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New England Patriots vs Houston Texans: 5 Matchups to Watch

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New England Patriots vs Houston Texans: 5 Matchups to Watch

5 Matchups to Watch
Stew Milne-US Presswire

On Sunday afternoon the New England Patriots will host the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional playoffs. After stumbling to the finish of the regular season losing three of their last four games, the Texans regained their form last week against the Cincinnati Bengals resulting in a 19-13 win. The Patriots will begin their playoff campaign Sunday after a strong finish earned them a bye through the first round of this year’s postseason.

This game will be a rematch of a week 14 duel in which the Patriots dominated winning 42-14 in the same venue. The Texans defense was unable to halt the vaunted Patriots offense which gained over 400 yards as Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns. Meanwhile the Patriots defense played as well as they had all year holding the Texans scoreless in the first half. On Sunday the Texans will roll back into Foxborough looking for revenge.

This slideshow will focus on five key matchups that could determine the outcome this game and subsequently a trip to the AFC championship game. The Patriots didn’t pass the Texans for the second seed in the AFC until the final week of the season showing that these two teams are a lot closer than the final score of their last matchup indicated. Likely it will be one team dominating one of these matchups that will determine the outcome of Sunday contest.

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J.J. Watt
Stew Milne-US Presswire

In 2012 J.J. Watt was the best defensive end in the NFL. In 16 games he accumulated 20.5 sacks which led the league and threatened Michael Strahan’s single-season record. In the first matchup between these two teams the Patriots inexperienced offensive line was able to keep Watt away from their franchise quarterback Tom Brady. That will be a key to victory again on Sunday.

No one man can handle a player like Watt on his own. It will likely take a group effort to keep Brady on his feet throughout the game. Watt is the type of player that can individually determine the outcome of a game without ever touching the ball due to the pressure he puts on opposing quarterbacks. He can even be a nuisance to Brady who handles pressure as well as anyone in the game.

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Rob Ninkovich
David Butler II-US Presswire

The Patriots will also be looking to get pressure on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. While rookie defensive end Chandler Jones will be somewhat depended on for that job, most of that pressure will be expected to come from veteran defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich led the Patriots in 2012 with eight sacks to Jones’ six and forced five fumbles leading the team in both categories. The biggest play of the year for the seven-year veteran was a week seven overtime forced fumble against the New York Jets which gave the Patriots the win.

In the final game of the season against the Miami Dolphins, Ninkovich was unable to finish the game due to a hip injury. Luckily for the Patriots, the bye that was earned by winning that game and a Texans loss in Indianapolis gave Ninkovich an extra week to recover from the injury. No one outside of the Patriots knows how the hip is and Ninkovich has been unwilling to discuss it. It likely isn’t 100 percent and could be a challenge for him Sunday.

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Tom Brady
Kirby Lee-US Presswire

This season the Patriots led the league in both yards per game and points per game and that success is mostly due to the team’s passing attack. Tom Brady had an MVP caliber season in 2012 throwing for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns while only being intercepted 8 times. The Patriots will need to get production from their rushing attack to win Sunday but must succeed in the passing game in order to succeed with running game as well.

Led by cornerback Jonathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning the Texans secondary is an underrated group for their defense. Most people focus on Watt and the pressure caused by the Texans defensive line but the Texans defensive backfield can cause turnovers as well. Brady’s ability to hit his abundance of receivers or the Texans ability to halt that attack will be a key in determining who advances to the AFC championship game.

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Josh McDaniels
Kim Klement-US Presswire

Possibly the most interesting matchup of Sunday’s contest will be on the sidelines. One of the league’s best offenses and best defenses are led by possibly the two best coordinators in the league. The battle of wits between Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one that will be watched closely.

One of the keys for the Patriots offense Sunday will be to neutralize J.J. Watt and free up receivers as targets for Tom Brady. The responsibility for that will fall on McDaniels. The Texans on the other hand will need a solid performance by their defense. Brady tore apart the Texans defense in their first matchup embarrassing Phillips and his players. On Sunday he will not just be attempting to earn a spot in the AFC championship game but also to prove he can stop the Patriots’ stellar offense.

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Arian Foster
Michael Ivins-US Presswire

One matchup that could determine the outcome of Sunday’s game could be which team is able to run the ball consistently. Both teams have running backs with the ability to produce in large numbers. For the Patriots that player is Stevan Ridley and for the Texans it’s Pro Bowler Arian Foster. Ridley is in his first year as a starter and has shown flashes of what Foster does on a regular basis.

Ridley has been rather inconsistent this season. He broke the 100 yard mark four times this season including a 151 yard performance in week five against the Denver Broncos. Foster, on the other hand, broke the century mark six times which included a 152 yard performance in week five against the New York Jets. Last week he had another spectacular game against the Cincinnati Bengals tallying 140 yards. The last time these two teams faced off Ridley got the best of Foster outgaining him 72 to 46. Matching the Patriots offense will be nearly impossible if Foster has a similar performance Sunday.