Mike Reiss is just getting himself settled at Gillette Stadium, he will be with us in a few minutes.
Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat.
Just a few minutes late getting into Gillette Stadium. We'll make up the time on the back end. Somewhat like the way the Texans started the Dec. 10 -- an illegal formation penalty on the first play of the game, negating a 12-yard gain by Arian Foster.
Cue Bill Belichick voice, "Come on, Reiss! Run it again!"
So one of the questions I asked on our Patriots blog is the "X-factor." Who might be an X-factor on both sides Sunday. I thought RB Danny Woodhead was a good choice for the Patriots, and LB Brooks Reed was for the Texans.
Tedy Bruschi, on our weekly podcast, went with center Ryan Wendell and safety Glover Quin.
You forgot the " I can't stand it" before the "run it again!"
Hey Mike--With one-and-done I wonder if you see anything different in preparation or demeanor, or is it business as usual?
Steve, the main thing I notice is that it seems like business as usual. In 2010, I thought there was a sense of tightness, and maybe a little too much stock put into the whole "one-game season" deal entering the postseason. I could be reading too much into it, but that would be my general sense.
Brooks Reed was a player you thought the Patriots should have drafted over Ras I Dowling along with Jabaal Sheard. It will be interesting to see what kind of game he has
You have a great memory, Rick. Of course, in 2009, I believe I had Darius Butler penciled in as a nice first-round pick in my mock draft. Ugh.
Is this Chung's last season in a Pats uniform? Got his jersey 2 years ago and have buyer's remorse.
I believe it is, Tony. Fresh start for both sides seems like the way it is headed.
Mike....any update on Gronk's forearm....as we all saw he was very protective of it vs. Miami.....wondering if you have had the opportunity to see him in practice and if it appears that he will not be diminished or limited vs. Houston?
Keith, media is only allowed at practice for the first 10-15 minutes and we see stretching and agility drills. Can't tell much from that.
Hi Mike, do you think either the Texans or Patriots could be over analyzing this game? I doubt Bill Belichick would do the but with the TExans playoff inexperience and the result of last game it could be the case?
Nick, it's possible, and with that I want to pass along the link to "Bruschi's Breakdown" this week. Good thoughts from Bruschi on the coaches, IMO. http://espn.go.com/boston/nfl/story/_/page/bruschibreakdown-0110/tedy-bruschi-breakdown-new-england-patriots-houston-texans-divisional-playoff-game
My x-factor has to be Gronk (is that an obvious one) if he's healthy and blocking well I'm sure he'll be used to help slow down Watt Smith and Reed. Also having him catch balls is going to be huge. biggest impact if healthy though should be the running game
Shaun, the question this week is "Will we get the full Gronk or the half Gronk we saw in the season finale?" Don't think anyone knows the answer right now other than Gronk. A half-Gronk is still a good Gronk, but a full Gronk can be unstoppable.
Can the Patriots over come a typical Tom Brady Playoff game? Which when you take of the Rose Colored Glasses, is an early pick, a fumble, and lots of missed throws in the first half.
Little harsh, Joe. But no one is sugar-coating that Brady has been a bit shaky in recent playoff games. Still, I ask you the question, "Which QB would you rather have in this game -- Brady or Shaub?"
Hey, Mike. I think the X Factor is Stephen Gostkowski, which worries me a little de to his erratic season. I can see this game being decided by a field goal. Now that the pressure has been turned up in the playoffs, how do you see him preparing? Can he call up Adam Vinatieri for advice?
Good one, Chris. Let's pass along a link from one of my close friends on the beat, Tom Curran of Comcast SportsNet. He caught up with Gostkowski on Wednesday. http://www.csnne.com/football-new-england-patriots/patriots-talk/Gostkowski-ready-for-anything-in-playoff?blockID=821769&feedID=6272
I asked this question to your Mailbag but did not get selected! Do you think Belichick will surprise everyone with a trade of an established 'star' player (like the Seymour or Vrabel trade) pre draft to boost the number of picks the Patriots have?
Lee, apologies that I can't get to every question in the mailbag. On this one, I don't think he will go into the offseason with the intention of trading a veteran for a draft pick. I think Belichick has a way of making draft picks multiply during the draft by using the picks he already has.
Hey Mike, Great post yesterday about how the Texans would be better off just rushing 3 or 4 players instead of blitzing. Knowing this, do you think the Patriots will prepare for a different look from the Texans as to not get caught flat footed? Maybe they could even simulate a strong 4 man rush by practicing against 12 defenders. Also, some food for thought: in the last three playoff losses the Patriots have turned the ball over on their first possession (Safety v. NYG; INT v. NYJ; Strip Sack v. Balt).
Those turnovers are huge, Tron. Sometimes I think we can overanalyze these games, and in this case, the role of turnovers. If the Texans recovered Stevan Ridley's fumble on the first drive of the Dec. 10 game, is the final score still 42-14? I don't think it is. As for prepping for pressure, I think the main thing they're doing is getting those rackets and brooms up to disrupt those passing lanes. I think that's easier to simulate than pressure in a non full-pads practice.
How do you see this game playing out ? Do you think it will be more of a defensive battle? And do you think the Patriots Defense is healthy enough to make a SB run or are their injuries too severe?
Bill, the Patriots can make a Super Bowl run. I have no doubt about that. This is a championship-level team in my view. As for how the game plays out, I think it's closer than people anticipate. Texans' pride is on the line. I do think that will contribute to them playing sharper/better, but ultimately the difference in the QBs -- Brady over Schaub -- is the difference.
Mike, with you item on the Pats cap space for 2013, I was wondering if you have heard anything on possible extensions for Vollmer, Welker, Edelman or Woodhead? Thanks.
Quiet right now, John. My sense is that the team doesn't view this as the time to be focusing on that business. One focus needs to be on playoffs and Super Bowl.
Hi Mike, Happy New Year to you. What is the major key for the Patriots to stop when the Texans have the football. Do they stack the box and prevent Foster from running or do they rush Schaub and destroy the Texans passing game and weapon Andre Johnson. If Houston somehow wins on Sunday will it be through the air or on the ground? Have a great weekend, Thanks Mike.
Har, I think it starts with Arian Foster. That's what Vince Wilfork said and I buy it. Limiting Foster helps in two areas -- it turns the Texans one-dimensional and also takes away a big part of their attack, the play-action game. When Foster touches the ball, the Texans are better. He had 19 touches on Dec. 10. I feel quite certain, barring injury, he'll have closer to 30-35 touches in this game.
Can the patriots run game hold up threw the playoffs ?
Yes, James, I believe it can. I like this running game, led by Stevan Ridley (45 percent playing time), followed by Danny Woodhead (34), Shane Vereen (12) and Brandon Bolden (7). Only concern from this perspective is ball security.
Mike, who was your favorite football player growing up?
Steve Grogan. Used to wear the neck roll on the playground at recess.
What's with the weather twice being nice for the game? Where is the 20 degree blowing snow?
Exactly. In one respect, I'm happy for the fans who have a tough time with the cold (us "soft" sportswriters get to watch from inside). In another, if you're the Patriots, you have to be a little disappointed that you're not putting the Texans in a tougher weather-based environment. But one thing I'd echo from Tedy Bruschi -- seldom is the weather the key factor; it's always about the execution. Have to be mentally tough either way.
When does Rodak graduate and will he join ESPN Boston full-time?
Mitch, this is Mike's final year of college. He's done great work for us. The hope is that he's on his way to a long, productive career in NFL scouting/personnel. He has a lot to offer.
My x-Factor is Branch...he has the experience in big games and will be forgotten by the Texans trying to stop TE Party
Good one. And when he comes to the post-game pressure, I think there is a 95-percent chance he'll be wearing Louisville gear.
I feel like the Texans will try not to run the ball with Arian Foster too much, but rather get him the ball through short passes and screens. He is a defensive nightmare in open space. This puts a lot of pressure on the Pat's linebackers to cover him if he releases.
I could see that, but why not run it, too? Last time, he had just 15 carries against the Patriots. Part of that was score-related, but if you're the Texans, he needs to touch the ball more.
Stop Arian Foster = non-effective play action = game in Schaub's hands = Pats Victory.Patriots 31-20.... thought?
Well laid out, Bean. I predicted 30-24 Patriots.
Do you see any of the other AFC E teams challenging the PAts in the near future? Miami?
AJ, at this point, I still see a large gap between the Patriots and the next team (Miami right now).
Foster had 40 touches last week, which is a ton. Playoffs or not, he won't be as fresh as houston needs him to be on Sunday. Thats a lot of hits to bounce back from.
Nate, that is a heavy load, but I don't think it will have a factor in this game. They had an extra day of rest, too (playing Saturday and then this Sunday).
Do you feel like vollmer's future with the team is tied to his performance in the playoffs?
I don't, Christian. I think it's tied to the sides being able to find a middle ground. The Patriots would obviously have an interest in retaining him, but at what price? The market could dictate.
Prediction is Houston throws alot of sub packages at the Pats to force Brady to beat them with extra coverage. The Blitz clearly has never worked for Wade against Brady. They pull a Jets, and suprise everyone with more drop backs. Enter the x factor, Steven Ridley. Thoughts?
Interesting scenario, Jay. They only played sub on Dec. 10 when the Patriots went to 3-WR package. Would be a wrinkle and set Ridley up as an X-factor. Like it.
This week there was an article in an Oregon paper surmising that Chip Kelly is waiting for the NE job to open up before he makes the jump to the NFL. Does this hurt his relationship with BB?
No, Perk, I would think their relationship is strong enough that a newspaper opinion-based article wouldn't have an impact on it.
IMO the health and the quality of play of Talib and Dennard is one of the keys to beating Houston on Sunday.The thinking there is to not make Schaub any better then he is. Which the Patriots have done to some other QB 's this season. Your thoughts.
David, if I had to guess, Talib and Dennard will be out there. Would be a big plus for the Patriots.
Can Houston move JJ Watt around enough to confuse the protection and get a couple shots at Brady?
Absolutely Dan. For as much praise as the Patriots received for limiting Watt on Dec. 10, I thought there were still plays where he was disruptive.
Good afternoon, Mike! Do you know that status of Brandon Spike's health? He seems to have been hobbling a bit the past few weeks and rightfully, some people are concerned. Hopefully these past few weeks have been kind to him!
He should be out there and ready to go. No holding back now.
Mike, sorry to steer off the Pats for one second, but as a fellow UMASS alum: Thoughts on UMASS retiring Camby's jersey? You know, the guy that made the 96 Final Four appearance disappear.
Nate, I wasn't aware of that. Not a big "retirement of jersey number" guy. Camby was part of a great era of UMass basketball. That's good enough for me.
X-factor: Vince Wilfork. Who will not only help to contain Arian Foster but also stop Tate who gets a good number of carries when teams don't expect a running play w/ Foster on the sideline.
Jake, Wilfork was more dominant than Watt in the Dec. 10 game. Like the pick. He is such a difference-maker in there.
Mike I think there's a hidden danger to having an extra week of rest, we've seen it from this team before. Where the offense loses some of its rhythm. Do you think the offensive coaches stress this over a bye and do you think the Pats will need a series or two to knock of the rest or Tommy coming out slingin?!
Insightful, Shaun. Had a discussion with Devin McCourty about this, and how important it was for players to get back into the routine/mentality on Tuesday when they returned for work. Coaches were hard on players Tuesday, cracking the whip to help this process along. He said it was something Greg Schiano used to preach at Rutgers -- how when you get out of your routine, there is a process you have to go through to get back into it. I still think that's the favorable approach than playing an extra game, but you bring up a good point. The thing McCourty said is that it helps it's the playoffs. Every player's attention is heightened a bit already. They shouldn't need a series to knock off rust. If you can't be motivated for this, what is in your football heart?
Mike thanks for all the good work from a long time follower of this blog. It seems to me that everyone is looking ahead of the Texans. They are really motivated to get another shot at us especially after the butt kicking we gave them. If we can get an early lead of at least 10 pts I think they will panic and make errors otherwise I expect this game to be a real dog fight and maybe even decided by the last possession.What say you?
George, I like this thought because I'm not sure it's in the Texans' D.N.A. to fight, scrap and claw in a championship type environment if they face some early adversity. We certainly didn't see it on Dec. 10. So if the Patriots get up early, I think that would be huge. Otherwise, I could see this one being close. The Texans have some talented players.
X factor for each team and why: Jones, NE (he was limited in the 1st meeting and needs to set the edge) & Brooks Reed, NE (a good player that did not play the 1st game. If Houston can get pressure on Brady they maybe able to force mistakes)
Thanks Eric. Chandler Jones, coming off a season finale in which Bill Belichick said it was probably his best game of the year, has a tough matchup against left tackle Duane Brown. Don't see too many pressures or sacks against Brown.
Mike, the Texans' TEs could be as important to the outcome of this game as those of the Pats. If Kubiak finds a way to get them open against the LBs it could provide enough of a distraction to allow Foster, Tate and Forsett to burn the Pats in varying ways. Give Schaub a bit of confidence and he has the weapons to be effective.
Well said, munchkin. Garrett Graham didn't play in the Dec. 10 game. He's back for this one. Opens up the possibility we see Owen Daniels/Graham/James Casey combo at times. We saw how the 49ers hurt the Patriots with multiple-TE packages. Texans coaches are smart too. I'm sure they took note of that. That said, Daniels/Graham is a notch below Vernon Davis/Delanie Walker in terms of athleticism IMO.
Good afternoon Mike my question to you is... Any information on Jeff Demps and his recovery from his injury?
Seen him around, Bijon. Should be a full participant in offseason program and ready to go based on my eye test.
Hi Mike (long followers first time writers). Although I agree Pats are favourites I am concerned about this game. Houston defence has the ability to stop patriots offense and is healthier now than a month ago. Moreover the weather is not going to be a factor which is a bonus for Houston offense. My key will be to establish the run as this will keep their defence honest and open opportunities for Gronk on the seam and play action in general. (your shotgun chart yesterday showed that in all our losses we were in shotgun over 50% and only in one -49ers- we were chasing). Your thoughts?
I think that balance is crucial for the Patriots. Remember Brandon Lloyd's 37-yard touchdown catch on Dec. 10 against the Texans? It came off play-action. Get that running game going and it can make everything else a lot easier.
Hey Mike, Do you think that the bulletin board material has any impact on the game? If that is what it takes to motivate the Texans they probably shouldn't be in the NFL. It's the playoffs and that should be motivation enough.... That said, will the fact that another playoff win makes TB12 the QB with the most career playoff wins get Brady juiced for the killer game we will likely need him to have? Outside of Denver last year, his recent playoff performances have been lacking to say the least....
Lav, I don't think it will have any factor once the ball is in the air at 4:30 p.m. ET. But I do think it is the type of thing that can sharpen a team's focus and help bring it together in the days leading up to a game. We should also note the "bulletin-board material" came from a newspaper writer, not someone affiliated with the team.
Will Brady have a shot at the MVP this year?
Craig, I think he is going to come up short, with Adrian Peterson ultimately getting the nod.
X-Factors in my book are Talib and Dennard...any other corner combo the Pats have put out there in the last two seasons has been shaky...these two are the most competitive corners on the team.
Agree, and the trickle-down effect is that Devin McCourty could move to safety.
Curious Mike -- presuming Denver and NE win, do you think it'd be worth practicing in Denver next week, so the team can be acclimated to the altitude?
No, SG, I think the smarter play is to stay in the confines of the comfortable home environment (weight room, beds at home etc.). It would make too much of an issue of the altitude.
President Reiss, last time we played the Texans it was on MNF and the fans had plenty of time to get "lubed up" and got loud. Do you see a chance Brady comes out and calls for this again? One of my top 10 Brady moments of all time.
No, I think Brady learned his lesson on that one. No more lubed up comments from him. LOL.
Mike, Tuesday I watched the Pats Texas game on NFL Rewind and for me it brought up a question that I have not seen answered. What really happened to Stallworth? He was not injured on that TD play and afterwards you have Stallworth moving around just fine on the sidelines talking with Brady and the other players. Furthermore, I saw him walking after the game and he did not walk slowly or with any hint of a limp. Did the pats just do him a favor by putting him on IR rather than releasing him? Not sure why they would. It was nice seeing a deep threat for once. Not that we will need it against the Texans. Go PATS!
High ankle sprain, James, on that TD catch. He actually tweeted out the picture of how it happened. No consipiracy theories here.
Hi Mike - like many displaced fans, I really appreciate the quality of the blog team's work. My two X-factor players are Shane Vereen and Owen Daniels. Brandon Lloyd had a big game in the first meeting, but has seemed to struggle with the knee injury ever since then. Any idea if that knee has healed - will he be close to 100% for this game?
Thanks for those comments about the blog. It is a team effort and I enjoy that aspect of it. I think Lloyd's health is a fair concern. Played a season-low 31 snaps in the season finale. If he was fully healthy, I don't think the numbers would be that low. Does two weeks make a difference? Honestly, I'd just be guessing.
X-factor is Chung and Watt. Watt will look to break the hex but Chung will need to be in the box to help with the run/defend the pass to the RB/TE
Jason, if Talib and Dennard are healthy, I'm not sure how much we'll see Chung.
What is our biggest draft need on offensive nd defense nxt yr
Teddy, a lot will depend on Vollmer and if he re-signs. If he doesn't, I'd put OT and WR as the top offensive needs. On defense, interior DL and secondary.
Mike for the New England Patriots to Advance to the AFC Championship Game Next Sunday Against the Denver Broncos they must ________________?
I keep it simple, Anthony. Win the turnover battle. Bill Belichick often says, there is no other statistic that correlates more to winning and losing (other than the final score, of course).
Belichick said yesterday, "You don't win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it. ... You need to attack." With that being said, do you think Belichick will have some new tricks up his sleeves for the playoffs in order to keep the opposing defense on their toes? Last year we saw Hernandez in the backfield during the Denver game, do you have any inclination of anything new we could see Sunday?
Yes, Rob, and Hernandez in the backfield/as a ball-carrier is one of them. But overall, I wouldn't get too caught up into wrinkles. I don't think that's what will decide this game.
How would you assess Talib's performance against Johnson Dec. 10?
Not his best game, Joey. Patriots would have to hope he plays better than that. Tough matchup.
Mike - will you do a tweet up in Denver next weekend? Looking forward to seeing you in the Mile High Club
Slomo, I had to pull the anti-BB and go beyond the "one game at a time" approach and book the plane tickets already. Just trying to keep the costs down for the good folks at ESPNBoston.com. I would get in to Denver around 1 p.m. local time. Plan for a tweet-up around 4 p.m. local time.
Mike, I'd think both Talib and Pats have mutual interest in him staying and I know the fans have appreciated the Talib addition and how it has led to the trickle down in McCourty moving to safety and how this has been a stabilizing presence. Looking at John Clayton's estimate of $18.6M of open cap space, I think it's challenging to bring back Talib, Vollmer, Welker, Edelman, Woodhead, etc. if Welker is designated with the franchise tag. Thoughts?
Can't keep them all, Tom. Something would have to give, unless they extend Brady another 5 years and push some of his $22 million cap hit into future years. This is life in the NFL.
Mike,Thanks for keeping me informed up in the Badlands on all Patriot happenings! While most "expert" picks I have seen still have the Pats beating the Texans, everyone seems to be automatically assuming the game will be closer. I am not sure what evidence points to that. In the first game people may say the Lloyd fumble return was a fluke. But look at Houston's last TD to make it 42-14, it came off a Ryan Mallett pick of the hands of the since released Shiancoe. Last week, Houston just happened to be "less inept" then the Cincy.
Fair perspective, Todd. My take is that the Texans' pride is on the line, and because of that, things should be closer. In the words of Tedy Bruschi, "They get a redo, and that's critical. For some of their players, that was probably the most demoralizing game in their football lives. To have that much hype, that big of a stage, saying what you did during the week about it being the biggest game in franchise history and then laying an egg -- to have the opportunity to redo that, how exciting is that? If you're a competitor, what more can you ask for?"
I think we straight out beat the Texans just playing our game (mistake free). They're not good enough to beat us.
Fair enough, Sarah. The only thing I would caution is that some people were saying the same thing in 2010 about the Jets. I know players say "any given Sunday." I believe that.
In the past the Refs have been known to keep there whistle in their pockets; rather than making calls that could effect the game during the post season. Do you think this could play in the favor of the patriots pass defense??
Matt, I don't know if I'd agree with that. But one thing I would say is that with Tony Corrente in charge as referee, this game should be well managed. Corrente one of the best.
Mike, Sorry to cancel your tweet-up, but Baltimore will be coming here!
LOL. Then we'll shift the location. Mrs. Reiss would be the happiest of all.
Is there going to be an ESPN Boston chat during the game? Or will you guys all be too busy? I've missed those since you stopped doing them.
Yes, Matt, you can expect an in-game chat. Thanks for your participation.
That one interception on our first drive changed the entire game, damn it!
That's right, Sarah, a great reminder on the importance of turnovers.
Let's go until 1:05 and then I'm off tothe locker room.
Mike, Belichick told me I will get the most reps this weekend because I am the "big game" back. I cant wait to pick up Watt on blitz protection! #Littlemanbigblock
Just 16 snaps for you, Mr. Woodhead, vs. the Texans on Dec. 10. Ridley had 31, Vereen 24 and Bolden 3. But I could see the numbers shifting in your favor. You're my X-factor. #littleguyssticktoegther
Mike, Do you play Madden? I feel like you would be pretty good. Would love to play you one day.
Jay, at some point along the way, the controller got a little too confusing to me. It was easier in my Atari days. Too many buttons for me. #usedtobemuchcooler
Mike, I know this sounds silly but Tom Brady is probably the biggest X-factor. If he plays like Tom Brady I don't see Houston winning but if we get the Brady who played against the Giants twice, Ravens twice and Jets then this game could be a battle.
Fair enough, Dave. Sometimes we overthink it.
Mike I was curious how this team differs from recent past post-season teams in their ability to take and effectively apply in-game adjustments and coaching in the most critical games - both offensively and defensively? Go PATS!
Tom, I think they are very good at that this year. Bill Belichick actually commented on that this week. That hasn't always been the case (e.g. 2009 a struggle).
Mike, can Pats D repeat last game performance with 7 sacks? My X -factor players: CB Aqib Talib ; TE Owen Daniels.
Don't think we'll see 7 sacks, Nemanja. Like the X-factors.
Football for the Atari was awesome, with its 3-man "line" plus a quarterback!
Brian, be careful, we are dating ourselves. I also dabbled in Intellivision and Sega, but somewhere along the line, it just lost me.
Since their last match up the Texans have lost a couple more inside linebackers to injury while Gronkowski (who missed the first game with an injury) has returned for the Patriots. The Patriots have presented match up challenges for almost every team with their TEs, but this seems to be a major advantage this week. How will the Texans scheme for this? Extra DBs? More blitzing? Less blitzing?
Definitely agree with this, Pat. Like the matchup of Patriots TEs against Texans inside LBs. I think we'll still see some pressure calls from the Texans. They'll need to protect those guys inside.
In your opinion, Mike, has Tavan Wilson lived up to his 2nd-round selection?
Too early to tell Andy.
I do think the two first-round safeties -- Barron and Smith -- have been at a higher level.
Common Mike there's lot riding on you answering my Ques ...What do you think Texans attack the Pats D ?
Foster, Foster and more Foster. Needs to touch it more than the 19 times he did on Dec. 10.
Do you think Brandon Lloyd is set up for a big game this weekend? I'd imagine Kubiak is pretty concerned with dealing with Gronk and doing a better job on Hernandez than last time. Welker commands a good defender in the slot. This leaves Lloyd with probably the 2nd or 3rd corner on the outside. Lloyd hasn't been super-consistent this year; do you think he can step it up and produce on Sunday?
I think there will be 1 on 1 coverage on Lloyd and he'll have to beat it. A little concerned about his health.
Mike, the one area I see the Texans being able to exploit is over the middle when Spikes is forced into coverage. We saw last week that the Bengals were unable to cover Houston's tight ends and I expect a similar plan of attack on Sunday. I would love to see Spikes come up with another interception like he did last year in the playoffs. On the outside I think Talib and Dennard will handle Johnson and look for Hightower to have a strong performance against the run.
Great point, Mike. I see it similarly.
Mike, lookin ahead, doesn't next years schedule look like a buzz saw?
Let's end on this one. We're one-game-at-a-time here on ESPNBoston.com, Waldo, so I have no idea what you're talking about :)
Seriously, it looks pretty challenging, but I think it helps to play in the weak AFC East.
Thanks to everyone for chatting. We'll do it again next week.