I think the Patriots are going to beat the Texans on Sunday.
You think the Patriots are going to beat the Texans on Sunday.
While we have reached the point of the season where no absolutes exist, there is enough evidence to look at the Patriots as a clear favorite in Sunday's AFC divisional-round matchup. They are home, they are rested, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick while the other team has Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak.
Oh, and four weeks ago at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots humiliated the Texans, a 42-14 win that didn't even feel that close. It was viewed nationally as a statement game -- not so much for the Patriots but for the Texans, who were quickly shoved to everyone's pretender list by halftime of the destruction.
And now we arrive at the conflict. The Texans, despite that loss -- and the losses to the Vikings (in Houston) and at Indianapolis that turned a seemingly sure No. 1 seed to a trip back to Foxboro and (fingers crossed) a trip back to Denver -- get a second crack at the Patriots. And no one really thinks they are going to win. Sure, there will be the professional contrarians, but a sober analysis has the Patriots either hosting Baltimore or traveling to Denver (the very probable conclusion) a week from Sunday.
So that makes for a tough week of making the case for the Texans around here. Sure, you could focus on the return of Brooks Reed (didn't play the first time around), or offer the possibility that the Patriots played their best game of the season and the Texans their worst, or that Arian Foster will be better than 15 carries for 46 yards, or J.J. Watt won't be held without a sack, or a playoff win will equal added confidence for Schaub (it was his first postseason win).
Those are all fair on their own, I think, to varying degrees. But that's not going to be enough to get anyone nervous, won't raise the temperature at all for this game. So get ready for a week of many forms of this from columnists and TV shows and (especially, trust me on this one) sports radio talk shows looking to get a rise out of folks:
Well, in 2010 the Patriots beat the Jets by six touchdowns on Monday Night Football and look what happened six weeks later.
Yup, it's true. On Dec. 6, 2010, the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3. And, yes, on Jan. 16, 2011, the Jets came back to Foxboro and beat the Patriots, 28-21, in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Now help me out here. Other than trying to pump some fear into the masses in an attempt to get phone calls and page views, what does what happened in 2010 between the Jets and Patriots have anything to do with what will happen between the Texans and Patriots in 2013?
Are any of the key players or coaches from that Jets team currently on the Texans roster or staff?
Did the Patriots already lose once to the Texans this season, as they did to the Jets in 2010 (in fact, after that playoff loss, Rex Ryan held a 3-2 head-to-head edge over Bill Belichick)?
That win was the fourth road playoff victory in two seasons for the Jets -- the Texans have played one road playoff game in franchise history and have zero road postseason wins. Does that matter more, less or exactly the same as a football game played on Jan. 16, 2011?
The 2010 Patriots rolled into the playoffs, were the consensus Super Bowl pick. After losing to Eric Mangini and the Browns (at the time it signaled a potential turnaround in Cleveland -- that was two head coaches ago) the Patriots won their last eight, outscoring opponents 299-125 in that stretch (the last five wins were 184-47). Just scary stuff, the definition of peaking at the right time. The 2012 Patriots lost to the 49ers and were shaky in a win over the 2-14 Jaguars late in the season. If we are buying into the 2010 parallel, is it good or bad for the Texans that the Patriots submitted a couple of December stinkers? Does it mean more confidence for the Texans or more focus for the Patriots? I'm confused.
And if 2010 means something, we have to forget what happened in 2011, right? Because the Patriots went into Denver on Dec. 18 and went up and down the field in a 41-23 win over the Broncos. And guess what happened a month later, at Gillette, in the playoffs? The Patriots managed to elude the ghosts of 2010 and went up and down the field in a 45-10 win over the Broncos. How did that happen? Or do we just blame it on Tebow and call it an outlier? Again, I'm really confused.
Look, the Texans could win on Sunday. This is a team with 13 wins, a terrific defense, an All-Pro running back, a capable quarterback, maybe the best receiver left in the playoffs in Andre Johnson and a dangerous tight end in Owen Daniels.
There's your case for an upset. To use the Jets win over the Patriots in 2011 as proof for a possible Houston victory is about as relevant as using the Patriots win over the Broncos
in the playoffs a year ago as proof that New England will emerge victorious. It's meaningless, just noise to get us to Sunday. We're not alone -- there will be people this week who pick the Ravens to beat the Broncos
solely because they think Ray Lewis
can "will" a team to victory. Think about that for a second.
Now, do I think Belichick will mention this angle to his players? Sure, why not? It can't hurt. But do I think Belichick will spend one second this week thinking about that game against the Jets and how it fits into this week? I do not. He has actual issues to keep him busy for the next six days -- he doesn't have time for the cosmetic ones.
But if he leaves those to the media they'll be in very safe hands. Speaking of which, do you think Wes Welker
will be distracted by his contract situation on Sunday?