If it weren't for the Houston Texans posting a 1-3 record in the final stretch of the regular season, then the New England Patriots would have never gotten a playoff bye. Now, the Patriots will have to square off against the team that essentially handed them the bye this Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
These two teams met just about a month ago with the Patriots absolutely demolishing the Texans on Monday Night Football. The 11-1 Houston Texans came into Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots ultimately exposed Houston as they walked away with an impressive 42-14 victory.
With that being said, let's take a look at three players on Houston that can cause some trouble against the Patriots this Sunday afternoon.
1. Arian Foster
Arian Foster was on my list of players that the Patriots should watch out for when these two teams met a month ago, and he's on the list again.
Foster might have been shut -down against the Pats, as he was held to 46 yards rushing on 15 carries. Although he did score a touchdown, but that touchdown came late in the third quarter when New England had already posted a 28-0 lead.
Foster is coming off of an incredible performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round as he rushed for 140 yards on 32 carries while punching in a score. Foster also was targeted eight times in the passing game as he snagged all eight of those passes for 34 yards.
I think it's pretty clear-cut that Foster is the key to Houston's offensive attack. If Foster is shut-down, then the Texans not only can't run the ball, but they can't set up the play-action—which is what their passing attack is based off of.
2. J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt was No. 1 on list a month ago, but now he's dropped down behind Arian Foster—and for good reason.
Back in December, the Patriots made Watt forgettable on the nationally televised Monday night game. Watt was held to just two tackles while not sacking Tom Brady once.
Watt is arguably the NFL's top defensive player as he finished 2012 with a phenomenal 20.5 sacks, which is just two sacks short of tying Michael Strahan for the NFL's single-season record.
This past week against the Bengals, Watt recorded five tackles and one sack and clearly proved that he wont fade away in the high-pressure spotlight that is NFL playoff football—now it's all up to the Patriots to limit him this upcoming Sunday.
3. Andre Johnson
Rather than putting Matt Schaub on the list, I decided to go with Andre Johnson—as he actually had a pretty solid day against the Pats a month ago.
Johnson finished the game with eight receptions on 10 targets for 95 yards—with an impressive average of 11.9 yards per-reception. Granted, the Patriots did hold Johnson in-check as he didn't score a touchdown, but he did still found a way to come close to 100-yards receiving.
Johnson wasn't all that of a factor last week against the Bengals, as he was targeted six times while reeling in four passes for 62 yards.
It will certainly be difficult not only limiting running back Arian Foster, but also shutting down Houston's top wide receiver.