Those penciling in the New England Patriots as easy victors this weekend need to slow down, because the Houston Texans are just a couple of one-on-one victories away from pulling the upset win in Foxboro.
Football is a 22-man game, but often times it's one player who executes in clutch situations over his opponent and makes a huge impact on the scoreboard.
This will ring true this weekend in the Texans-Patriots showdown, as some of the NFL's top players take the stage with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship.
Let's break down the most exciting one-on-one matchups that will make a huge impact on who wins.
Arian Foster vs. Jerod Mayo
The Texans wouldn't still be alive without Arian Foster, who carried the ball 32 times for 140 yards and the team's only touchdown in their Wild Card win against the Bengals. With Matt Schaub and the passing game struggling, the weight went on Foster's shoulders and he executed.
This won't be as easy against the Patriots, who boast one of the NFL's emerging linebackers in Jerod Mayo. The former University of Tennessee standout tore up the statsheet this season with 88 total tackles (25 more than the second-leading tackler) and 147 combined tackles (55 more).
Houston has one of the best run-blocking schemes in the league, but they'll have their hands full with Mayo and Brandon Spikes. The two have combined for nine forced fumbles in 2012.
Foster and Mayo were teammates at Tennessee, so they know each other's tendencies and are certainly studying up to gain the upper edge.
Whoever comes out on top has huge implications on who wins this one.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Danieal Manning
It's incredibly tough to find one player who will have the duty of stopping Rob Gronkowski from being effective. Many Houston linebackers and defensive backs will have that duty in this one.
But Danieal Manning's presence will be the biggest key. The 30-year-old free safety is the heart and soul of Houston's defense and arguably the best pass-protector.
In the middle of the field, Gronkowski is a pain for opponents. And with the Texans' 3-4 scheme, they'll be using many of their linebackers to rush the backfield every down.
Gronkowski didn't even play in the Patriots beatdown of Houston earlier this season, so he'll be a major x-factor. If he can have an impact on the game, it shouldn't be too tough for Brady and company to pull out the win.
J.J. Watt vs. Patriots O-Line
This matchup isn't indicative of a one-on-one showdown, but it's hard to point out a singular Pats' offensive lineman when they'll all have the tall task of stopping J.J. Watt.
“He’ll get matched up against everybody sooner or later, I mean the right tackle, right guard, center, left tackle. We’ve watched a lot of their games. I’ve seen everybody have to block him. Tight ends at times depending on what they play is or the protection. They stunt him a lot. He’ll line up on one side of the ball, twist to the other side, plays things like that everybody’s gotta be ready for him.”
Recognizing how tough of a task you have is the first step, but execution is completely different.
Watt has been terrorizing NFL quarterbacks all season, and it'll have a huge impact on Tom Brady's performance if he can't get away from the star pass-rusher.
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