The Patriots’ road to Super Bowl  XLVII gets underway Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans , who New England manhandled, 42-14, back in Week 14. Get ready with some statistical nuggets that jumped out at me:
* – Houston has failed to score a first half touchdown in their last three straight games (including last week), their longest such streak since they went four games in a row back in 2005 (128 games ago). The Patriots haven’t gone TWO straight games without a first half touchdown since Weeks 2 and 3, 2008, right after Tom Brady  went down to injury.
* – When the Patriots drove inside their opponents’ 30-yard-line this season, they generally made the most of the opportunities, scoring touchdowns 63% of the time, the second highest rate in the league. Houston’s offense ranked 13th (46%). In their wild card win over the Bengals last week, Houston drove to or inside the 30 on five different occasions, but managed only one touchdown to go with four field goals.
* – New England has won their last 20 (and 31 of their last 32) home games in which they’ve scored a first quarter touchdown. That’s the longest such streak since at least 1995:
20 – Patriots, 2011-2012
17 – Ravens, 2006-2007
16 – Colts, 2006-2007
15 – Eagles, 2004-2005
15 – Rams, 2003
Note this: The Patriots are 7-0 all-time at home in the playoffs when they score a first quarter touchdown.
* – The Patriots were “Kings of the Long Drive” in 2012, putting up an NFL-high 41 drives lasting 10 or more plays. That tied their club (and league) record that they set in 2007. Thing is, Houston’s defense allowed only 17 such drives this season, the fewest in the league.
Note this: When Houston’s opponent did cobble together a drive of 10 or more plays, they generally cashed those drives in for points, to the tune of 4.35 points on average, the second highest such average allowed in the league. I think you’ll recognize the only defense that allowed more per 10 play drive:
4.40 – Patriots
4.35 – Texans
4.35 – Eagles
4.33 – Raiders
Note this too: New England’s defense allowed scores on 19 of the first 20 drives of 10 or more plays against their defense this season (11 touchdowns and eight field goals, an average of 5.05 points per drive). However they closed the season allowing just three field goals over the last five such drives. When these two teams matched up in Week 14, the Patriots had one such drive, resulting in a touchdown, while Houston’s one long drive did not result in points.
* – While Houston ranked a middle-of-the-pack 17th in third down conversion percentage this season (37.6%), they were quite good on third-and-short (five yards or less), converting 54.3%, ninth best in the league. But needing six yards or more, they managed to convert just 22.4% of the time, tied for the fourth worst mark in the league:
17.4% – Cardinals
18.8% – Browns
19.7% – Jaguars
22.4% – Texans; Redskins
Note this: Against the Bengals last week, Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub went 5-for-5 on third-and-six or more yards to go, but only one of those completions converted a first down.
Note this too: The Patriots were the league’s second WORST defense at giving up first downs on third-and-long (6+ yards to go):
Last thing: Do keep in mind that the Patriots’ last two opponents combined to convert only 2-of-16 times on third-and-six or more. Disclaimer: Those two opponents were Miami and Jacksonville.
* – Nobody should be terribly surprised that just 34.9% of the Patriots’ passing yardage have come on plays gaining 20 or more yards, the eighth lowest percentage in the league, given their effectiveness in the short passing game. However, that may be worth keeping an eye on this Sunday, because 46.9% of passing yards against the Texans’ defense have come on gains of 20+ yards, the HIGHEST percentage in the league (and the Patriots defense  ranks second highest):
46.9% – Texans
46.6% – Patriots
45.2% – Eagles
45.1% – Giants
Note this: 45 of the 127 passing yards allowed last week by Houston (35.4%) came on pass plays gaining 20 or more yards (there was only one such completion).
* – New England not only set a league record with 444 first downs this season, but that was over 16% more than the team that ranked second (Detroit, 382), the largest percentage spread by any league leader since the merger in 1970:
16.2% – Patriots, 2012
15.0% – Oilers, 1990
12.7% – 49ers , 1993
12.6% – Chargers, 1982
12.1% – Raiders, 1977
Note this: The Patriots have picked up 20 or more first downs in 25 consecutive games, not only the longest such streak in the league since 1991, but nearly DOUBLE the second longest:
25 – Patriots, 2011-2012
13 – Patriots, 2007
12 – Chiefs, 2004-2005
11 – Cowboys, 2006
Note this too: The league record for the most first downs in a single game since 1970 is 39, set first by the Jets in 1988 and matched on November 18 of this year by Sunday’s opponent, the Houston Texans. It’s worth pointing out that the Texans eclipsed 20 first downs just once in their final five regular season, although they picked up 24 last weekend against Cincinnati.
* – Since the start of last season, the Texans have allowed 185 passing yards or fewer 20 times (including playoffs), tied with the Steelers for the most such games in the league. Nine of those 20 have come on the road (also tied with the Steelers for the most in that two-year span). They’ve allowed 185 or fewer in each of their last four games (again, including last Saturday).
Note this: New England has passed for more than 185 yards in 28 straight games (including playoffs) and in their last 20 consecutive home games.
* – New England’s defense forced 42 fumbles, that’s a fumble on 2.62% of opponent touches, and recovered 21 of them, all league highs this season and club records (easily) since they began tracking the stat in 1995. In those 18 seasons that they’ve tracked fumbles, only two defenses have forced more fumbles in a season (2002 Eagles and 2000 Ravens with 45), six have had more recoveries of opponent fumbles (led by the 2000 Ravens with 26), and the Patriots rank sixth in fumbles forced per opponent touch:
3.07% – Ravens, 2000
2.84% – Eagles, 2002
2.75% – Titans, 2000
2.72% – Giants, 2010
2.63% – Cardinals, 1995
2.62% – Patriots, 2012
Note this: The Texans only lost four fumbles on offense this season, tied with the Falcons for the fewest in the league. Their fumbles per touch rate (0.78%) was the league’s second lowest/best mark. Both of those marks also set Texans’ club records since they joined the league in 2002.
* – The Patriots’ kickoff coverage was very good this season, allowing just 20.5 average yards per return, which was third best in the league. 50% of opponent returns went for fewer than 20 yards, tied with the Jets for the highest/best percentage in the league. One concern: Stephen Gostkowski’s touchback percentage, which was 46.8% for the season (16th), really took a nosedive late in the year. Through November 11, he boomed 58% of his kickoffs into the end zone where they could not be returned, but from November 18 on, just 37% of his kicks went for touchbacks.
* – Houston’s opponents ran up the middle 166 times this regular season and a league high 22 of those runs gained 10 yards or more. It was also the highest percentage of long gains up the middle in the league:
13.3% – Texans
12.9% – Lions
12.0% – Bills
Note this: The Bengals ran up the middle seven times against Houston last weekend and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, including two gains of 12 yards each. The thing is, Cincinnati gained 10 or more yards on middle rushes only 3.8% of the time this season, the lowest/worst percentage in the league. Also, before Saturday, they had tallied two or more long gains up the middle just twice in their previous 71 games.
Note this too: New England ranked 12th in the league this season, averaging 3.26 yards per carry on runs up the middle. In their earlier meeting with the Texans, the Pats  managed just 16 yards on 12 carries up the gut. Since 2003, they’ve tried 10 or more middle rushes in 71 different games and had an average lower than 1.33 only five times (four of those came during the 2006 season).
* – So just in case a Pats’ receiver breaks one loose, you can say you saw it here first: Opposing receivers gained 20 or more yards after the catch (YAC) on 6.1% of completions against Houston’s defense this season, the third highest/worst mark in the league:
6.4% – Chiefs
6.1% – Eagles
6.1% – Texans
Enjoy the game!