A month between meetings may not signal a significant passage of time but, in the world of the NFL, such a period feels like a lifetime.
Just thirty days ago, the Texans appeared to be on top of the pigskin world, riding an 11-1 record into Foxborough to take on the Patriots. Though Houston could have all but tied the knot on the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win, a loss would theoretically not make them much worse for the wear either, as Gary Kubiak's crew would still be in control of their own playoff destiny with a one-game advantage over New England and Denver.
Alas, how the tables can turn in the span of thirty days.
Houston lost in a 42-14 beatdown from New England, sending them into a tailspin that saw the Texans lose three of their final four contests. Combined with strong finishes from the Pats and Broncos, Houston saw their home-field advantage evaporate, as they were relegated to playing in the opening round of the playoffs.
Even in victory, Houston has given the impression of a mediocre playoff team, as many gridiron pundits left Saturday's 19-13 conquest over Cincinnati believing the Bengals would have emerged victorious, if the Bengals had a serviceable quarterback. Once believed to be a Super Bowl favorite, the Texans are considered by many to be the weakest remaining playoff team.
Not that Houston is without horsepower. J.J. Watt has turned into every quarterback's nightmare, racking up 20.5 sacks this year. Despite fears of slowing down at his age, Andre Johnson posted a career year with 112 grabs for nearly 1,600 yards.
Houston's running game ain't too shabby either. Arian Foster submitted his third straight scintillating season, rushing for over 1,400 yards and leading the league with 15 terrain touchdowns. The All-Pro back showed slight signs of regression in the second half of the season, and an irregular heartbeat scare in Week 16 did not alleviate this apprehension. However, Foster, who has made a career out of proving skeptics wrong, doused these flames with his performance against the Bengals, running for 140 yards and a touchdown while adding eight receptions for 34 yards in the passing game.
Adrian Peterson dominated the headlines at the position this fall, but few are better in the backfield than the 26-year-old Foster.
The Texans will need Foster to be firing on all cylinders against a stingy New England front seven. Led by Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, the Patriots allowed just 101.9 yards on the ground per game this season and were one of only four AFC units to hold the opposition under four yards per carry. Though the New England secondary is vulnerable, the defense finished the regular season tied for ninth in points allowed, allowing 20.7 points per outing.
But make no mistake: an explosive offense remains the Patriots' bread and butter. The eminence of Tom Brady continues to grow, with the Michigan product tossing for 34 scores and over 4,800 yards this season.
Even more impressive was Brady's mere eight interceptions in 637 passing attempts. Now, in his 12th year as starting signal caller, Brady remains one of the premier passers in the game.
If Houston didn't already have their hands full with this aerial attack, they would have to account for a revitalized running game. Second-year man Stevan Ridley has given the Pats their first dangerous backfield presence since the Corey Dillon days, rushing for over 1,260 yards with 12 touchdowns this season. Now armed with viable attacks through the air and on the ground, New England may have the most well-rounded offense in the Brady-Belichick Era.
That sound you heard was every playoff team shuddering.
So who earns a spot in the AFC Championship Game? According to WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Patriots come out on top 59.9 percent of the time by an average score of 27-23.
|AFC Divisional: Texans at Patriots|
|Matchup||Win%||Avg Score||WIS Interactive|
|@ New England Patriots||59.9||27||Simulate Game|
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