Texans vs. Patriots: Welker Will Make the Difference for Tom Brady at Home
The Texans have a great defense, ranking sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (322.6). They're also fourth in the NFL in points given up per game (18.4).
But Houston is much better against the run (second in the NFL) than the pass (17th).
That doesn't take away from its superior pass rush, which has 36 sacks on the season. A lot of that comes from the explosive J.J. Watt, who has 16.5 sacks and 15 passes defended in 2012.
While the running game has become a huge part of New England's balanced offense, they'll have a hard time using it against Houston. That makes Tom Brady that much more susceptible to pressure, and it'll be on his shoulders to win this game.
Which means he needs his No. 1 receiver at his best.
Wes Welker enters this game with 92 catches on the season for 1,064 yards and four touchdowns. With eight more receptions, he'll hit 100 for the fifth season in a row—something that's never been done before.
Without Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman (officially placed on IR), Brady is playing without a full deck. Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Brandon Lloyd (knee) could also have a limited impact.
But the Pats aren't the only banged-up team.
Houston's secondary could be without corners Johnathan Joseph (hamstring, groin) and Alan Ball (foot). There are also a number of injuries littering the Texan's linebacker corps, making Houston's secondary that much more vulnerable.
With this game suspected to be a shootout, that could give Tom Brady the edge he needs.
Who wins tonight's matchup?
But he can't do it alone, and that's why Welker becomes so instrumental. He's been Brady's go-to guy since putting on his Pat's jersey.
The beauty of Welker's game is his quickness in the open field and at the line.
Playing in the slot, Welker runs quick routes and can get open in a pinch. With pressure coming, it's those fast throws that can get Brady out of trouble in a hurry.
With the run game expected to be limited, it's the quick throws that can set up the passing game. And once that's in place, Stevan Ridley gets more wiggle room to do his thing and balance the Patriot's attack.
With playoff positioning on the line, this is a must win for New England—they would pull within one game of home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If that's going to happen, Wes Welker needs to become the key to a seventh win in a row for the Pats.
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