That loss by the Texans was the first of three in their final four games, where they simply didn't look like the same team that started the 2012 campaign 11-1. It's hard to say that Houston generated all that much momentum after a 19-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card Weekend, because it wasn't very pretty.
Meanwhile, the Pats get a week off and a bit of extra time to prepare, with the Texans having played on Saturday. Not to mention, star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be in the lineup, which wasn't true when these two teams first met this season.
The first matchup was simply a work of art by quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. They methodically broke down one of the league's premier defenses—a unit that hasn't been quite the same since that Monday Night Football encounter.
Brady went 21-for-35 to throw for 296 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a virtuosic performance, and Brady was only sacked once.
To say the quarterback battle is a mismatch is a massive understatement. Matt Schaub may have won his first playoff game last week, but he benefited heavily from his Cincinnati counterpart, Andy Dalton, completing four out of his 13 first-half passes for a grand total of three yards.
Come on now.
And Arian Foster doesn't quite create enough of an advantage in the running game thanks to the Pats' exceptional balance with the emergence of second-year RB Stevan Ridley.
Plus, the young New England defense has improved immensely lately, largely thanks to the presence of Aqib Talib as the No. 1 corner.
Unfortunately, Talib and sack-leader Rob Ninkovich have each been slowed by hip injuries, but Ninkovich has returned to practice (h/t CBS Boston) and Talib should be ready to go, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
In order for the Texans to make the game even remotely competitive, they will need to apply pressure. As outstanding as J.J. Watt has been in 2012—possibly winning Defensive Player of the Year when it's all said and done—the Patriots had his number the first time around.
If Watt is that far removed from the equation, Houston has no chance. The Texans will be scheming and finding any possible trick in the bag to pull off a massive, franchise-defining upset over Brady's bunch.
But with Gronk putting the Patriots offense at full strength and the emerging defense on the mend just in time, it will likely be a different-looking game than the first clash between the Pats and Texans. Unfortunately for Houston, it will be a similar result.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Texans 16