The Houston Texans and the New England Patriots feature some of the NFL's top players, but how do the two teams stack up in an apples-to-apples, position-to-position comparison?
There are some obvious disparities between the two teams from a positional standpoint: Tom Brady is better than Matt Schaub; The Texans' defensive line is better than the Patriots' defensive line.
But others positional groups like the teams' secondaries, their wide receiving corps and linebackers make it more difficult to distinguish which one is the superior squad.
Let's take a look at which team has the edge at every position.
Tom Brady has won 16 playoff games and three Super Bowls over 10 seasons as a starter.
Matt Schaub has won one playoff game.
It was last week.
And he didn't exactly blow the hinges off any offensive doors with his performance either.
Brady threw 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2012.
Schaub threw 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.
This one is simple.
The Patriots have a handful of running backs they can throw out on the field at any given time, and all of them are effective at running between the tackles and gaining positive yards.
None of them compare to Arian Foster though, who has proven himself to be a prime-time performer, totaling 425 yards in his first three playoff games—the most of any running back in history through their first three playoff games.
Stevan Ridley is New England's No. 1 running back, and he put together a strong season, totaling 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Foster rushed for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season.
As a team, the Patriots rushed for 2,186 yards with 25 touchdowns, while the Texans rushed for 2,153 yards and 19 touchdowns. It's important to note that Tom Brady rushed for four of those touchdowns, making this positional battle about dead even.
Andre Johnson had a huge year, catching 112 yards and falling just two yards shy of 1,600 yards, but he only caught four touchdowns and doesn't have any legitimate help on the other side.
Kevin Walter is the Texans' next receiver option, but he only caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.
On the other side, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, while not as physically imposing as Johnson, have put up monster numbers this year, combining for 192 receptions, gaining 2,256 yards and catching 10 touchdown passes.
Nobody on the Patriots compares to Johnson, but as a group, New England's receivers are a step above Houston's.
This isn't close to being an even comparison.
No disrespect to Owen Daniels or Garrett Graham, but Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez comprise the best tight end duo in the NFL.
Between the two of them,they caught 106 passes for 1,273 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Conversely, Daniels and Graham combined to catch 90 passes for 979 yards and nine touchdowns.
Both of these teams feature strong offensive lines.
However, they operate under completely different circumstances.
The Patriots' offense is a quick-tempo approach, based on getting in and out of plays with the utmost speed and executing them with precision, while the Texans' offense is all about methodically moving the ball with Arian Foster and the running game.
Brady's mastery of getting the ball out quickly has a lot to do with his offensive line's success though, so in an apples-to-apples comparison, I'm going to say...
By virtue of J.J. Watt's dominance, the Texans automatically have an edge at this position, but it's not as huge a gap as you might think.
Vince Wilfork and Chandler Jones are both stars in their own right, and Rob Ninkovich is a terrific situational pass-rusher who is also adept at stopping the run.
The Patriots were a top-10 team against the run in 2012, allowing just over 100 yard per game.
Still, Watt's 20.5 sacks this season, his ability to swat passes at the line and his disruptive presence on running plays gives the Texans a clear-cut edge on the defensive line.
And Watt's not the only player worth mentioning either.
Antonio Smith is another excellent 3-4 defensive end who's tallied seven sacks this year and is stout against the run, and Shaun Cody has done a serviceable job at nose tackle.
The Texans were also stellar against the run in 2012, ranking No. 7 in the NFL and allowing under 98 yards per game.
This is an interesting comparison, as both teams use their linebacking corps differently, running different schemes.
That said, the Texans haven't been the same up the middle since losing Brian Cushing early in the year.
Barrett Ruud is a liability—especially against the pass, leaving Bradie James as the team's best middle linebacker, which is why Houston has given up some big gains against the run of late.
Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed have both had disappointing seasons for the Texans, and though Whitney Mercilus has come on strong a few times this year, Houston hasn't seen enough production from its outside linebackers, who have contributed just 11.5 sacks—poor numbers for a 3-4 defense.
On the other side, the Patriots feature some thumpers in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. All three are capable in coverage and are phenomenal against the run.
These three have also contributed eight sacks this season and have forced nine fumbles.
There's no doubt the Texans feature a terrific defense, but the biggest liability on this squad is its secondary play.
The Patriots don't exactly feature a stellar secondary either, but when you compare both units side by side, New England has an edge.
The Patriots gave up more yards per game than the Texans, allowing 271 compared to Houston's 226 in 2012. But the Texans allowed more yards per reception and two more receiving touchdowns than the Pats.
Furthermore, Houston only forced 15 interceptions this season, while the Patriots forced 20.
Finally, Houston has been horrible against elite quarterbacks this year, allowing 10 touchdowns and forcing zero interceptions against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in two games this season.
Both kickers in this upcoming contest have had solid seasons, hitting on over 80 percent of their attempts.
Houston's Shayne Graham has been more consistent on field goals under 50 yards, hitting 26-of-28 from 49 yards and in, while the Pats' Stephen Gostowski has made 27-of-33 from 49 yards and in.
Gostowski hit both of his 50-plus-yard attempts in 2012, while Graham converted only four-of-nine long-range attempts.
Houston's Donnie Jones and and New England's Zoltan Mesko won't likely determine the outcome of this upcoming playoff game, but one can ever be too certain.
Jones punted 28 more times this season than Mesko. His net average is about two yards more than Mesko's, and his leg is significantly stronger.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has Jones as their top-ranked punter in 2012, while Mesko ranks No. 22.
Houston hasn't scored a touchdown all year long in its return game.
Keshawn Martin can be dangerous on punt returns, averaging 12.1 yards per return, but he's not particularly explosive on kickoffs.
The Patriots have scored two touchdowns on returns this season—one kickoff and one punt.
Julian Edelman was a phenomenal punt returner before he was put on the IR, and Wes Welker has taken over in his stead.
The real threat for New England is Devin McCourty, who averaged over 24 yards per return on kickoffs and who took one back for 104 yards and a touchdown earlier this year.
This isn't even close.
Bill Belichick has won three Super Bowls, has his team competing for the Lombardi Trophy every single season and is known as one of the most cutthroat coaches in the NFL.
Gary Kubiak, on the other hand, has consistently showed weakness by allowing his team to play down to the level of its competition at times this year and has only won two playoff games as a head coach.
These two teams both bring elite talent into this contest.
Here's how they break down:
- Running Backs
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Special Teams
- Defensive Backs
- Punt/Kickoff Return
- Tight Ends
- Wide Receivers
The Patriots hold an edge in seven categories, while the Texans hold an edge in four.
This will be an interesting game to watch, and the ultimate edge will likely be that Tom Brady trumps Matt Schaub.
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