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Divisional Playoffs Prediction: New England Patriots vs Houston Texans

This is it: win or go home. The Patriots are playoffs stalwarts in the past decade, and this match-up is particularly favorable for New England – or so most pundits think. Just because the Patriots won 42-14 over the Houston Texans last time out doesn’t mean the game will go the same way this time. Let’s look back at the match-ups for a better predictor of the way this game will play out.

1. The New England receivers vs the Houston defensive backs

What immediately jumps off the roster is that Jonathan Joseph is now healthy. He was clearly hobbled against New England last time, and that’s one of the reasons Brandon Lloyd played so well. However, Kareem Jackson and Brandon Harris are massively overrated, Danieal Manning isn’t very good, and Glover Quin is a member of Sesame Street.

Lloyd might not have the yards he did last time out, and Donte Stallworth is on IR, so there goes that touchdown. Wes Welker only had three catches. However, Aaron Hernandez had a good game, and Rob Gronkowski is back. What I’m trying to get at is the receivers won’t do as well as they did last time, but they’ll still beat the Houston defensive backs.

Advantage: New England

2. The New England offensive line vs the Houston defensive line

Houston’s very team identity begins and ends with J.J. Watt. He had a monster game against New England (even if his forced fumble ended up being recovered for a touchdown for New England). Antonio Smith is great as well, although I don’t think much of Houston’s nosetackles. Brooks Reed will be active and rushing the passer, and Connor Barwin lined up as a defensive end frequently last time.

However, the New England offensive line has looked the best it has in a very long time. Nate Solder controlled Smith well enough, Vollmer had a great game considering he had to switch between Whitney Mercilus, Barwin and Watt, and Ryan Wendell is a mauler in the run game. Dan Connolly will probably get abused, unfortunately.

Advantage: New England

3. The New England runningbacks vs the Houston linebackers

I don’t really have any love for the current slate of Texans linebacker. Bradie James was more impressive five years ago – if that. Connor Barwin has been straight up bad this year. Brooks Reed is the best of the bunch, and that says a lot.

Stevan Ridley, unfortunately, is still struggling to hang onto the ball. Hopefully the vaseline and baby powder drills at practice are working out. Danny Woodhead ought to find some space in the screen game.

Advantage: New England

4. The New England defensive backs vs the Houston receivers

Andre Johnson is still a fantastic receiver, and despite the secondary covering him well, he accumulated 95 receiving yards against the Patriots. I think Kevin Walter is a bit overrated, but I’m going to reiterate this: if Gary Kubiak wants to win, he’ll tell Matt Schaub to target Garrett Graham or Owen Daniels every time he doesn’t throw to Johnson.

The reason for this is the New England linebackers are awful in coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I love the trio, but they’re young and still learning their zone responsibilities (that and Brandon Spikes should never be on the field in passing situations). The Big O wasn’t targeted more than twice last time out, but he and Graham have to be the recipients of more targets next time. The Patriots secondary also benefitted from overthrows, delayed reads and drops. I have to expect Houston will play better.

Advantage: Houston

5. The New England defensive line vs the Houston offensive line

If a Texans fan is reading this, could you please explain what the big deal about Derek Newton playing this game is? He’s bad. He’s very, very bad. I’d rather have Doug Free. Don’t get me wrong, the left side of the line is stellar (although Wade Smith gets hidden between Duane Brown and Chris Myers), but Newton isn’t an improvement over Ryan Harris.

Chandler Jones seems to be recovering from his injury, but don’t be surprised if he gets blanked by Duane Brown. Rob Ninkovich is supposed to play this game. I hope he does – Trevor Scott is not the same. Brandon Deaderick has to have a big game, but more importantly is Vince Wilfork having a big game. He’s got a challenge in Chris Myers, and he needs to be able to fight off his blocks to have an impact today.

Advantage: New England

6. The New England linebackers vs the Houston runningbacks

Arian Foster is a force, especially in the playoffs. I don’t expect he’ll be limited to less than 50 yards. Ben Tate should also get some carries. Expect to see Foster utilized in screens.

Ultimately, I trust these linebackers against the run, and the screen game as well. Spikes gets off blocks well and is one of the hardest hitters in the league. Jerod Mayo is great at plugging up holes, and I hope to see Dont’a Hightower utilized in the passing game more.

Advantage: New England

Just because I’ve listed New England winning the majority of match-ups does NOT mean this win is guaranteed. Houston is a very good team, and they’re in the playoffs for a reason. Foster will likely play better, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Watt registers two sacks – he’s the key to beating Houston. A friend told me that Houston’s defense has improved since the last game, and so has New England’s offense, although not as much as Houston’s defense. However, New England looked very good last time out, and I’m not seeing any reason why they won’t win this game by nine points.

W: New England L: Houston

You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.

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Tags: Houston Texans New England Patriots

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