travel to Denver.