The Texans are one of the worst teams to make the playoffs by winning their division by a very slim margin. However, that’s not really important now as they’ve advanced to the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs where the Patriots will have their work cut out for them. The Texans while not consistent on offense, have a set of weapons that can give the Patriots defense fits with WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Lamar Miller, and TE CJ Fiedorowicz. Their defense is very stingy and tough to move the ball against, but due to the fact their Special Teams put their defense at a disadvantage in terms of field position, the Patriots have an area to exploit there. The Texans haven’t done well on the road in 2017 and will be traveling to frigid Foxboro.
Take away the Texans rushing game, make them one-dimensional: In the early stage of the game, the Texans are going to run the ball in order to maximize their time of possession and minimize that for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. The Texans are 11th in average TOP per drive at 2:50, which is one second less than the 8th ranked Patriots offense. Texans are going to hand the ball off to Lamar Miller 25+ times while mixing in Alfred Blue and Akeem Hunt as change of pace backs. The Patriots rush defense has played very well, ranking 4th in run defense in DVOA and hasn’t allowed a rushing TD since Week 8. Also, the Patriots offense can dictate the Texans play-calling by building an early lead and forcing the Texans to play catch-up on the road in cold conditions.
Take away DeAndre Hopkins: The Patriots have been successful at covering Hopkins in their last two meetings, mostly leaving Logan Ryan on an island. Ryan is now playing in the slot instead of the boundary, but I’m curious to see if the Patriots utilize that match-up instead of Eric Rowe and/or Malcolm Butler. The Patriots will likely shade Devin McCourty to play over the top and allow the CB matched up on him to play more aggressively and hunt for INTs. The idea is to make the Texans be patient and force them to execute 10+ play drives on offense to score a FG at most. Given QB Brock Osweiler’s struggles hitting tight windows on passes traveling 10+ yards downfield, there’s a good chance he makes a mistake at some point.
Utilize middle of the field match-ups: The Texans have two excellent boundary corners in AJ Bouye and Jonathan Joseph. In terms of pass defense, that’s where their strengths are and Tom Brady would be crazy to attack them all night with better match-ups in the middle of the field. The Texans LBs Bernardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing are very good run and chase players but if forced to cover Martellus Bennett, Dion Lewis, or James White in space, it could create an advantage. It’s a game where Dion Lewis getting the bulk of the touches for the RBs makes sense. In addition, we’ll see Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman out of the slot against their 3rd corner Robert Nelson Jr. The advantage the Patriots have attacking the middle of the field should allow them to move the ball up and down the field against the Texans defense.
Special teams repeats Week 3 performance: The Patriots Special Teams was the reason they won 27-0 in Week 3. Constantly forcing the Texans to operate inside their own 20 thanks to a ball control offense that didn’t turn the ball over, while giving the offense good field position to kick FGs. Tyler Ervin isn’t going to fumble two return attempts again, but the Patriots should take advantage of his inability to secure the football by forcing him to catch punts in tight spaces. If the Patriots win the battle of field position against the Texans and don’t turn the ball over, it’s going to not just be a win, but possibly a 20+ point blowout again.
Final Score Prediction: Patriots 38, Texans 13. The Patriots offense and defense are clicking, facing an offensively challenged opponent in the Texans. The Patriots ability to win the battle of field position, with the 2nd best starting field position on offense and best starting field position on defense by itself will give the Patriots a 12-point advantage if you believe in the 20 yards = 1 point rule. Throw in the fact the Patriots are playing at home, where their only two losses came to the Bills sans Tom Brady and against a non-conference playoff team in the Seahawks, I like their chances of not only winning, but covering. Brady goes 24-40 for 317 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT while Dion Lewis leads the team in YFS with 107 yards (78 rushing, 29 receiving) on 17 touches (14 rush, 3 rec). Malcolm Butler records his first Pick 6 of his career on the Texans opening drive, giving the Patriots a 7-0 lead before Brady takes the field.