Who has more to prove Sunday? The Houston Texans or Tom Brady?
OK, clearly it’s the letterman Texans, who, yes, a month later are finally playing the biggest game in franchise history when they take on the Patriots in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. But as great as Brady has been this season, last season, and whatever regular season you want to pick before that, his playoff record since starting a perfect 10-0 for his career is muddled.
In 2006, Brady and the Patriots visited Denver and lost, 27-13, the first playoff loss of Brady’s career. Since the perfect postseason record came to an end, Brady is just 6-6 in the playoffs. He didn’t play great against the Giants in the Super Bowl last year. He survived his uneven performance against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game thanks to Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans. There were two first-round exits before that, and that evening in Arizona that sent thousands of T-shirts to Nicaragua.
In those 12 playoff games, Brady’s QB rating topped 100 only three times, Mr. Hyde to the Jekyll that normally confounds defensive schemes. On the flip side, during the 10-game streak, he only topped the century mark four times, and it doesn’t take a genius to point out how much more balanced those teams were. Or just how balanced this year’s edition is.
Brady clearly plays best when there’s a chip. It is, after all, what has defined his Hall of Fame career. Where that chip was in last year’s Super Bowl though is a question that has expired. But after losing a pair of title games, maybe that motivation is at a level we haven’t seen in quite some time.
Thinking of another 10-game streak is foolhardy. We’ll take three for now.
This week’s predictions:
John McClain, Houston Chronicle: Patriots 31, Texans 20.
Globe staff: Patriots across the board (New England by 9 1/2).
Cold Hard Football Facts: Patriots 28, Texans 21. "The Texans are still a fairly formidable defense, too, in a number of key areas, including Defensive Real QB Rating (No. 5) and the critical Defensive Hog Index (No. 3). That unit is also third in third-down defense.
Of course, the Patriots counter with the best Offensive Hogs in the biz and the NFL’s best third-down offense.
Still, the Texans are no push over, despite the tendency to marginalize them in recent weeks, especially in New England. They’ve won 13 games this year and boast the best defensive player in the league. We don’t envision that club getting pushed around twice in the same season."
Zuri Berry, Boston.com staff: Patriots. “It doesn't help Houston's cause that Rob Gronkowski is back, Rob Ninkovich appears to have benefited from the bye week as he nurses an injury, and Aqib Talib has been able to rest for at least three weeks. Houston may be seeking revenge, but the stars are aligned for the Patriots.”
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 34, Texans 24. “I want to believe it can be different than New England's 42-14 rout of the Texans (28-0 after 36 minutes), and I believe it will be different. For the Texans, though, not different enough. Teams don't like to be embarrassed, and the Dan Shaughnessy comparison to the Texans as "tomato cans" in his Boston Globe column will be ringing in the players' ears by the time the ball's kicked off. But the only way, other than a Patriots turnover-fest, that I can see Houston winning this game is to use the same recipe as last week against Cincinnati: a heavy dose of Arian Foster. Foster ran it 32 times and caught it eight times last week, and the same thing here will limit Tom Brady's possessions and his chances to beat up the Houston secondary. It's possible; Foster's a back who can wear a defense down. But this is a game where it'd all have to go right for Houston to win.”
ESPN.com staff: Eleven out of 12 pick the Patriots. Adam Schefter has the lone pick for Houston.
Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News: Texans. “Always have to pick one underdog, so this is it. Banking that Texans got over their playoff psychosis hump last weekend and will play better this week with the pressure off… but for the record, I’m not banking too much.”
Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News: Patriots. "om Brady is not losing to Matt Schaub at Gillette Stadium. It shouldn’t be close, something like New England 30-13."
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports.com: Patriots 37, Texans 23. “The Texans scored 19 points against the Bengals. That won't be good enough against the Patriots. New England will get their points with Tom Brady. The last time, the Pats lit up the Texans. Brady threw four touchdown passes. It won't be as bad as that game, but I can't see the Houston pass defense, which has struggled against good quarterbacks, having a good day against Brady. J.J. Watt can't do it alone. On the flip side, the Texans' passing game is struggling. Matt Schaub just doesn't look like the same passer he was early in the season. The Texans will pound Arian Foster to try and keep Brady off the field, but that's a dangerous formula. They have to be able to keep up with the New England offense, and I'm not sure they can. Brady advances to another AFC title game with a big night against the Texans.”
CBS Sports.com staff: Eight writers split their picks.
John Boell, Newsday: Patriots. “The Pats have the defensive front seven to do just that. New England beat the Texans, 42-14, last month, but Belichick says "it's a bunch of garbage" to expect another blowout. Tom Brady (16-6) is a win away from passing Joe Montana for the most playoff wins by a QB. The Pats are 1-8 ATS in their last nine playoff games, and 1-7 ATS in their last eight home postseason games. Fade the trends. Brady and Belichick get one step closer to winning a fourth Super Bowl trophy.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 34, Texans 20. “For me this is the biggest certainty of the four games. Pats are 13-3 all-time at home in the postseason. Tom Brady, at The Razor Blade, in deep winter, is money. He just is. And Houston, especially Matt Schaub's offense, does not seem in synch.”
Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake City Tribune: Patriots 35, Texans 21. “The Patriots have their own history of failing to come through at home in the playoffs, but this looks like a mismatch -- even though Houston contended for the AFC’s top seed for most of the season. The Texans barely overcame Cincinnati last week and, like Baltimore vs. Denver, their notorious pass rushers will be frustrated by quarterback Tom Brady’s sack-proof nature.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 34, Texans 16 (Iyer’s “Lock of the Week). “Before the Texans could even get warmed up, they faced a 28-0 deficit in a eventual 42-14 defeat. The Patriots focused on stuffing Arian Foster, and Matt Schaub wasn't able to keep up with Brady. This time, Brady will also have his best, toughest-to-cover receiver—tight end Rob Gronkowski—in the lineup. Although the best Texan, defensive end J.J. Watt will have his moments, the Patriots will score more than 30 again. As the Texans have struggled to score 20, they will fall well short again.”
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 38, Texans 17. “Sure, the Jets were blown out by the Pats in December 2010 before beating New England in the postseason. But that makes it even more likely that the Patriots won’t fall into a trap, barely a month after trouncing the Texans, 42-14. Indeed, last year the Patriots blew out the Broncos in December before blowing them out even worse in the playoffs. Coach Bill Belichick will have his guys ready to charge out of their foxholes and attack — in slightly more organized and effective fashion than the way the guys in Stripes attacked the obstacle course.”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 31, Texans 17. “This game won’t go as badly for the Texans as their previous meeting, but it won’t go particularly well for the Texans, either. Tom Brady can pick apart Houston’s secondary, and while there are some big holes in the Patriots’ secondary, too, I’m not convinced that Matt Schaub is playing well enough right now to take advantage. The Patriots will beat the Texans convincingly again and earn an AFC Championship trip to Denver.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots. “I went into detail this week about why we won’t see another 42-14 thrashing at Gillette, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t win big. For one, Rob Gronkowski is back, and there is nobody more difficult to cover in the red zone than Rob Gronkowski. For two, Matt Schaub is still the quarterback of the Houston Texans, and he’s prone to make critical mistakes. Because he’s not that good. And he always looks so exhausted every week. Unless he’s been hitting the treadmill hard this week, I’d be very worried about him on Sunday.”
USA Today staff: Patriots across the board.
Yahoo! sports staff: All Pats.
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 31, Texans 16. “Arian Foster’s over-the-top concern with what Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy had to say about the Texans threw me off a bit. The writer wrote, “All the Patriots have to do is beat the terrible Texans,” in his column last Sunday. Foster, then, used the column as his avatar on Twitter. I don’t know. Could you imagine Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork doing that? Matt Schaub won his first career playoff start last week, but there was no indication that this team is any better than the squad that lost 42-14 at Gillette Stadium a month ago. The Patriots will win, and they’ll win big.”
It says here: Patriots 24, Texans 16. Hopefully, Peyton does his job too.