Six weeks ago, Houston was on its way to a dream season, but it has taken the wrong fork in the road down the stretch.
Instead of a comfy rematch with the slumping Baltimore Ravens, Houston fiddled away the top seed in the AFC and its punishment is a return trip to the house of horrors that is Foxboro, Mass.
Are the Texans doomed to another public flogging followed by a long offseason of hard questions and what ifs?
Is there anything they can do to turn the tables on the Pats and advance to the AFC Championship game?
Of course there is.
Here are five ways the Texans can knock off New England and keep their title hopes alive.
In the first meeting, Watt was the only Texan to make any significant dent on the New England attack.
That's no surprise. Watt has been carrying a soft Texans defense around for the past two months.
Watt came under unnecessary fire as part of Dan Shaughnessy's insane anti-Texans screed in the Boston Globe this week.
Shaughnessy accused Watt of being a "zero" in the first meeting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Watt was completely disruptive as he always is. He was the highest-rated Texans defender by Pro Football Focus that night. He didn't have a game for the ages, but there's every indication that Watt did damage.
He had four hits on Tom Brady. Brady typically doesn't get hit on that many times at ladies night, let alone in a game.
In the rematch, Watt will have to do more than just play his normal-level good game. He's going to have to do something to tilt the field.
The Patriots are vastly more talented and skilled than the Texans defense which has been strictly mediocre for the last two months.
Watt is the great equalizer, however, and if he can have a standout game, it could generate the turnovers the Texans need to stay close.
Foster was fantastic against Cincinnati in the Wild Card Game, and the Texans need another outsized effort from him if they want to stay alive.
One of the best ways to quantify the difference between the Pats and the Texans is points per drive.
The Patriots score 2.82 points every time they get the ball.
The Texans score 1.96 points every time they get the ball.
That's a difference of nearly a point per possession on average.
Whenever you get a point disparity of that magnitude, the only solution is to limit the number of possessions. If each team sees the ball 14 or 15 times in the game, New England is going to win.
Houston's job is to shorten the game and increase the variance. The fewer the possessions, the less likely it is that the Pats achieve their normal output.
Ideally, the Texans would like this to be an eight-possession game.
Enter Foster. He only had 46 rushing yards in the first game, and that included a 15-yard run. On his other 14 attempts, he picked up just 31 yards.
That's a recipe for long third downs and quick punts.
In the first meeting, Glover Quin and Danieal Manning were torched by the Patriots receivers.
Quin has played well this season and was a star in the win over the Bengals.
Against the Pats, however, he had his worst game of the season. He gave up a pair of long receptions, including a touchdown.
Manning is a bigger worry still. His play has tailed off dramatically over the second half of the season and the only word to describe him right now is bad. Of course, he also had his worst game of the season against the Patriots, also surrendering a touchdown throw.
Especially with the return of Rob Gronkowski, the safeties are going to have to be disciplined. The Patriots will pound with their underrated run game and take big shots.
Quin and Manning must stay disciplined and force the Pats into long drives.
It's nearly impossible to keep the Patriots down forever, but if the Texans can limit possessions, they can increase their odds of being close at the end of the night.
The Patriots have a top-10 run defense, so the Texans are going to have to pass at some point.
Unfortunately, they simply aren't built to exploit New England's great weakness. The Pats have a thin secondary and give up too many big plays to third and fourth wideouts.
That doesn't do the Texans much good.
They struggle to find two, let alone three quality receivers.
Part of the reason they struggle to score at the same rate as other elite teams is that they've been saddled with Kevin Walter as a second receiver.
Yes, Andre Johnson was his typical fantastic self, but after him, the yards dry up.
Owen Daniels should frolic against the Pats who struggle with tight ends, but four of the Texans' top six pass-catchers play positions other than wide receiver.
Walter did manage to stop his five-year trend of declining numbers by posting virtually the same stats in 2012 as 2011. Unfortunately for Houston, 2.6 catches and 32.4 yards a game isn't going to strike fear in the heart of any coordinator.
All year, fans have been waiting for someone to emerge as a third receiver, but the unholy triumvirate of DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean have combined for 22 catches and 323 yards.
In other words, all put together they don't total James Casey's production.
The big plays and points are going to have to come from someone. There will be a point in the game where someone gets single coverage and will be asked to make a big catch.
He'd better make it, or everyone can start setting tee times early.
Knife meet gun fight.
There is no bigger mismatch, including at quarterback, than the one between Kubiak and Bill Belichick in this game.
He simply can't play for three in this game.
In the first matchup, Kubiak actually did the right thing by going for it twice in New England territory. He was trailing by 21 points at the time, but credit should go where it is due.
The Texans have to steal points. That means fourth-down conversions. That means not settling for three when seven can still be had. That means running routes past the first-down markers.
You know, controversial stuff.
The trap for Kubiak is that while the Texans have to play a strategy to shorten the game, they can't be conservative.
In fact, if you are trying to limit the other team's touches, fourth-down conversion tries are a great way to extend drives.
A run-heavy plan of attack is smart, but when it comes time to make the tough call, Kubiak has to grab fate by the throat.
You can be sure his opponent will.
I'd pay money to see Schaub swat that idiot hat off his head.
Yes, the first game was a drubbing, but there's no reason the second game has to go the same way.
The Texans are a good team. No, they aren't a great team, but they do have some chances of winning. The path at least exists.
Even the most lopsided NFL matchups are still just 65 to 70 percent propositions.
The NFL playoffs have become much more about luck than skill in recent years, and the best team rarely wins it all anymore.
All that means is that the Patriots will have to come out and play well to win. The Texans are not the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Can the Texans win?
Will the Texans win?
It would be a stunner.
New England 35 Houston 24