The Houston Texans finally removed themselves from a lengthy slump last week with a big opening round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The bad news is the journey only gets harder as Arian Foster will lead his team to New England to take on the battle-tested Patriots. The Pats are always a force in January and look to have all the tools of a true Super Bowl contender. These two teams met earlier in the year on a much-hyped Monday Night Football encounter, but the Patriots throttled them in a one-sided affair. Whether or not the Texans learned anything from that beatdown is still to be determined.
The Texans played better than most would’ve expected last week in their 16-10 victory against a brutal Bengals squad. They were stifling on defense, and though their offense had some issues in the red-zone, they still put up a ton of yardage against a decent Cincinnati defensive group. Against a tough New England squad though, the Texans know they’ll need to capitalize on their opportunities. Settling for field goals is not a winning strategy against Tom Brady, and Matt Schaub and Arian Foster will need to muster some offense if they are to hang around in this game. Their defence is stellar, but stopping the Pats is tough for any group in the league. Houston began 2012 one of the league’s best teams, but their recent slide has made this a puzzling team to most experts. Are the Texans ready to take the next step? We’ll find out Sunday evening.
Meanwhile it’s the same old Patriots in 2012. This is a stacked team, and with Tom Brady and Bill Belechick at the helm, New England always remains a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Patriots enter this contest one of the hottest teams in the NFL and they seem to be getting healthy at the right time. New England obliterated the Texans earlier in the season, but are aware that they expect a much different Houston squad this time around. Tight-end Rob Gronkowski returned in Week 17 from a broken forearm for New England and should be rounding into form just in time for this crucial clash. The Patriots have a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality, and by their standards their past few post-seasons have been sub-par. There’s a theme of redemption this year, and it starts on Sunday for a loaded New England team.
Texans vs. Patriots Betting Odds:
Houston Texans +10 (-115)
@ New England Patriots -10 (-105)
Over 49 (-110)
Under 49 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Texans vs. Patriots Pick:
Despite the fact that New England is an exceptional team, laying 10 points in a playoff game against a team with a solid defense seems a bit hefty. The fact that both teams have played already this season means there’s a certain level of familiarity between New England and Houston, and this time around there shouldn’t be any surprises. Though the Texans had a narrow victory in their opening round, they played better than they have of late, and the game should have been won by a lot wider of a margin.
While I’d lean toward taking the points in this spot with Houston, it’s incredibly tough to go against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the post-season. The Patriots have all the tools this year so to go against them is a tough call. That said, there does seem to be better value in this contest on the totals market. Currently the total for this contest is hovering around 49 points, a figure I feel is too high for the type of game that should unfold Sunday afternoon. While the Pats are undoubtedly an offensive juggernaut, Houston remains one of the top defensive units in the game, and should be able to somewhat limit the effectiveness of Brady and his weapons. Again, Houston has learned from their past mistakes and will be looking to make up for the first embarrassing performance earlier in the season.
Wade Phillips will also be a key factor in this game. The Texans’ defensive coordinator has done an amazing job this season, and will have his unit prepared for the Patriots dangerous attack. Phillips thrives with in-game management and adjustments, and should be able to do just enough to allow the Texans to hang around. Though it seems tough to imagine Brady and this offense struggling, Phillips has the personnel at his disposal to slow down New England on Sunday.
The New York Giants for years have gotten to Tom Brady with an effective pass rush, which the Texans obviously have. J.J. Watt is a flat out monster on the defensive line for Houston and should be able to get to Brady with ease. Their secondary was great last week against Cincinnati and will be much healthier this time around compared to their first meeting this season. Key cornerback Jonathan Joseph was awesome last week against A.J. Green and should be effective in blanketing Brandon Lloyd this week.
Count on New England having some success, but not to the degree most people in the betting market would think. This is a Texans defense that is smart, healthy, and primed to show the rest of the league they are the NFL’s top unit.
Though people are expecting a blowout, this game is going to be a hard-fought, close defensive affair. The Texans defense will give their offense every chance to win this game, and whether or not Arian Foster and Matt Schaub can take advantage of that is what it will all come down to. The Texans aren’t a big passing team, so they’ll rely heavily on the legs of Foster. The running back out of Tennessee struggled against New England the first time around, but should be more effective on Sunday. The Patriots are weak on defense, and if the Texans can run the ball down their throats, they’ll control the tempo of this contest and tire out the Patriots.
Though New England should ultimately emerge victorious in this game, it’s not going to be the regular season destruction we all witnessed on Monday Night Football. The Texans are awesome on defense and will slow down Brady and the Pats. Though New England is accustomed to putting up huge numbers on their scoreboard, that won’t be the case on Sunday. Houston will live in the Patriots’ backfield, hurrying and rushing Brady with regularity. Conversely, look for the Texans to slow the game down with frequent running plays from the talented Arian Foster. Both of these factors lend themselves to a low-scoring affair, so considering the Under 49 in this contest seems like a solid wager.
PICK = Under 49 (-110)