NFL Divisional Playoff Picks: Can the Texans Upset the Patriots?

by Kevin Roberts
on January 12, 2017

The Houston Texans stay alive in the 2017 NFL Playoffs for at least one more week, as they prepare to take on the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round on Saturday.

Houston enters this weekend’s second round playoff game as massive underdogs, despite having won the AFC South and taking down the Oakland Raiders in the Wild Card Round. New England enters as the clear favorites, as they rode to the top seed in the AFC behind an NFL best 14-2 record. The AFC East champs have one of the largest spread advantages the playoffs have ever seen, as they prepare to take down the Texans for the second time this season.

The Texans look to be in a tough spot for this game, as they got completely housed by the Pats in Foxborough (27-0) earlier this year, despite having J.J. Watt and Tom Brady still serving a four-game suspension. New England will be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, but is otherwise at full strength against easily the weakest team remaining in the playoffs.

Texans vs. Patriots Odds

A long-term look at this year’s playoff race shows just how much the odds are stacked against Houston, as the Texans sports the worst Super Bowl odds, per Bovada. It gets even worse, of course, as the favored Pats own the best Super Bowl 51 odds of the remaining eight teams:

  • Patriots (+180)
  • Texans (+5000)

Houston’s poor Super Bowl odds stem first from this virtually unwinnable road game against the Patriots. New England has looked like the most complete team in the NFL all year, as they bring the league’s top scoring defense to the table, as well as a top-5 offense.

Texans vs. Patriots Spread

  • Texans (+16)
  • Patriots (-16)

The only plays on this game at all will probably be the spread or the Total. Starting with the spread, the Pats are extremely heavy favorites, and a shows they’re truly in historic company.

It can’t hurt that the Pats that the other three teams with the NFL’s largest playoff spreads won their games, as well. Obviously a spread this gross shows Vegas isn’t giving Houston much of a chance to stage a surprise upset, and they probably won’t even make it competitive.

But this bad? It’s a big enough spread to at least force us to consider the circumstances and gauge just how likely we are to arrive at the Over. Before we can come away with a conclusion, :

  • New England was 11-3 ATS overall in 2016
  • New England was 5-2 ATS at home in 2016
  • New England was 9-3 ATS as the favorite in 2016
  • Houston was 8-8 ATS overall in 2016
  • Houston was 2-5 ATS on the road in 2016
  • Houston was 1-5 ATS as the underdog in 2016
  • Houston is 2-6 ATS in their last 8 road games
  • Houston is 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games, overall

The against the spread numbers do not help Houston at all here, and neither does the matchup on paper. Regardless, let’s take a look at all aspects before coming to an ultimate conclusion on how you’ll want to bet here.

MoneyLine

  • Texans +975
  • Patriots -1500

If you weren’t sure if things looked good for the Texans, perhaps the MoneyLine will make it a little clearer. It’s pretty simple here, as you’ll have to bet some serious cash to make any coin back on the Pats, who are massive favorites.

Needless to say, you’re not getting any money unless you bet the farm on the Pats, and even then, it won’t be much. The only bet here is to go with Houston as a truly shocking upset. Due to the immense payout for that bet, they’re a fine cursory bet if you don’t mind lighting your cash on fire. In the off chance that bet pays off, you’d win a ton of cash.

Total: 44.5

The spread might be the first bet to consider for this game, but another could be the Total. Houston’s offense is bad enough to bring this Total down, of course, and the chances of them showing up and tearing the Patriots up aren’t good.

The Patriots shut the Texans out the last time they faced them and Bill Belichick knows everything former pupil Bill O’Brien is going to do. Houston’s only shot here is to run the ball and hope their defense can keep things tight. That’s how Houston has won for the most part all year, at least.

While that is surely going to be the game plan for the Texans, it’s unlikely to work. Tom Brady is a man on a mission and the Pats hung 27 points on this Texans defense with a third string quarterback. The way Houston plays could make the Under playable, but the gaudy spread suggests the Pats are going to score and ultimately win pretty easily. That should have New England closing in on 30 points or so, and if the Texans can simply add a couple of late scores, the Over feels like a decent bet.

That being said, it’s worth noting that the Patriots have had their games hit the Under 9 times out of their 16 regular season games, while Houston has also hit the Under 9 times out of 17 games (including playoffs).

Houston Texans Breakdown

We have to hand it to the Texans. They lost J.J. Watt earlier in the season and never really established a consistently threatening offense, yet still finished 9-7 and won the AFC South.

That wasn’t hard given the competition, but the Texans had incompetency under center for much of the year and still got the job done. Hats off to Bill O’Brien, as well, for knowing when to switch back to Brock Osweiler, who played surprisingly well in the team’s first round playoff win.

The bread and butter for Houston all year has been to run the football and let a very solid defense do the rest. When it works, that’s led to tight, low-scoring games and the Texans have done a solid job late in those types of contests.

The numbers support that philosophy on paper, as Lamar Miller is a very versatile and explosive weapons and has headed a strong Texans ground attack (8th in the NFL). That has only aided the defense, which finished the year as the league’s best overall defense in terms of yardage allowed, ranked 11th in scoring defense, 2nd in passing defense and 12th against the run.

On paper, the Texans have a winning recipe if they can run the ball and execute defensively. Their lone issue has been in getting pressure on the quarterback, and that’s obviously been negatively impacted by the loss of Watt. Regardless, they still had 31 sacks as a unit on the year and can get pressure via Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.

Houston’s 3 Keys to Victory

  • Get Lamar Miller Going
  • Pressure Brady
  • Limit Mistakes

The first part of Houston’s upset bid has to go right. Lamar Miller has to be a huge factor, both on the ground and as a receiver. He actually was fine against the Patriots earlier this year (25 touches for 107 total yards) but will need to touch the ball as much as he did last week (31 rushes) and be even better.

That will certainly be difficult to accomplish for two reasons: Bill Belichick tends to do a fantastic job at eliminating team’s top offensive weapons and the Pats were the 4th best defense against the run in 2016. Something has to break here, of course, as both Houston’s running game and New England’s run defense are elite units.

Houston probably doesn’t have much of a chance if Miller doesn’t have a big game, but either way, they also need to find a way to pressure Tom Brady. Pressure is the only thing that gets Brady to unravel, as we’ve seen numerous times in huge playoff and Super Bowl games.

Houston’s pass rush isn’t quite as good as it could be if Watt were healthy, but Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney both looked good last week and are still two big problems for the Pats to deal with on either side of the line. A pressured Brady doesn’t necessarily equate to big turnovers, but sacks and inaccuracy could stall drives and keep this game precisely where the Texans prefer – tight and low-scoring.

The last one probably goes across the board, and that will be for Houston to simply avoid mistakes. Bill Belichick defenses get pressure on the quarterback, stop the run and mask any flaws by creating turnovers and building leads. Houston does not have a come-from-behind offense and their defense will crater if their offense buries them early.

The only way the Texans survive is if their game plan goes perfectly and if Brock Osweiler and co. play mistake free football. Even if that all breaks right, we need to remember Houston’s struggles (2-6) on the road this year.

New England Patriots Breakdown

There has been little about New England’s 2016 season that hasn’t been impressive. Bill Belichick worked through two different quarterbacks to go 3-1 while Tom Brady was on suspension and once Tom Terrific was back in the saddle, the Pats lost just once more over their final 8 games.

Tom Brady has been on a mission all year and after the Pats lost in the AFC title game last year, it feels like their journey isn’t destined to end anywhere but in Super Bowl 51. Supporting that claim is a team that went 14-2, easily won the AFC East and locked up home field advantage throughout their run through the AFC playoffs.

New England was a dominant 7-1 at home this year and has already taken down the Texans and Steelers, two of the remaining three teams they could face en route to the Super Bowl.

In addition to the logic and storyline angles, the numbers support the Pats here. New England owns the league’s best scoring defense, finished the year 8th against the run and a solid 12th against the pass. They were just as strong offensively, as they put up the 3rd most points per game, ranked 4th in passing and were 7th in rushing.

No team is more balanced, deeper or more experienced than the Pats and their path to the AFC title game looks extremely easy and one-sided on paper.

New England’s 3 Keys to Victory

  • Pound the Rock
  • Stop the Run
  • Force Brock to Win

It doesn’t feel like we really need to break down New England’s keys to what looks like a guaranteed win, but the path still remains pretty clear: they keep running the ball with LeGarrette Blount, shut down Houston’s only real offensive threat (Lamar Miller and the running game) and make this game about Brock Osweiler somehow beating Tom Brady.

Brady slicing up a solid Texans defense is no lock, but if the Pats can run the ball and force Houston into the same mistakes they’ve made all year, this looks like a game they’ll have in the bag early on.

Matchup History

The Texans and Patriots have met eight times total in history, with New England dominating the series, 7-1. New England won easily (27-0) at home against this exact version of the Texans earlier this season and that was when they were far healthier with J.J. Watt on the field.

New England has been on a hot run in this series beyond that game, of course, as they haven’t lost to the Texans since their only loss in this series came back in 2010. They’ve had little trouble in this series, either, as the offense has scored at least 27 points in 7 of 8 meetings and the Patriots have typically won easily (five wins by 13+ points).

, but is undefeated to this point versus Bill O’Brien. He did lose his only meeting versus Josh McDaniels and was 5-3 against Eric Mangini. He beat Romeo Crennel’s Browns the only time he faced him and split his four meetings with Nick Saban (2-2) when the Crimson Tide coach was with the Dolphins.

Texans vs. Patriots Prediction

Everything leads to a Patriots win this weekend. The only bets to really re-think are the spread and the Total, as this could be a tighter and more low-scoring game than we think if the Texans comes out and execute.

It’s easy to side with the Pats, however, as their strengths are similar to Houston’s, but they also are at home, have way more playoff experience and also have a fantastic passing game. Houston is terrible on the road and missing that last key component. Because of that, we might get a close, gritty game initially, but New England should wear the Texans down and create turnovers to help separate for a big win late.

Pick

Patriots
34
Texans
17
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