- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Guarding against overconfidence: The New England Patriots are heavily favored against the Texans. New England trounced Houston 42-14 last month. But that means all the pressure is on New England to win again at home. This game could have shades of the Patriots' 2010 playoffs if New England isn't careful. That year New England drilled the rival New York Jets in the regular season 45-3, only to get overconfident and lose to the Jets in the playoffs. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that lost in the regular season by 28 points or more are 11-11 in rematches in the postseason.
Gronkowski's impact: Despite the Patriots' blowout win over Houston, it is notable to mention that New England Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski did not play in the first matchup. Gronkowski missed five games with a broken forearm. He returned in the final regular-season game against the Miami Dolphins to shake off the rust and recorded two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. He has had two weeks to get back in rhythm and continue to get closer to 100 percent. Gronkowski is New England's top red-zone threat and has 11 touchdowns in 11 games. "It will be big for us," Patriots receiver Deion Branch told reporters this week. "I'm pretty sure the coaches are going to continue to install Gronk through the game plan to make sure he gets his touches and he's around the ball."
Can Brady pass Montana? New England quarterback Tom Brady has a chance at another record that he would be proud of. With a win over Houston, Brady would pass his childhood hero -- Joe Montana -- for the most postseason wins in NFL history. Brady is 16-6 during the playoffs in his career, although he went 10-0 to start his postseason career.
Talib vs. Johnson: One of the key matchups in this game will be the cornerback-receiver matchup of Aqib Talib of the Patriots versus Andre Johnson of the Texans. They will see a lot of each other Sunday. Talib was acquired in a midseason trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quickly became New England's best cover corner. It has allowed the Patriots to played more man-to-man defense. Johnson had another monster, Pro Bowl year. He caught 112 catches for 1,598 yards this season, with eight catches for 95 yards in the first meeting.
Tailback concerns: The Patriots will enter this game with concerns at tailback. New England second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have minimal combined playoff experience. They will have to earn the trust of New England’s coaching staff. Ridley and Vereen have had some untimely fumbles late in the season. Both lost fumbles in New England’s most recent loss, to the San Francisco 49ers. Ball security will be crucial in the playoffs. As a result, the Patriots may increase the workload for sure-handed veteran tailback Danny Woodhead.
1dEric D. Williams
1dEric D. Williams