HOUSTON TEXANS (13-4)
at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-3)
AFC Divisional Round Playoff Game
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EDT
Line: New England -9, Total: 47.5
The Texans seek their first-ever spot in the AFC Championship Game when they visit the Patriots, the league's highest-scoring team, on Sunday afternoon.
On a Monday night in Week 14, the Patriots hammered Houston 42-14 at Foxboro, scoring 28 unanswered points to start that game. New England has been less than dominant at home during the playoffs though, losing a home game in the divisional round SU twice in the past three years and getting outplayed at home by Baltimore in last year’s AFC title game. They’re 1-5 ATS in their past five home playoff games. But the Texans’ secondary was incredibly shaky last week, and would have been burned repeatedly if not for the awfulness of Bengals QB Andy Dalton. Tom Brady, whose 16 career playoff wins are tied with Joe Montana for the most all-time, doesn’t figure to miss so many throws.
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Texans QB Matt Schaub played pretty well in his playoff debut last week, completing 29-of-38 passes (76%) for 262 yards, but he did have an interception returned for a touchdown. He has not been great on the road this year though (79.5 passer rating), with 5 TD and 7 INT in his past six away games. This includes his 68.8 rating in New England when he was 19-of-32 for 232 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT. However, his top receiver, WR Andre Johnson, has been incredible since November with 78 catches for 1,154 yards (128 YPG) in these nine games. He caught eight passes for 95 yards on the suspect New England secondary that allowed the 4th-most passing yards (271 YPG) in the NFL this year. Although RB Arian Foster has been outstanding on the road this season (751 rush yds, 4.3 YPC, 7 TD), he was held to just 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1 YPC) in New England. He did gain 39 more yards on four catches though. Foster has been incredible in his three career playoff games though, piling up 510 total yards (170 per game) and 4 TD. The Patriots have a strong run defense though, allowing just 102 YPG (9th in NFL) on 3.9 YPC (6th in NFL) with a league-high 19 fumbles created (8 turnovers). Houston has a minus-2 turnover margin in the past five games, which doesn't bode well against a Patriots team whose 41 takeaways rank second in the NFL.
New England leads the league in both scoring (34.8 PPG) and total offense (428 YPG), but Houston gave up just 20.7 PPG (T-5th in NFL) and 323 total YPG (4th in league) during the regular season. The Patriots are just 2-4 SU in their past six playoff games, scoring 23 points or less in five of those six contests. Although Brady tossed 6 TD in last year's divisional round romp over Denver (45-10), he has just 7 TD and 7 INT during the other five games of this stretch. In the regular season, Brady threw for 4,827 yards, 34 TD and 8 INT, and was outstanding at home with 2,389 passing yards (299 YPG), 16 TD and 3 INT. He posted a 125.4 passer rating against Houston by completing 21-of-35 throws for 296 yards (8.5 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT, despite not having the services of TE Rob Gronkowski (11 TD in 11 games). Gronkowski caught 23 passes for 258 yards and 3 TD in last year's postseason. New England's other star tight end, Aaron Hernandez, caught 2 TD in the Week 14 win over the Texans, with WR Brandon Lloyd catching seven passes for 89 yards and 1 TD, while recovering a fumble in the end zone for another score. The Patriots top receiver this year was Wes Welker (118 rec, 1,354 yds, 6 TD), but he has topped 60 receiving yards just once in six career playoff games. New England's rushing offense is underrated, as it had the most touchdowns (25), the 2nd-most attempts (32.7 per game) and 7th-most rushing yards (137 YPG) this season. RB Stevan Ridley finished with 1,263 yards (4.4 YPC) and 12 TD, rushing for 72 yards (4.0 YPC) and a score versus the Texans. A huge reason for New England's offensive success it its lack of turnovers (16, tied for 2nd-fewest in NFL), and Houston has managed just four takeaways in the past five games combined. But Texans DL J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in football with 81 tackles (69 solo), 20.5 sacks, 16 passes defended and four forced fumbles in the regular season. He was a big reason why Houston finished with 44 sacks this year (5th in NFL), but the team had zero sacks of Brady in Week 14.