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Chiefs wipe out Texans, advance in playoffs for first time since 1994 01.09.16 at 7:33 pm ET
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Knile Davis (34) reacts after retuning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Texans Saturday. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

Knile Davis (34) reacts after retuning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Texans Saturday. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

From the moment Knile Davis took the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, the first game of the playoff season belonged to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs intercepted former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer four times and forced a strip sack as Kansas City rolled to a 30-0 win over the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The Chiefs, who have now won 11 straight games after a 1-5 start, now play the Patriots after the Steelers shocked the Bengals on a last-second field goal in Cincinnati. The Steelers travel to Denver for an AFC divisional playoff game against the Broncos on Jan. 17.

Hoyer had a nightmare of a game in his first career playoff start. He completed just 15-of-34 passes for 136 yards. In addition to the four interceptions, he was strip-sacked in the first half and sacked three times altogether.

After being staked to a 7-0 lead 12 seconds into the game, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith didn’t need to make any spectacular plays. He finished 17-of-22 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Travis Kelce had eight catches for 128 yards.

The only bit of bad news for the Chiefs came in the second half when they lost wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Maclin was taken to the locker room on a cart after his knee got tied up following a reception.

J.J. Watt re-aggravated his groin injury on the same play as the Maclin injury in the third quarter. Maclin caught three passes from Smith for 29 yards on four targets. The Chiefs took a 20-0 lead on the drive Maclin left the game. Watt came back to the field to cheers but did not return to the game and left for good with 10 minutes left in the game.

The loss is potentially devastating for the Chiefs and Smith. Maclin led the Chiefs this season, catching 87 balls for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. receptions and eight touchdown catches. In 2014, Smith did not complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.

The Chiefs hadn’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana beat the Houston Oilers in Jan. 1994 across the parking lot in the old Astrodome, snapping an eight-game postseason skid. The Chiefs also washed away the nightmare of two years ago when they blew a 38-10 third-quarter lead and lost to Andrew Luck and the Colts, 45-44. The win leaves the Bengals with the longest current streak at eight games.

The shutout win was the first in the NFL playoffs since Jan. 8, 2006, when the Panthers beat the Giants, 23-0.

According to Elias Sports, in 80 years of NFL playoffs, it marked the first time the postseason opened with a kickoff return for touchdown.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, houston texans, j.j. watt, Jeremy Maclin
Setting the scene: Rob Gronkowski, J.J. Watt square off in Lone Star showdown between Patriots, Texans 12.13.15 at 12:51 pm ET
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NRG Stadium will be the site for a Sunday night showdown between the Patriots and Texans. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

NRG Stadium will be the site for a Sunday night showdown between the Patriots and Texans. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

HOUSTON — In a game where the Patriots might be getting back one of their biggest stars, how they handle an injured star on the other side might determine their success in ending a rare losing streak.

Rob Gronkowski made the trip to Houston with the team, leading to speculation that the tight end will make his return from a right knee injury suffered two weeks ago in Denver.

The 10-2 Patriots will win their seventh straight AFC East title with a win and a Jets loss to the Titans. The 6-6 Texans are tied with the Colts for first in the AFC South. The Patriots are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002 when they lost four in a row and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, also the last time they did not reach double figures in wins.

Gronkowski leads the Patriots with nine touchdowns and 931 yards receiving. Both Adam Schefter and Diana Russini of ESPN report that Gronkowski will play in the game.

But while many in New England are focused on Gronkowski, the rest of the country will be fixated on the left hand of J.J. Watt. With a cast protecting the hand, the defensive end told reporters on Thursday that he broke the hand during practice Wednesday.

Watt did not practice Thursday or Friday but worked on the side. Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Watt was “good to go” and listed him as “probable” on Friday’s injury report. Watt insisted this week that he’s played through much worse and would be ready to play against the Patriots.

“People are going to try to make a big deal out of this but I’€™ve played with worse than this before, even in this season,” Watt said. “I’€™m not very worried about it My elbow a couple years back was way more painful. This was painful when it happened but it’€™s football. In the game of football, you’€™re going to play with pain. That’€™s just the way it goes. If you don’€™t play with pain, you’€™re probably in the wrong sport.”

Former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who now serves in that capacity for the Texans, was a little more cautious.

“€œHe won’€™t be able to grab with that one hand and as a defensive lineman you have to use your hands a little bit. We will all just have to see how that impacts him and he is the one who is going to have to adapt his game to the fact that he doesn’€™t have the grip with that hand,” Crennel said. “We will see how it goes. But having him out there is going to be good, I believe.”

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Read More: houston texans, j.j. watt, New England Patriots, nfl
Scouting Report: What you need to know about Patriots-Texans 12.12.15 at 3:56 pm ET
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Tom Brady will face a sizable challenge this week in the Houston pass defense. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tom Brady will face a sizable challenge this week in the Houston pass defense. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Here’s everything you need to know when the Patriots (10-2) take on the Texans (6-6) Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

Who knows? There’s been no rhyme or reason as to how the Patriots have approached the running game the last two contests, which means it’s anybody’s guess as to how it’s going to shake out this week. For what it’s worth, LeGarrette Blount (155 carries, 650 yards, 6 TDs, 4.2 yards per carry), Brandon Bolden (19 carries, 59 yards, 3.1 ypc) and James White (15 carries, 39 yards, 1 rushing TD) will get the work on the ground, but who knows how much that will be. On paper, the ground game figured to be a relatively good matchup against both Denver and Philly, and for whatever reason, the Patriots didn’t spend much time running the ball. It’s not clear if it was an issue with the backs, or a lack of faith in the offensive line when it comes to run blocking, or a lack of faith in the overall execution across the board, but for key stretches as of late, the New England offense was fundamentally one-dimensional. On the other side of the ball, Houston is 21st in the NFL in run defense, having yielded an average of 114.1 rushing yards per contest. That suggests that the Texans might be more vulnerable than most when it comes to slowing Blount, Bolden and White, but Houston’s run defense numbers have been up and down all year long. There were four games where the Texans allowed 135 yards or more, including an astounding 187 yards on the ground in a loss to the Bills last week. Of course, there were four games where they held opponents to under 75 rushing yards. Bottom line? It’s an offense that hasn’t made a commitment to running the ball as of late against a defense that has been inconsistent when it comes to slowing the run. It’s anyone’s guess what is going to happen Sunday.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

This is the biggest and most important matchup of the evening. Can Tom Brady (64 percent completion rate, 3,912 passing yards, 31 TDs, 6 INTs, passer rating of 102.8) overcome the fact that he’ll be without Julian Edelman and (likely) Rob Gronkowski once again, as he goes up against the third-best pass defense in the league? The Texans allow just 218.3 passing yards per game, thanks in large part to the work of defensive lineman/all-star pitchman J.J. Watt and his ability to get after the quarterback. Watt leads the league with 13.5 sacks, but many of the Texans do an excellent job of playing off him and taking advantage of when he commands double teams. Guys like linebacker Whitney Mercilus (6.5 sacks) and old pal Vince Wilfork (who is coming off his best game of the season against the Bills) do well when Watt gets the bulk of attention. Meanwhile, Houston will rely on cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph and safeties Andre Hal and Quintin Demps on the backside to try and slow Brady. For the Patriots, it’ll be Danny Amendola 56 catches, 73 targets, 582 yards, 3 TDs), Brandon LaFell (25 catches, 56 targets, 369 yards), Scott Chandler (23 catches, 41 targets, 259 yards, 4 TDs) and White (22 catches, 32 targets, 210 yards, 2 TDs) who will be charged with getting the New England passing game through another week without its leading options. One more thing: it’ll be interesting to see what sort of role ex-Houston receiver Keshawn Martin (10 catches, 16 targets, 148 yards, 1 TD) might play on Sunday. When he’s been healthy, he’s delivered a nice dose of quickness to the Patriots’ passing attack. His working knowledge of how the Texans’ defensive backs operate could be an interesting wrinkle.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Brandon LaFell, Brian Hoyer
The Bill Belichick-Romeo Crennel factor and how it plays this weekend 12.11.15 at 1:19 pm ET
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Romeo Crennel is calling the defense for the Texans now. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Romeo Crennel is calling the defense for the Texans now. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — There will be no one on the field Sunday night that knows Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel better than Bill Belichick.

That, of course, works the other way, too.

Before Crennel left after the 2004 season to assume head coaching duties with the Browns, Belichick and Crennel worked together for the better part of three decades, starting in 1981 when Crennel worked with Belichick on the New York Giants‘ special teams staff.

“Romeo is a great person, great guy to work with. He and I worked on special teams in New York and then defensively, he was the defensive line coach in 1990, moved up from special teams when Mike Sweatman kind of moved into that role. He did a lot of great things and he was great to work with and we always had a great working relationship. He and Al Groh and I, we were together a lot.”

And winning a lot. Crennel (5) has nearly as many Super Bowl rings as Belichick’s six, including three as Belichick’s defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl wins in 2001, ’03 and ’04.

“He does a great job and I love working with him,” Belichick said. “He’€™s coached linebackers. He’€™s coached special teams. He’€™s coached defensive line. He’€™s been a coordinator. He’€™s been a head coach. He’€™s had a lot of experience. Played for Jerry Glanville at Western Kentucky so little different type of background there but relevant, coached with Coach [Bill] Parcells at Texas Tech and obviously all the NFL stops, so he’€™s got a great background, great work ethic, lot of experience, has got a lot of poise and it’€™s hard to get him really. He stays very poised and composed and at the same time he has a lot of energy. He can really motivate players and teams well. He has a great relationship with the players. [It’€™s] a long, long list of strong points and not too many on the other side of the column.”

Fast forward to Sunday night and Belichick isn’t concerned about Crennel’s resume. He’s more focused on containing Crennel’s defense and figuring a way to keep Tom Brady safe and upright, a key to coming out of Houston with a win.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, houston texans, j.j. watt
Bill Belichick on Rob Gronkowski this Sunday: Wait for the injury report at 10:16 am ET
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Bill Belichick celebrates Super Bowl XLIX win with Rob Gronkowski.  (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick celebrates Super Bowl XLIX win with Rob Gronkowski. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick was giving low-fives to Rob Gronkowski upon his return to practice on Thursday.

But on Friday, the Patriots coach was significantly more low-key when asked what the prognosis might be for the tight end’s return to game action Sunday in Houston.

“We’ll list on the injury report whatever his situation is,” Belichick said.

Gronkowski leads the Patriots with nine touchdown catches and 931 receiving yards. He also has 57 catches, second-most on the team behind Julian Edelman (61).

On Thursday’s injury report, Gronkowski was listed as limited in his return to practice. Teams must disclose their estimation as to the likelihood of a player being available to play on Friday afternoon before a Sunday game.

Gronkowski suffered a bruise and sprain in his right knee on Nov. 29 when safety Darian Stewart hit late in the fourth quarter of the overtime loss to the Broncos.

Gronkowski sat out the 35-28 loss to the Eagles last week.

Belichick was also asked about another injury to a significant superstar. Defensive end and reigning NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt announced Thursday that he broke his left hand in practice on Wednesday.

“Yeah, we’ve got to be ready for everybody,” Belichick said. “I’m sure he’ll compete hard. Look, I don’t think anybody’s 100 percent out there. They’ll all be out there. They’ll all be playing hard.”

Watt said the broken hand would not keep him from playing Sunday night.

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Read More: Gronk, houston texans, j.j. watt, New England Patriots
Despite broken hand, J.J. Watt intends to play against Patriots 12.10.15 at 2:02 pm ET
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Texans defensive end J.J. Watt told reporters Thursday that he broke his hand in practice Wednesday, but that he still intends to play Sunday against the Patriots.

Watt, who leads the league in sacks with 13.5, met with the media on Thursday while sporting a cast on his left hand. He said that when it comes to pain, his elbow injury was worse that what transpired this week.

“People are going to try to make a big deal out of this, but I’ve played with worse than this before, even this season,” Watt said. “This I’m not very worried about. My elbow a couple years back was way more painful. This was painful when it happened, but it’s football. In a game of football you’re going to play with pain. If you don’t play with pain you’re probably in the wrong sport.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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‘It Is What It Is’ podcast: Patriots plan to keep J.J. Watt away from Tom Brady again to avoid another loss 12.09.15 at 7:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price explain how the 10-2 Patriots can handle J.J. Watt and the 6-6 Texans in a Sunday night battle in Houston. The Patriots are on their first two-game losing streak since 2012 and trying to avoid their first three-game skid since losing four straight 2002.

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Read More: Chris Price, houston texans, j.j. watt, Mike Petraglia

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