The New England Patriots will bid to reach the AFC Championship game for the sixth season on the spin when they host the Houston Texans in their clash on Saturday.
Bill Belichick’s men secured the number one seed in the conference with a 14-win season, claiming victory in their last seven contests to enter the playoffs on a high note.
The Texans overcame a weakened Oakland Raiders outfit in the wildcard round, but still put in a solid defensive effort to defeat third-stringer Connor Cook, intercepting the rookie three times.
However, against Tom Brady and company, Bill O’Brien’s men will have to produce the performance of a lifetime to emerge from Gillette Stadium with the victory.
The Patriots hammered the Texans in their matchup earlier this season, claiming a 27-0 victory. The feat was considered even more impressive as Tom Brady missed the game through suspension, while backup Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out with an injury.
Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett led New England to the win, while the defense shut out Brock Osweiler in a putrid performance from O’Brien’s men.
Houston will have to be flawless across the pitch to secure the win this time around, with a great deal of pressure on their defense to rise to the occasion.
The last time the Texans played in New England in the playoffs they were beaten with ease by Belichick’s men, and that is when J.J Watt was at the peak of his powers. Without their injured star the odds are stacked against the AFC South outfit to advance to the conference title game for the first time in their history.
The Patriots were firing on all cylinders before their bye week and have a 10-2 record in the divisional round. Therefore backing them at -1800 with TopBet sportsbook is only option to take in this fixture given their dominance and Houston’s struggles.
O’Brien’s men might have a chance to cover the +16.5 spread, but only if they play to their best and the home side are not on top form in the redzone.
The Patriots capped another excellent regular season by securing their 14th win of the campaign two weeks ago, brushing aside the Miami Dolphins. Other than Rob Gronkowski, Belichick’s men are healthy heading into the post-season, which is a start contrast to last term when they limped into the playoffs, with several of their starters banged up.
Those ailments culminated in losing slip of the first seed and their trip to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game rather than hosting it at Gillette Stadium. Brady and company were stifled against their rivals and missed the chance to compete for back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
This year Belichick ensured that his side would not have to travel and have the knowledge that the road to the Vince Lombardi trophy game travels through New England.
Even at the age of 39, Brady has displayed no signs of slowing down, and has produced one of his best seasons in his 17 years in the NFL. He threw 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the course of the campaign, despite missing the opening four matches and being without Gronkowski for half of the term.
Brady should be able to shred the Texans’ defense as he has done so in the past, while his knowledge of their system – controlled by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel – will play right into his hands.
Defensively, New England have made major strides over the course of the season, even though they traded away Pro Bowl players Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins.
Since conceding 31 points against the Seattle Seahawks they allowed just 12.4 points per game in their final seven games. Trey Flowers is an emerging star, while Malcolm Butler has been outstanding in the secondary and should give the Texans plenty of issues.
The Texans reached the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record, with Brian Hoyer at the quarterback position. O’Brien’s men were hammered by the Kansas City Chiefs in the wildcard round, with Hoyer having shocker at NRG Stadium. However, the contest was as good as over from the first play when Knile Davis returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
In an attempt to address their quarterback situation the club signed Osweiler to a lucrative deal in free agency. There was confidence that they could kick on with the 26-year-old at the signal-caller position, but his form has been one of the biggest disappointments of the campaign. He has struggled completing simple throws downfield, while he has also failed to fit into O’Brien’s offense.
Osweiler’s performances were so poor towards the end of the season that Tom Savage replaced him for the final two games. Only a concussion sustained by Savage allowed Osweiler back into the line-up last week, and although he showed a slight improvement against the Raiders, it was only minimal. He was not called on to do a great deal as the defense had the game in hand due to their dominance of Cook.
That will not be enough against the Patriots and a performance similar to his one in the shutout earlier in the term will lead to certain defeat. He did make several impressive throws when he guided the Broncos to a regular-season win over New England in the last campaign, but even that standard may not be enough.
Defensively, there is plenty of talent available to stop Brady. However, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brian Cushing and Vince Wilfork will need to have the games’ of their lives.
The Patriots hold the advantage in all of the matchups on the field given their dominance on both offense and defense this season.
Only a top quarterback at the peak of his powers with elite receivers would be able to compete with Brady and company on home soil, and Osweiler is certainly not that, despite the presence of wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
Houston’s defense are regarded as the best in terms of yardage in the NFL, but unless they are a constant presence around Brady and are able to force multiple turnovers then it would be hard to see anything other than a comfortable win for the Patriots.
New England Patriots to beat Houston Texans
Saturday 14th January 20:15 ET (Sunday 15th January 01:15 GMT)
Houston Texans to cover +15 spread
Saturday 14th January 20:15 ET (Sunday 15th January 01:15 GMT)
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