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Houston win sets up rematch between Patriots and Texans in divisional playoffs

01.05.13 at 7:38 pm ET
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Get set for Patriots-Texans, Round 2.

Houston’€™s wild-card win over the Bengals Saturday afternoon sets up another contest between New England and Houston in the divisional round, set for next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

The first time these two teams met in the regular season on Dec. 10 — billed by some Texans players as the biggest game in the history of the franchise — the Patriots humbled the powerful young Texans, 42-14. In that contest, the New England offense had few issues against the vaunted Houston defense — Tom Brady went 21-for-35 for 296 yards with four touchdowns and no picks — but it was the Patriots’€™ defense that really excelled.

The Patriots defense limited Houston to just 14 points, 100 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. The Texans crossed the New England 30-yard line just once in the first half, and didn’€™t get into the Patriots’€™ red zone until it was 28-0 midway through the third quarter. Eight of Houston’€™s 13 drives went for four plays or less, and the Texans were 4-for-14 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. (For our look back at the game, click HERE.)

In the wake of the loss, Houston struggled down the stretch. Including the defeat at the hands of the Patriots, the Texans lost three of their last four heading into the postseason, with a defeat to the Colts in the regular-season finale — combined with a New England win over Miami — ultimately bumping them out of the top two playoff seeds. The Patriots took advantage, leapfrogging Houston with three wins in their last four games to take the No. 2 seed.

Three initial thoughts about this game:

1. Will there be any residual effects from the first meeting between the two? Several New England critics will inevitably bring up some parallels between this year and what happened in 2010. That year, the Patriots crushed the Jets in a December meeting between the two teams, and then, New York turned around and beat New England a month later in a divisional playoff game at Gillette. I’€™m not sure how much stock I’€™d put in that situation playing out again — this is a far different New England team (particularly in terms of mental toughness), and that Jets team was far more battle-tested than this Texans group.

2. The Patriots didn’€™t have Rob Gronkowski in the first game between the two teams, and while no one outside the New England locker room is quite sure how close to 100 percent the big tight end is right now, he will undoubtedly affect how things will play out. Even a remotely healthy Gronkowski will force the Texans to alter their defensive game plan this first time around. (For what it’s worth, the Texans were without outside linebacker Brooks Reed and tight end Garrett Graham the first time around. They do not have the potential game-changing impact of a Gronkowski, but their absence from the December game must be noted.)

3. Are the Texans any more prepared for the big stage this time around than they were back in December? The first time around, Houston struggled mightily out of the gate, taking some really bad penalties and helping to dig themselves a hole they ultimately had no chance to climb out of. The Texans looked overwhelmed at times as the Patriots built to a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back. (In that same vein, I wonder if we’€™ll see the letterman jackets this time around? The feisty young Texans strolled into Gillette Stadium that night with letter jackets. After the loss, the Patriots clowned Houston a little for the decision, with one of them telling Mike Freeman of CBS Sports: ‘€œThey look cute. They look like a high school swim team.’€)

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