NFL Nation: Final Word 2012 divisional Texans-Patriots

Final Word: Texans at Patriots

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
3:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Houston Texans-New England Patriots divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium:

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.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerRob Gronkowski did not play in New England's win against the Texans earlier this season.
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.

Final Word: Texans at Patriots

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Houston Texans' divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsArian Foster is 90 yards shy of Terrell Davis' rushing record of 515 yards for a player's first four postseason games.
Play-action influence: Per ESPN Stats & Information, when using play-action, Matt Schaub's yards per attempt average on passes deeper than 10 yards downfield (15.5) ranks fourth in the league. On those same throws without play-action fakes, Schaub’s yards per attempt (10.4) ranks 14th, and only four quarterbacks have a worse touchdown-interception differential than Schaub (minus-2). Everyone knows Arian Foster and the run game get this offense going. He has been great in three playoff games allowing play-action to work. His 425 rushing yards are the most ever by a player in his first three playoff games. He needs 91 in this game to surpass Terrell Davis' record for rushing yards in a back’s first four playoff games. Foster has averaged 2.7 yards per rush before first contact this season, but was unable to find space to run in most of the Texans' losses. He averaged 1.9 yards in those losses, including 1.6 against the Patriots, compared with 2.9 yards in wins.

Tight ends: Texans strong safety Glover Quin was responsible for shutting down Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham last week (though Gresham did have two critical drops). Tight ends have been targeted 124 times this season against the Texans, tied for fourth most in the league, but Houston has been successful defending them everywhere except the end zone. Opponents completed 58 percent of their passes to tight ends (second-best defensive percentage in the league), 6.3 yards per attempt (third) and got a first down 34 percent of the time. But tight ends caught 11 touchdowns against Houston, tied for 31st among defenses. On the other side of the ball, the Texans have used multiple tight ends on 72 percent of their plays this season (excluding spikes and kneel downs). It’s the first time since New England drafted Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski a team other than Patriots finished with the highest use of multiple-tight end formations. Even with Hernandez and Gronkowski both missing games this season, the Patriots used multiple tight ends on 49 percent of their plays (fifth highest).

No time: Tom Brady has had the quickest release in the NFL this season. ESPN Stats & Information says he held onto the ball on average for 3.03 seconds from the snap until either the pass, sack or scramble attempt. Brady was able to pass 25 times within 3.0 seconds of the snap in Week 14 against the Texans, completing 68 percent of those throws with three touchdowns. The Texans have to force him to hold it longer. If he has the ball for at least three seconds, his completion percentage drops from .720 to .410 and his yards per attempt drop from 8.1 to 6.4. Brady went 13-of-19 with three touchdowns against five or more pass-rushers in Week 14 against the Texans.

The Reed effect: Texans linebacker Brooks Reed missed the Week 14 blowout loss to the Patriots with a groin injury. Reed’s presence has provided a boost to the Texans’ defense this year. With him on the field, they’ve given up 4.8 yards per play, 6.2 yards per pass, 3.9 yards per rush and a rushing touchdown every 215 plays. Without him, it has been 5.5 yards per play, 7.3 yards per pass, 4.2 yards per rush and a rushing touchdown every 43.5 plays.

Also: The Texans, Patriots, Broncos and Ravens are the same final four in the AFC as last year. The Elias Sports Bureau says this is the first time ever the same four teams reached the divisional playoffs in a conference in consecutive seasons. … According to Elias, teams that lost by 28 or more in the regular season to a team that it then faced again in the postseason are 11-11 in the rematch. All six playoff losses the Patriots have suffered under Bill Belichick were rematches of regular-season games. … This is the fourth time the Patriots have been the No. 2 seed. They reached the Super Bowl each of the past three times and are 8-1 all time as the No. 2 seed. … Including the playoffs, Brady is 85-15 at home -- the best home record of any quarterback that began his career in the Super Bowl era.

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