There will be a lot of talk about how the Patriots beat the Texans 42-14 at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10. That was a game in which the Patriots started fast, leading 21-0 at the half, and buried the Texans, who were playing their third straight road game in three weeks.
But that game will have little impact on what happens next Sunday.
All one has to do is revisit the 2010 season and how the Patriots pummeled the Jets 45-3 on Dec. 6 before losing to the Jets at home 28-21 in the divisional round on Jan. 16.
The main reason I think the Patriots have the edge is the difference between the quarterbacks. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub does not seem to be playing with a lot of confidence and appears to be tentative in crucial situations. His pick-six versus the Bengals is the type of mistake that would be a crusher against the Patriots. While Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has made some uncharacteristic mistakes in recent weeks, he has a lot more experience in these types of games. The home-field edge is also a significant factor.
Furthermore, the Texans stumbled into the playoffs and didn't look convincing Saturday against the Bengals.
While the Dec. 10 matchup won't affect next Sunday, it is interesting to reference that game in terms of how each team approached the other from an X's and O's perspective.
With this in mind, a few thoughts:
1. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt is as advertised. He had four tackles, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble in the Dec. 10 game against the Patriots, and the general feeling was that the Patriots did a good job against him that day. He'll be a focal point of the game plan this week (the Patriots used racquets in practice to simulate his reach and ability to bat down passes). Right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will need to be at their best.
2. The Patriots were in their base defense on 47 of 70 snaps on Dec. 10, a result of the Texans playing mostly with multiple tight ends. That is likely to be the case again next Sunday, as tight end Garrett Graham, who didn't play Dec. 10 because of a concussion, is healthy again to give the Texans three options at the position (Graham, Owen Daniels and James Casey). That means it could be a Brandon Spikes-type game for the Patriots, as the hard-hitting middle linebacker sparks the base D.
3. The Patriots did a nice job limiting running back Arian Foster on Dec. 10, holding him to 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1 average). A big part of that was turning the Texans into a one-dimensional attack. The Texans are excellent in the play-action game, but the Patriots took that away from them by leading early.
4. Texans receiver Andre Johnson totaled eight receptions for 95 yards against the Patriots, working often against cornerback Aqib Talib. With Talib limited in recent weeks with a hip injury, this will be a matchup we'll be watching closely next Sunday.
5. The Texans matched the Patriots' 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package with their base defense. 10. Only when the Patriots brought on No. 3 receiver Donte' Stallworth (now on injured reserve) did the Texans insert a nickel corner (Brandon Harris).
6. Third-down defense was crucial for the Patriots, as the Texans were held to a 4-of-14 success rate.