An injury-ravaged Oakland Raider team lost 27-14 at Houston Saturday in a game that was far more one-sided than the final score indicated. That Texan victory coupled with the expected Steeler annihilation of Miami at Heinz Field Sunday means that the Texans’ reward is an opportunity to travel to Foxborough. Houston now faces the daunting task of facing the 14-2 Patriots. The Pats forced three turnovers and crushed Houston 27-0 in week three with Jacoby Brisset at quarterback. Over their franchise history the Patriots are 7-1 versus the Texans, with the lone loss coming in a meaningless week 17 game seven years ago. In the only playoff game between these two clubs the Patriots prevailed 41-28 four seasons ago. That game followed the infamous decision to have Houston players arrive in high school style varsity letterman jackets.
For the fourth straight season the Patriots will play in prime time in the divisional playoff round. There is a simple reason for this. With the exception of Pittsburgh, no team that played in the first round is remotely close to the Patriots in terms of excitement and entertainment. The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons and fourteen straight years with double digit win totals. It is no wonder that fans of the 31 other teams hate the Patriots, witnessing a stretch of success that is unparalleled in the salary cap/free agency era. That type of productivity and success is the perfect recipe to make the Patriots villains for every other NFL owner and their fans.
The Basics: Who What, When and Where
Who: 9-7 Houston Texans (#4 seed, AFC South champs) at 14-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs).
What: 2016-17 AFC Division Round Playoffs
When: Saturday January 14 at 8:15 pm ET on NBC.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA; FieldTurf surface.
Weather, Odds and More
Weather: Cloudy afternoon skies with a high of about 33° F; winds from the north at 10-15 mph. Chance of snow is predicted to zoom from zero during the day to 60% at night, accumulating one to three inches. Low of 23° with light and variable winds of about 5 mph.
Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.
Coaches: Dorchester native Bill O’Brien is in his third year as an NFL head coach. His Texan teams have finished 9-7 in each of those three regular seasons, and he is now 1-1 in the playoffs. BoB was with the Patriots from 2007-11, serving as the offensive coordinator in his final year with the Pats. After that O’Brien spent two years as head coach at Penn State, resurrecting the Nittany Lions from sanctions following the aftermath of the Joe Paterno-Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Bill Belichick is now in his 22nd year as an NFL head coach, with a 237-115 (.673) regular season record. BB also has 14 playoff appearances, including the last seven in a row. Belichick is 23-10 in the playoffs (22-9, .710 with the Patriots) with four Lombardi trophies and six conference championships. The Hoodie also has two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the Giants.
Odds: In the early advanced look-ahead lines published prior to the wild card games the Patriots were listed as 13½ point favorites over Houston. After Sunday’s games the Patriots have initially been listed as 16-point favorites against the Texans. The MGM Mirage is listing the Pats as 17-point favorites, while some other venues are at 15½. For now the over/under is at a total of 45 points.
Head-to-Head Series Record: The Patriots lead the all-time series 7-1. That record includes the lone playoff game between the two teams, a 41-28 victory following the 2012 season. The Patriots have defeated Houston twice since O’Brien became the Houston head coach. Late in 2015 the Pats won at Houston 27-6. The New England defense sacked Brian Hoyer five times, limiting Houston to just seven first downs and 189 yards of offense. Earlier this season the Patriots easily prevailed 27-0 at Gillette Stadium, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Team Stats and Rankings
Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game. Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five.
As you can see Houston does possess a formidable defense, but the Texan offense makes this game a mismatch on paper. Fortunately for Houston fans games are won and lost on the field and not on stat sheets. Hat tip to Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders for many of their advanced statistics, including drive stats and DVOA.
New England Patriots Offense versus Houston Texans Defense
Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.1 (3rd); Texans 20.5 (11th)
Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Texans 301 (1st)
First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.9 (5th); Texans 17.0 (1st)
Yards per Play: Patriots 5.9 (6th); Texans 4.9 (3rd)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 35.5 (7th); Texans 26.7 (2nd)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Texans 1.67 (5th)
Drive Success Rate: Patriots .742 (5th); Texans .645 (2nd)
Points per Play: Patriots .418 (4th); Texans .336 (11th)
Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Texans 2.2 (9th)
Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Texans 1.5 (5th)
Red Zone TD Percentage: Patriots 63.3% (8th); Texans 52.3% (8th)
Plays per Game: Patriots 66.0 (7th); Texans 59.4 (1st)
Third Down Conversions per Game: Patriots 6.50 (2nd); Texans 5.13 (11th)
Third Down Conversion Percentage: Patriots 45.8 (4th); Texans 38.5 (11th)
Punts per Score: Patriots 0.9 (9th); Texans 1.5 (4th)
Punts per Game: Patriots 4.50 (14th); Texans 5.25 (5th)
– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –
Rushing Yards: Patriots 117.0 (7th); Texans 99.7 (12th)
Yards per Carry: Patriots 3.88 (25th); Texans 4.02 (13th)
Passing Yards: Patriots 269 (4th); Texans 202 (2nd)
Gross Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 8.1 (3rd); Texans 6.6 (2nd)
Net Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 7.83 (3rd); Texans 6.18 (2nd)
Completion Percentage: Patriots 66.9 (6th); Texans 61.1 (9th)
Passer Rating: Patriots 109.5 (2nd); Texans 84.3 (7th)
TD Passes-Picks: Patriots +30 (2nd, 32-2); Texans -9 (13th, 20-11)
Complete Passes per Game: Patriots 23.0 (15th); Texans 19.9 (3rd)
Incomplete Passes per Game: Patriots 11.40 (6th); Texans 12.7 (24th)
Quarterback Sacks per Game: Patriots 1.50 (5th); Texans 1.94 (24th)
Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Patriots 9.25 (2nd); Texans 12.4 (23rd)
Houston Texans Offense versus New England Patriots Defense
Scoring per Game: Texans 17.4 (28th); Patriots 15.6 (1st)
Yardage per Game: Texans 315 (29th); Patriots 326 (8th)
First Downs per Game: Texans 19.1 (23rd); Patriots 18.4 (3rd)
Yards per Play: Texans 4.7 (31st); Patriots 5.2 (10th)
Yards per Drive: Texans 28.8 (26th); Patriots 28.8 (8th)
Points per Drive: Texans 1.50 (29th); Patriots 1.42 (1st)
Drive Success Rate: Texans .664 (25th); Patriots .662 (5th)
Points per Play: Texans .261 (31st); Patriots .251 (1st)
Touchdowns per Game: Texans 1.6 (31st); Patriots 1.7 (2nd)
Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Texans 1.1 (31st); Patriots 1.4 (3rd)
Red Zone TD Percentage: Texans 40.9 (31st); Patriots 52.3 (8th)
Plays per Game: Texans 66.9 (5th); Patriots 62.4 (9th)
Third Down Conversions per Game: Texans 5.44 (7th); Patriots 4.75 (3rd)
Third Down Conversion Percentage: Texans 37.3 (22nd); Patriots 36.9 (7th)
Punts per Score: Texans 1.2 (22nd); Patriots 1.7 (1st)
Punts per Game: Texans 4.50 (14th); Patriots 5.00 (7th)
– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –
Rushing Yards: Texans 116.2 (25th); Patriots 88.6 (3rd)
Yards per Carry: Texans 4.08 (19th); Patriots 3.85 (8th)
Passing Yards: Texans 199 (29th); Patriots 238 (12th)
Gross Yards per Pass Attempt: Texans 5.9 (32nd); Patriots 6.8 (8th)
Net Yards per Pass Attempt: Texans 5.45 (32nd); Patriots 6.39 (7th)
Completion Percentage: Texans 59.5 (25th); Patriots 61.7 (11th)
Passer Rating: Texans 73.3 (30th); Patriots 84.4 (8th)
TD Passes-Picks: Texans -1 (30th, 15-16); Patriots -8 (11th, 21-13)
Complete Passes per Game: Texans 16.5 (21st); Patriots 21.6 (17th)
Incomplete Passes per Game: Texans 14.8 (27th); Patriots 14.2 (6th)
Quarterback Sacks per Game: Texans 2.0 (11th); Patriots 2.1 (16th)
Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Texans 15.1 (12th); Patriots 14.2 (16th)
Interceptions, Fumbles and Recoveries, Oh My!
Other than points on the scoreboard, is there a more important NFL game stat than turnovers? The Pillsbury Doughboy waited long and patiently for this critical section.
Turnover Differential: Patriots +12 (3rd); Texans -7 (26th)
Patriot Takeaways: 23, 14th
Texan Giveaways: 24, 19th
Texan Takeaways: 17, 26th
Patriot Giveaways: 11, 1st
Penalties per Game: Patriots 5.8 (5th); Texans 5.4 (1st)
Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 51.2 (4th); Texans 54.2 (13th)
Opponent Penalties per Game: Patriots 7.1 (8th); Texans 7.1 (8th)
Opponent Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 58.1 (15th); Texans 59.3 (13th)
Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average
Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.1% (1st); Texans -17.7% (29th)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Texans -21.4% (30th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Texans -6.9% (7th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Texans -7.0% (32nd)
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity, but pick and choose what stats are meaningful to you for this game. It will not be a surprise if Houston gives the New England offense fits early on. Keep in mind some of that is due to the Patriots seeing how the Texans react to different formations and play calls before you hit the panic button. The Patriots will methodically do what they need to do to win, while also minimizing opportunities for Houston to come away with an upset victory. Houston has had issues this season with their special teams coverage. That could set the Patriots up with a short field and a quick score. Once the Pats take a lead this Texan team is in trouble. Their offense does not have the talent to keep up with the Patriots.
Initial Prediction: Patriots 31, Texans 10