Sports Illustrated NFL insider Peter King made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni on Friday morning to talk about Sunday’s Patriots-Texans AFC playoff game and other news from around the league.
King said the key for the Texans to avoid a repeat of the Dec. 10 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots is to limit Tom Brady ‘s opportunities.
“The only way I see it being close is if Houston really limits the number of possessions by the Patriots, which I think is going to be hard anyway,” King said. “And even if they do that, part of me thinks that Brady with eight possessions is still going to be able to put up enough points on the board. If I’m Houston, I’m playing the four-corners offense that Dean Smith used to play at North Carolina. You’ve got to slow the game down. You’ve got to play the way the Giants  played the Bills in the Super Bowl  21 years ago.
“I would also make this point, that I think one of the things during the course of the year that has really become noticeable: No matter who’s on the field for New England — whether they have [Rob] Gronkowski, whether they don’t; whether [Aaron] Hernandez is healthy or not — they’re still running fast and running a lot of plays. I was amazed when I looked this up this week: The New England Patriots  ran 13 more plays a game in 2012 than in 2010. They ran 205 more plays this year than they did just two years ago.
“It’s just another instance of Bill Belichick  learning as he gets older as a coach. You’re never finished learning in this business, because once you think you are, some new Chip Kelly or some new defensive guy comes in there and makes your job a lot more difficult. Hats off to the Patriots for basically advancing the ball down the field really in a schematic sense.”
King said he expects Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips , known for being reliant on the blitz, to avoid being as predictable as he has in the past.
“I think he’ll change up from the first game they played,” King said. “One of the things I think they’ll emphasize, a change in this game I think is going to be a healthy Brooks Reed, assuming that he is. And Connor Barwin coming as well as J.J. Watt and occasionally Whitney Mercilus.
“I think that one of the things you have to look at if you are the Houston Texans  is you’ve got to make sure that your linebackers are going to be cognizant of the intermediate stuff. And they’ve just got to clog the field. To me, when you play Tom Brady, I couldn’t agree more: I think blitzes — I’m not saying they’re fruitless, because you have to do everything. But I think you’ve got to clog the middle of the field against him because he loves doing so many things with a guy like Gronkowski. I’m not sure about this, but I heard Connor Barwin on the radio saying yesterday he’s never played Gronkowski before. So, there’s a newness to this. There’s going to be a feeling-out early that’s going to be an interesting thing in an X’s and O’s sense to watch.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation.
On how Peyton Manning  will handle the frigid temperatures in Denver for the Broncos-Ravens game: “It’s going to be very cold for this game. It’s going to be 19 degrees, 30 percent chance of snow. This is going to be a different game for Peyton Manning than ones he’s played in the playoffs before. But if you look at his history, he’s also come up small at home, in the dome. The game against San Diego a few years ago, a playoff game where the Colts lost. He has not always played great in or outside. I would be really surprised if that played any factor int his game on Saturday.”
On if Colin Kaepernick gives the 49ers  a better chance to win than Alex Smith : “I’m not sure that you could convince me or convince any real football person, really, if Alex Smith would give them a better chance to beat the Green Bay Packers  tomorrow night. That’s because I think that Colin Kapernick is going to be able to run around better and evade Clay Matthews  and the occasional blitzing from the secondary — which they’re going to get from [defensive coordinator] Dom Capers . He’ll be able to avoid that and make plays. So, I won’t be one of the ones who would second-guess [Jim] Harbaugh, but I’m sure a lot of people will.”
On the pressure on the Falcons to avoid another playoff upset: “Matt Ryan  and Mike Smith are the two guys who, it looks to me, enter this weekend with kind of an anvil in their shoulder pads, at least for Ryan. It obviously is something that not only have not played well, their last two playoff games have been terrible, have been embarrassing. Right now I think it’s incumbent on them to come out and at the very least with Seattle have a fight to the finish. Seattle might win the game, but they’ve got to show up and play really well.”
On Bill Parcells ‘ chances of getting into the Hall of Fame this year: “Obviously, I backed Parcells, I’ve spoken up for him, I’ve written about it. I think it was shortsighted and not smart on our part that we don’t have a guy who gets four teams to the playoffs, two teams to Super Bowls and wins two Super Bowls, that we don’t put him in the Hall of Fame. But again, I’m one of now 46 [voters]. ‘¦ Other people feel strongly about other guys. All I can do is state my case. ‘¦ The one thing that I think you have to remember that’s very important is that there’s 15 guys on that list. I looked at it when it came out this morning. I support 12 of those people on that list. If they came up, if they were in the final five, any of 12, I’d vote for them. ‘¦ There are more qualified candidates than we can put in. Period. We can only vote for five every year. We can only induct five modern-era candidates every year out of the 15. So there are going to be quite a few every single year that get left behind. That’s just the way the committee works. You can rail against it, fight against it, but unless the bylaws ever get changed, I’m not sure that anything’s ever going to be done about that.”
On former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff saying Friday that the team never practiced Tim Tebow  in the wildcat: “There are things that happened during the course of this year that you could just tell that this staff was not together and there was a disagreement right from the start on a lot of things, but none bigger than Tebow. When you look at the Jets’ season and how it crashed and burned, it’s a perfect illustration why. They trade for Tebow, and then they don’t follow through with the plans from September on. I think Westhoff provided a little window into the Jets’ soul. And it just proves what a dysfunctional family they were in 2012.
“I’m sure it makes every Patriots fan deliriously happy that they’re bringing Rex Ryan  and a fractured coaching staff back. I don’t know how going forward right from now with like their eighth choice for general manager — they’ve gone past the B and C list, they’re on the F list. The Jets are totally screwed up right now.”