Houston Texans (10-7 SU, 8-8-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (14-2 SU, 13-3 ATS)
NFL Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Saturday January 14th 8:15 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU +15 / NE -15
Over/Under Total: 44.5
The Houston Texans mosey on up to Massachusetts for a primetime divisional playoff matchup against the New England Patriots on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots enter the game well rested off of a bye week after having earned the top seed in the AFC by finishing the year with the top record in the conference, while the Texans are coming off of a 27-14 victory Wild Card round victory against Oakland last week in Houston.
New England has gone 7-1 against Houston in the eight games the teams have played, with their only loss back in 2010 in week 17 when they had already locked up their playoff seed and Tom Brady was in for only a quarter before he along with some of the other starters were rested for the following week. Saturday’s game will be the second time this season that Houston and the Patriots have played and the third time they will have met over the past thirteen months, with New England having won both games by a combined 54-6 score. They won their most recent tilt against the Texans back in week three in a game that had a far different look than what we will see on Saturday on both offense and defense, as back in September New England was starting Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, Rob Gronkowski was a non-factor having just returned from injury, they were led that game in tackles by a since traded Chandler Jones, and were also missing one their best players as Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower was out due to injury.
One other drastic difference between the two games played this season is the point spread. New England entered the game against Houston in September as a three point home underdog, which was just the third time since 2005 that the Patriots were getting points at home (New England won all three games by at least 22 points in each). This week the Texans enter as not only an underdog, but also the third largest divisional game ‘dog since the 1998 season with line opening at Houston +16. The two bigger favorites were San Fran -17 against Chicago in 1994 and Minnesota -16.5 against Arizona in 1998, and in both cases the favorites won their games by at least 20 points.
There are multiple reasons why the Texans are such a ginormous underdog against the Patriots, one of which is their lack of success playing on the road. Houston went 2-6 away from home this season, losing every game by at least seven points. Their travel woes go far beyond just 2016, as they are just 10-21 in their 31 road games, with only one win coming against a team that finished the year with a winning record and four of their ten victories coming against lowly Jacksonville. Not the best habit of inferiority to carry into the postseason, especially considering home teams are 16-4 in the last 20 divisional round playoff games, including their opponent this week that has won five in a row.
While there is no doubt that Houston faces an uphill climb in trying to get the Patriots in New England, all hope is certainly not lost as they still have star power on both sides of the ball, most notably Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins on offense along with a defense led by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney has been a beast this season, especially over the past month, which has gone a long way in helping to offset the monumental loss of their defensive leader J.J. Watt who was hasn’t played since September due to injury.
Another positive factor for the Texans is their head coach Bill O’Brien, who has led the team to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons after they had made it to the postseason only twice in their previous thirteen years in the league. There were somehow persistent rumors throughout the week leading up to their Wild Card matchup against the Raiders that if O’Brien’s team didn’t get the win that he would be fired, which really doesn’t make much sense considering the level of success he has brought to a team that went 2-14 the year before he arrived and has since rattled off three straight winning season for the first time in franchise history while also having just claimed back-to-back AFC South divisional titles.
O’Brien’s Texans will have their work cut out for them this weekend, especially when it comes to handling Tom Brady, who O’Brien himself instructed as the Patriots quarterbacks coach in 2009-2010 and offensive coordinator in 2011. Brady led the NFL with the best QB/INT ratio in league history by throwing 28 touchdowns compared to only 2 interceptions on the season, which is also the lowest all around interceptions for any team in league history as neither Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett threw one when subbing for Brady during the first four weeks of the season while the Patriots starter was serving his sham four game suspension.
Facing a defense as dominant as the Texans will be a definite test for Brady and the Patriots offense, but with the amount of weapons to go around and options at his disposal, it would be a surprise if we didn’t see him add to his recent streak of dominant AFC early round performances. Over his past five postseason divisional games, Brady has averaged 315 yards per game passing, completed over 65% of his passes while throwing for 14 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. And while being without the dominant Rob Gronkowski is never a good thing, he still has a backfield led by the NFL leader in touchdowns with LeGarrette Blount along with passing targets like wide receiver Julian Edelman, who finished the regular season ranked 4th in receptions with 98 and 13th in yards with 1106, and tight end Martellus Bennett, who ranked third amongst his position in touchdowns with 7 and will be more than a bit fired up as he will be making his first ever playoff appearance.
Opening as the largest divisional round favorite in 18 years and giving over two touchdowns in an NFL game will scare some bettors away from the Patriots, but don’t let it do the same to you. New England has won their last five divisional playoff games by an average of 16 points, and they are not alone, 16 of the last 32 NFL divisional games have been won by double digits and 8 of those 32 were victorious by 17 points or more. This may be the battle of the league’s top scoring defense of New England going against the best in NFL at yards per game defense of Houston, but the offenses couldn’t be much farther apart with New England ranked 4th in scoring and 3rd in yards while being led by Tom Brady, and Houston coming in at 29th in scoring, 28th in total offense and 72 million in the hole for what has been a busted season for their free agent flop at quarterback Brock Osweiller. The Patriots have been dominant all season both on the field and against the spread, that success continues this week with an easy win and cover at home against the Texans in friendly and frigid Foxboro.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -15
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