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2017 NFL Playoffs: 10 instant thoughts for the Patriots-Texans divisional round game

The Patriots have the clear advantage.

The New England Patriots will host the Houston Texans for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. Game time and details can be found here. These are my thoughts for the upcoming game.

1. The Patriots blanked the Texans 27-0 back in week 3 and have only improved on defense. Remember that the Patriots featured Jamie Collins and Jonathan Freeny at linebacker since Dont’a Hightower was inactive with a knee injury. Kyle Van Noy was still on the Lions, while Rob Ninkovich was suspended and Shea McClellin wasn’t a major factor in the game plan. The New England run defense is playing better than ever.

Add in the addition of CB Eric Rowe, the returned-health of CB Logan Ryan who underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason and could explain some of his early-season struggles, and the Patriots are better at every level of the defense.

2. The Texans have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They rank 30th in DVOA, including 27th in the run game and 30th in the passing game. They were the most consistent team on offense, which is not a ringing endorsement because they were consistently terrible, and Houston faced the 2nd-easiest slate of opposing defenses this year.

3. Texans QB Brock Osweiler was the worst quarterback in 2016 with 300+ passing plays. He completed 58.5% of his passes against the Patriots in week 3 for 196 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. His passer rating of 60.6 against the was only his 6th worst of the season.

He’s also coming off the best two-game stretch of the season.

Osweiler has posted an 80+ passer rating in back-to-back weeks, but he’ll need to play his best game of the season to keep up with New England.

4. WR DeAndre Hopkins is the Texans only threat in the passing game with 954 receiving yards in the regular season. He collected 67 yards against the Raiders over wild card weekend, but all 67 yards came in the first half.

Patriots CB Logan Ryan has had Hopkins’ number, relatively speaking, holding the receiver to an average of 54 receiving yards over the past two games, versus Hopkins’ average of 77.3 yards per game over the past two years. If Ryan can limit Hopkins, then the Texans won’t have any passing attack to speak of.

Rookie WR Will Fuller ranked second of the team with 635 receiving yards during the regular season. 323 of those yards (50.9% of his yards) came over the first four weeks of the season, including a quiet 31-yard performance against the Patriots in week 3. The Texans really rely on their tight ends.

5. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (559 receiving yards) and TE Ryan Griffin (442 receiving yards) rank third and fourth on the team in receiving yards. Fiedorowicz had 0 receptions in week 3 against the Patriots, while Griffin posted a season-high 10 targets, 8 receptions, and 3rd-best 52 receiving yards.

Griffin had 3 receptions for 19 yards in the two minute drill before halftime and 3 receptions on 4 targets for 20 yards on the Texans final drive, meaning that the majority of his production came against a soft Patriots defense. So long as the Patriots- looking at safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty- can limit the tight ends during the rest of the game, then the Texans will be a one-dimensional rushing attack.

6. Texans RB Lamar Miller leads Houston with 1,261 yards from scrimmage. He is the engine of their offense. Fortunately for the Patriots, New England boasts the 4th best run defense in the NFL. If the Patriots can stifle the Texans rushing attack early in the game and build a quick lead, then they will be able to better stop an already weak Texans passing attack.

7. Houston allowed the fewest yards to opposing teams all year, and ranked 5th in points allowed per drive. The Patriots will be tasked with moving the ball against one of the strongest defenses from a statistical standpoint. Fortunately, the Patriots will have QB Tom Brady, who was suspended back in week 3.

The Texans also have a 2-7 record when they allow 21 points, with wins against the Jaguars and the Colts (overtime). Six of those seven losses came on the road, meaning that the defense does not travel well.

8. The Texans also feature the worst special teams unit in football. The Patriots capitalized on two Texans fumbles on special teams in week 3, and Houston fumbled twice on special teams in the wild card game against the Raiders. The Patriots use their special teams unit to force opposing offenses into the worst starting field position in the league. Special teams is a underated part of the game where the Patriots have a massive advantage.

9. Texans NT Vince Wilfork is contemplating retirement after this season ends. Wouldn’t it be poetic for his final career game to take place in New England? Wilfork is destined for the Patriots Hall of Fame and it would be a nice moment if Wilfork were able to receive another Thank You video or a standing ovation at the end of the game.

10. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger hurt his foot on the final play of the game against the Miami Dolphins and is now in a walking boot. The severity of the injury is unknown, but this gives the Chiefs a larger edge next weekend. This is just food for thought with the AFC Championship Game in mind.