1. So it’ll be the Texans, then. Seeded fourth in the AFC, Houston beat the shorthanded (and fifth-seeded) Raiders Saturday, 27-14. Their win, coupled with the third-seeded Steelers’ 30-12 freeze-out of the sixth-seeded Dolphins Sunday afternoon, means the Texans have the privilege of coming to Foxborough next Saturday to be the sacrificial . . . er, opponent, in the divisional round matchup. Don’t forget the letter jackets, fellas. I suspect the Patriots are satisfied with how this all has played out. In two meetings with the Texans since former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien became their head coach before the 2014 season, the Patriots have outscored them, 54-6.
2. The obvious question: Is there any chance the Texans can beat the Patriots? If so, it’s a minuscule one — and not even a puncher’s chance at that. It would require probably at least a plus-3 turnover differential in favor of the Texans and a dominating overall performance by their top-ranked defense, Brock Osweiler hitting on at least one long (and fluky) touchdown pass, a huge rushing day for Lamar Miller, a miraculous return to health by noted recluse J.J. Watt, and — I hate even mentioning this — one quarterback injury, if not two, for the Patriots. One or two of those things may happen. The Texans require all of them to have a real chance.
3. With Tom Brady dominating and the Patriots’ defense much improved, this is a far superior Patriots team to the one that shut out the Texans, 27-0, in Week 3. An ideal outcome Saturday night? Getting through it healthy and without suspense, make sure Vince Wilfork gets a nice salute just in case this is his final game, then spend Sunday watching the Steelers and Chiefs beat each other up for the right to come here for the AFC title game.
4. Watching the Texans defense’s systematic tormenting of Raiders rookie QB Connor Cook in his first career start made me appreciate that Week 3 victory over the Texans — which, you’ll recall, featured Jacoby Brissett at the helm in his first career start — even more. Brissett was poised enough but very, very limited — and yet the Texans had no chance, ultimately losing, 27-0. The Raiders were hopeless without their top two quarterbacks, Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. The Patriots, even with that theoretical disadvantage, embarrassed the Texans.
5. If I recall correctly, and I do, Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was the player a vocal segment of fans around here wanted the Patriots to take when they spent a second-round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 NFL Draft. Fiedorowicz had a decent season, catching 54 passes — or one fewer than Martellus Bennett — but I don’t think you could find a Patriots fan (or, for that matter, a sports radio caterwauler) to complain about that draft day decision now.
6. You bet I’m Team Schefter and not Team Dilfer: The Patriots will get at least a first-round pick for Garoppolo in the offseason, even with this uncertain long-term contract status. It’s so hard to find even a competent quarterback that teams talk themselves into the likes of Jared Goff at the front end of the draft every year. Garoppolo has played just six quarters of live NFL action, but he showed talent, poise, mobility, and a strong arm. He’s superior to at least three quarterbacks who started playoff games this weekend (Cook, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler) in the AFC.
7. Have to admit, I haven’t watched much of the Texans since the Patriots stifled them in Week 3. So when, exactly, did Javedeon Clowney become a havoc-wreaking beast (has five sacks since that game and made second-team All-Pro) and fulfill all of that promise? And when did DeAndre Hopkins (one game of 88 or more receiving yards since Week 2) become just another guy?
8. For those marveling that Clowney made 6-foot-4-inch Randy Moss look like a Welker-sized slot receiver during his postgame interview Saturday, it should be noted that he’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 267 pounds. He looks and plays like an overgrown Willie McGinest.
9. It’s a bummer Derek Carr got hurt — he’ll be right there dueling Brady to be the first-runner up to Matt Ryan in the MVP balloting — and a matchup with the Patriots in the divisional round would have been some cool symmetry coming 15 years after the Snow Bowl. But I’d feel bad for the Raiders if they weren’t the Raiders. I remember what they did in the ’70s and recognize who they’ve pretended to be since. No sympathy for the devil.
10. The Patriots offered plenty of praise for Dolphins coach Adam Gase after their game in Week 17, and that made me think there was a decent chance the Dolphins would give the Steelers a battle Sunday. Then I clicked on the TV, saw a shot of the frigid and bundled-up crowd at Heinz Field, and presumed there was no way a team based in Miami was going to play well in that weather. Two 50-plus-yard touchdown catches by Steelers star Antonio Brown in the first quarter confirmed as much.
11. The Dolphins are going to have to be reckoned with in the next few years, at least as seriously as any other AFC East team has had to be reckoned with in recent years, but they’re no match for the Steelers right now, let alone the Patriots. And after what I saw this weekend — and with some due respect to the Chiefs — I believe more than ever that no one will be a match for the Patriots at least until they get to Houston. It certainly will not be Houston.