From Rocky II and Godfather II to Patriots vs. Giants II, sequels are an American obsession. Well here we are again, with the Texans coming to Foxboro to take on the reigning AFC Champion New England Patriots, which means the overhyped game of a month ago gets a reprise, so it has to be better, right? Sequels are typically better after a train wreck, correct? Unfortunately for the Texans, I don’t believe that is the case in this matchup that features a quarterback in Tom Brady who gashes flaws, something the Houston pass defense has plenty of.
All week we are going to hear about the one game in recent history that this game can be compared to, and of course every Patriot fan (and Texan) will point to the 2010 Patriot whooping of the New York Jets that was turned around into one of the biggest upsets in recent NFL playoff history, and that makes sense. Why not point to the game in recent history where the same scenario occurred? Problem is, the 2012 Houston Texans are not the 2010 NY Jets, and the 2012 New England Patriots are not the 2010 edition. The Patriots/Jets game in 2010 wasn’t a sequel; it was the third, the rubber match, always a crap shoot when considering the familiarity of the teams. The Patriots killed the Jets underneath in the infamous 45-3 game in 2010, and the Jets responded by using Revis on Welker and it worked. Division rivals have those types of games, especially in the playoffs, so that “upset” wasn’t as big a shock as some will make it out to be.
The 2012 Texans are a team that is built around Arian Foster, play action passing, and defense. It sounds like a formidable mix, and for the first seven weeks leading up to their bye, it was. Problem is, when the Texans have walked off the field the last ten weeks, there have been more questions about the true ability of this team than an anointing of a new AFC favorite. Everyone was ready to say that Houston was the team to beat, but it simply hasn’t happened, and a team that had a one seed locked up will now have to travel back to the freezing cold northeast to face a team that knows it can win in the playoffs and scores a ton of points. Since Week 11, the Houston Texans have allowed 26.85 points per game (around 26th in the league) and although some will point to the tough opposition, let’s not forget that Houston allowed Jacksonville to score 37 points.
Andy Dalton had multiple opportunities to tear up the Houston secondary in the Wild Card Game in Houston, but he simply wasn’t able to make the plays (two years in a row, deer in headlights) that were plenty available to him. AJ Green was wide open, had his man beat, yet Dalton waits a second too long, allows Jon Joseph to get back and disrupt the pass, and the Bengals don’t score what should have been an easy six. That is just one example of guys getting open and feeling unfulfilled because the Red Rocket was awful. Tom Brady is not going to miss those plays, and Houston is not going to fix these problems in one week. Green Bay wrote the blueprint on how to beat the Texans; throw on them, force them to throw, exposing the huge hole the Texans have at their second WR spot, at the same time taking Arian Foster out of the game as much as possible. The Jaguars (feels odd typing that) the Patriots and the Colts copied the blueprint, and when it comes down to it, nothing has changed with Houston, so why would it now?
Bill Belichick will have two goals on defense, besides not allowing points- take away Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. The first time these two met, the Texans were wary of going after Aqib Talib, and although he has had a hip issue, the extra days off are going to help. I do expect Houston to take a few more shots at Talib, but it is clear that many coaches around the league respect his ability and this has truly helped the Patriots defense improve. With the improvement of the defense, there is reason to believe that the Patriots will be even more effective than they were the first time they met, and another thing to watch for is the potential aggressiveness of Belichick when he usually would play back. Having a healthy Talib and Dennard will allow some flexibility with the blitz package, and it also allows McCourty to move back to safety where he seems to be a natural fit (struggles to get turned around at corner, safety allows him to read and react.)
When all the dust settles, I see the Patriots heading out to Mile High for the AFC Championship. Houston is saying all the right things, but it is a different story when Vince Wilfork is hammering you in 15 degree weather after Tom Brady has just scorched you when you thought you had him fooled. 2010 felt like a trap, and I honestly wasn’t surprised with the loss. 2012 feels like a balanced offense and consistently improving defense that is ready to do its part to win a fourth title, and Houston is a speed bump along the way. Did I mention that Gronk didn’t play in the first meeting and is back?
Patriots 35, Texans 13
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