Week 14 means nothing. This will be a totally different game. The Texans are a very good team. Expect Houston to bring their best. Blah Blah Blah.
By this point, we've heard pretty much every cliche there is regarding Sunday's rematch. And apart from a certain useless, red-headed, moronic sports relic in the Boston media who shall remain nameless, pretty much everyone is predicting a much closer game this time around. Week 14's game represented a Patriots team who was clicking on all cylinders and a Texans team who were slow to start and thus got taken out of their initial gameplan almost immediately. While a duplicate of the Monday night game is something I'd absolutely love to see, I'm steeling myself for a back and forth, hard-fought game which will see a much more productive Texans rushing attack, fewer scoring opportunities for the Patriots, and less lucky bounces that go New England's way. I can easily see this game being decided by a score or less.
But why? Why will this game be so different when the Patriots handled the Texans so easily in Week 14? There are several answers to this question, but I think that the simplest answer is that the Texans simply had a bad game that Monday. And perhaps one of the reasons why the phrase "this is a different Texans team" has been thrown around so much as of late is because, in a way, this will be a different Texans team. While the Patriots were playing without Gronk during that first game, it's easy to forget that several of Houston's playmakers were either hobbled or inactive altogether. Three players in particular stand out to me as primed to make a major impact on Sunday's game, on both sides of the ball.
Garrett Graham, Tight End.
In Week 14 he was: out with a concussion
Graham isn't a major threat in the passing game, but remains the Texans best blocking tight end and one of the better blocking tight ends in the AFC. Where Graham is likely to see the most use is in the running game, as Arian Foster runs best when he can get the edge and take the ball to the outside. I can't imagine that Gary Kubiak will try to run the ball directly at Vince Wilfork this time around, which means more perimeter runs behind Graham and the Texans' zone blocking scheme. If Houston is able to get the run game going, I can see Graham having a decent receiving day as well as he breaks off of the playaction and gets open underneath. Having a tight end like Graham will prove doubly effective on crucial 3rd and short plays, as the Texans will have a lot of weapons at their disposal working out of 2 TE sets. Graham has yet to be medically cleared to play this week, but all signs point to him being out there, and if he is, it will be a big boost for the Texans running game and short range passing attack.
Brooks Reed, Linebacker.
In Week 14 he was: out with a hamstring/groin injury
Houston's pass rush has been so fierce this season, it's easy to overlook that they have been without Brian Cushing for most of the year and have missed Brooks Reed for three or four weeks this season. Unfortunately for New England, Reed is now back in the mix and had three tackles and a sack against the Bengals last week. While the Texans were unable to get to Tommy B during the first meeting, having an extra pass rusher of Reed's caliber in the mix this time around certainly won't make life any easier for the offensive line. And while Reed's biggest impact is likely to be felt as a run stuffer and pass rusher, perhaps one of the more intriguing matchups of the day will be when he goes up against his friend and former teammate, Rob Gronkowski. While I can only hope that Reed draws the unenviable task of covering Gronk on Sunday, as I think it is a bit of a speed mismatch, Reed definitely has the size and strength to jam Gronk at the line and possibly disrupt the timing on his passing routes,which may still be a little off from his extended absence.
Johnathan Joseph, Cornerback.
In Week 14 he was: active, but limited as he continued to nurse a hamstring injury.
Joseph wasn't overly effective during the first matchup, as he was still getting back into football shape and his hamstring wasn't fully healed. However, when healthy, he is one of the better corners in the game and can match speed with pretty much anyone. I'll be curious to see how the Texans use him, as I don't think he has the quickness and hip speed to match up with Wes Welker, but I can see him effectively taking Brandon Lloyd out of this game as well as providing help in bracketing New England's tight ends. A Johnathan Joseph who is on his game can make the field of play much smaller for Brady, which is absolutely key when going up against an offense with as many weapons as the Patriots have.