Pats Preview: Divisional Round
As the New England Patriots prepare for their divisional round playoff match up with the Houston Texans, here are some pregame story lines to keep in mind.
Home Sweet Home- Entering the game as the AFC's top seed, the Patriots will once again be hosting a playoff game. When that happens, the results are typically very good for New England. In franchise history, the Pats are a whopping 18-4 at home in the postseason, including 1-0 when the Texans are in town.
Have Their Number- When looking at the history between these two teams, one thin is very clear; the Pats have the Texans' number. In eight career meetings, the Pats are 7-1 against Houston, including a convincing 41-28 victory in this same game in 2012. In fact, the only time New England has ever dropped a game to the Texans was back in 2009 in a Week 16 match up in which the Pats already had the division wrapped up. In that game, Tom Brady, along with other regulars, played in only part of the action, sitting out in the second half.
Going For History- The Patriots will be going for history on Saturday, as a win would advance them to their sixth straight conference championship game. The Pats are currently tied with the Oakland Raiders of the mid-70's with five straight conference title appearances. One more would put the Pats in a class of their own.
Can He Play?- The Pats cruised in their early season meeting with Houston thanks in large part to a strong game by power running back LeGarrette Blount, who carried the ball 24 times for 105 yards and two of his career-high and franchise record 18 regular season scores. Blount missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices with an illness, however, making it a bit uncertain if he'll be healthy enough to play Saturday night. An illness is less likely to keep Blount out of the game than an injury, but if he isn't feeling 100 percent it could somewhat hinder his impact on the game.
Top Ranked Defenses- The Texan defense ended the regular season as the top ranked unit in the league, in terms of yards allowed per game. Houston opponents average 301.3 yards per game, with the Texans doing most of their damage in the passing game. The Texans allowed a second best 201.6 yards per game through the air, while they were a more middle of the pack defense against the run, allowing 99.7 yards per game. While Houston limited their opponents in terms of yardage, the Patriot defense ended the 2016 campaign atop the league, in terms of points allowed per game. With a staggeringly low 15.6 points allowed per game, New England might not have been dominant based on yardage, but it's tough to argue that they weren't head and shoulders above the competition from a scoring perspective.
Opposite Offensive Directions- While the Patriot offense dominated opponents throughout the season, ranking fourth in yards per game, fourth in pass yards per game, seventh in rush defense and third in points per game, the Houston offense ranked eighth in rush yards per game but 29th in the other three categories. Those facts should help explain, at least partly, how the Pats shut out the Texans 27-0 in Week 3. The Pats have multiple ways of tearing down their opponents and putting up points, while the Texans struggle to simply move the ball. As long as the Pats can do half of what they've done all season long, there is simply no way the Texans can keep up with them.
The Only Chance- The only chance that Houston has of keeping the game remotely close is if their defensive ends can get to Tom Brady. In the absence of All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have done a solid job causing issues for opposing quarterbacks this season. The two combined for 13.5 sacks during the regular season, while Mercilus added two more along with two QB hits in the team's Wild Card win over the Oakland Raiders. The Patriot offensive line has been solid this season, after last year's debacle, and is more than capable of limiting the two ends' effectiveness.
An Added Weapon- The Pats offense will have an added weapon in the mix Saturday night, as it appears that receiver Danny Amendola will be back in action. Amendola, who had suffered a severe sprained ankle a few weeks back, has participated in practice this week, with no limitations. Adding Amendola gives the Pats another strong receiver for Brady to look to. With Amendola, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd all available from the receiver position, an area that once was limited for New England is now one of depth for Brady and company.
When all is said an done, there's a reason why the Pats are a 16-point favorite in this game. The Pats are just a better team in every facet of the game and there's really no denying it. It's truly a challenge to find any way that the Texans can even hang with the Pats. Look for Brady and the offense to expose the Texans defense, while the Patriots defense shuts down a weak, weak Texans offense. This one could get ugly quick.
Patriots 37, Texans 6