New England Patriots Divisional Round Keys To Victory

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts during the first quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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The New England Patriots host the Houston Texans this Saturday night in what will be a rematch of their tilt from Week Three of this season. The Patriots dominated that game and came away with a 27-0 victory – all while using their third string quarterback to guide them. They aren’t many who think the result will change this time around, as the Patriots have been installed as 15-point betting favorites in Vegas.

New England Patriots Divisional Round Keys To Victory

Dominate Special Teams

The first match-up between these two would not have been the blowout it was if it weren’t for special teams miscues by the Texans. Twice the Patriots had strong drives into Houston territory, but settled for field goals. However, on both ensuing kickoffs the Texans fumbled which lead directly to a Patriots touchdown. This turned a 3-0 score into a 10-0 score, and 13-0 into 20-0, and effectively ended the game.

The Texans special teams have been weak all season – they rank 31st in DVOA – and this is an area the Patriots can attack. The Patriots received good news this week with the return of receiver Danny Amendola to the practice field. It is expected he will suit up on Saturday and likely be installed as the team’s primary punt returner again. A couple big special teams plays by the Patriots (ranked 6th in DVOA) could break Houston’s back in a game where they will be struggling just to hold on.

Stop The Run

The Patriots defensive game plan in the first game was fairly straight forward. They played two high safeties trying to discourage any deep strike attempts by the Houston offense. Also, they had two big defensive tackles on nearly all downs and attempted to stop the run with just six “in the box” defenders. The game plan worked, the run was bottled up (109 yards on 27 carries), and while the Patriots conceded several short-to-intermediate level throws to Brock Osweiler, he was not able to string enough completions together to produce a long drive.

Because of the success the first time around, it is likely the Patriots will employ this strategy a large amount of time this game also, and the key to the whole scheme is to stop the run. Because six defenders were enough to hold Lamar Miller down, the Patriots were never forced to get out of their two high safety looks. Additionally, Osweiler has proved all season that if you force him to hit check down after check down he cannot do it. In fact, the Texans have completed just 56.2% of their passes on the road this season. As long as the rush attack of the Texans remains a non-factor, the Patriots will hold the Texans offense down.

Avoid Turnovers

This may sound simplistic, but it really is the case. The Patriots know the formula for stopping the Texans offense; they won’t let Osweiler alone beat them. They also won the first meeting 27-0 with Tom Brady at home and Jacoby Brissett making his first career start. These teams are a mismatch for each other, and when the Patriots ridiculous home playoff record is factored in, it is tough to see Houston having much of a chance. Unless the Patriots give them life.

Turnovers are the great equalizer, and the Texans have defensive players capable of making a big impact. Jadeveon Clowney was a force last weekend against the Oakland Raiders, and on certain plays he is simply unblockable. Whitney Mercilus has come on strong and has 9.5 sacks this season. These players change games – and they must be the focus of the Patriots’ game plan. The Texans really don’t have a formula for winning this game unless they force multiple turnovers. If the Patriots protect the football, they will walk away victorious.

Last Word

The Patriots are the better squad, and they are healthy and rested. Tom Brady, at home, is nearly invincible. If the Patriots are as sharp as they have been the last month of the season, it won’t matter what the Texans do. The Patriots will win and win big.

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