The other half of the AFC championship game will be decided on Sunday when the Houston Texans face off against the New England Patriots in the 2nd AFC divisional playoff of the weekend. The winner of this game will get to host the Baltimore Ravens who won a stunning double overtime upset over the Denver Broncos. It was a game that will go down in NFL playoff history. While I’m not sure this game will live up to all that, there are still some great things to look forward to as we break this game down.
When Houston has the football-The Texans are going to want to run it. And they are going to want to run it to the left. The right side of the offensive line has been pretty bad this season after letting tackle Eric Winston leave. That zone run game they like to use and the play action they run off of it has been less than effective because they are essentially only running it to one side. In this game, if the Texans want to try and right the ship on how poorly quarterback Matt Schaub is playing they are going to have to run the ball. But the Patriots have been playing so physical up front, in particular defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, the Texans will have to pick their shots. Running back Arian Foster is an amazing talent but even he can’t do it all alone, so it’s going to be up to Schaub to find tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Andre Johnson on early downs so that they can deal with manageable third downs. If they can’t get off the field on third down, it’s going to be a long day for the Texans. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots need to pay loose in the back 4, keeping everything in front of them, using the front 7 to contain the run and rush the passer, and count on Schaub making some mistakes trying to force the ball down field.
When New England has the football-It’s going to look like a track meet. The Patriots are as close to full strength as they have been all year, and that includes a running game that has been a perfect compliment to their quick hitting, dynamic passing game. The matchup problems all over the field for the Texans defense are evident. When New England lines up they will have 5 targets on the field at all times, and they are all very talented. And in those same sets they will be able to line it up and run right at the Texans defense. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is going to have his favorite target tight end Rob Gronkowski, and assuming he’s healthy is a player the Texans simply cannot account for with any of their personnel. You then have to account for how well deep threat wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth has worked into the offense and I honestly will be shocked every time the Texans don’t give up a score in this game. If they do want to have a shot it is going to fall firmly on the broad shoulders of defensive end JJ Watt. In their last game Watt didn’t have his usual dominant effort. The Patriots did an excellent job scheming around him and keeping him from doing too much damage. But he did hit Brady 5 times so you can be sure Brady will be thinking about that. The Texnas need to sell out on the pass and put Brady under duress. If the Patriots are going to line it up and run it 40 times so be it, but it only takes a handful of those deep throws to bury a team.
Prediction-I really don’t give the Texans a punchers chance in this one. Their mojo is way off, starting with their quarterback and that’s never good. The Patriots seems to be hitting on all cylinders and just have too many weapons on offense for a dinged up Texans defense to contend with. And while the Patriots defense isn’t world class it’s healthy and it’s physical and the Texans offense is sputtering. As much as it pains me to say this, the Patriots win this one going away, 38-21 and move on to the AFC championship.