For the second straight week the Houston Texans will face questions about where this team is at, as they head to Foxborough for an AFC Divisional Round game against the New England Patriots.
The Patriots have been sitting idly by for the last week, waiting to see what the postseason would have in store for them. It turns out they get a rematch against a Texans team they destroyed 42-14 on Monday Night Football five weeks ago.
A lot has happened in that time, as the Texans seemed to fall apart and the Patriots had to bounce back after playing two terrible quarters against San Francisco.
Now both teams will have a chance to answer all the critics and skeptics in their showdown on Sunday afternoon. Here are the biggest questions the Texans and Patriots heading into their matchup.
Will the Texans be able to keep up with the Patriots?
This points to a bigger issue that needs to be touched on. Mainly, the complete and total collapse of Matt Schaub and the passing game. If you are one of those people who thinks passing yards is a proper gauge to measure quarterbacks, just look at the Texans right now.
Against Cincinnati, Schaub had a very respectable game with 29 completions for 262 yards. But there is no spark to the passing game. Everything is a check-down in the flat for six yards.
Going back further than that, the Texans looked lifeless against Indianapolis in Week 17 because Schaub was constantly throwing off his back foot. He has no presence in the pocket, which led to the two interceptions he threw in that game.
Against Minnesota the week before Schaub had just 178 yards on 18 completions. He is not igniting the offense, which puts more pressure on Arian Foster to carry the entire load.
That kind of game plan can work against Cincinnati, but now you are going to take on a Patriots team that led the NFL with 557 points scored.
The Patriots exploited the Texans' inability to score points fast in that Monday night game, coming out of the gate firing their best shot. It is on Houston to prove it can score enough points to keep this a close game.
Are the Patriots' late-season struggles an issue?
Before the game against Miami, which was over before it started, the Patriots looked as vulnerable as ever. They did have the comeback to tie the game against San Francisco, but when it came time to make a play late, they couldn't do it.
The next week they went to Jacksonville to play the worst team in the NFL. The defense gave up 436 yards, though it also forced three turnovers, and the Jaguars had a chance to tie the game late.
All of that appeared to be old news against Miami, as the Patriots tossed their first shutout of the season. But are we reading too much into that performance, or the previous two games?
With Rob Gronkowski back, the Patriots are as close to full strength as they have been in a long time. It would be foolish to underestimate this team in the postseason, especially against a team they are superior to.
Which defense will make the big play?
For years we have talked about how the weak link of the Patriots team has been the defense, particularly the secondary. They always give up a lot of yards through the air, and this season has been no different. They finished 29th in the league in pass defense.
Despite all the yards allowed, the Patriots play a bend-but-don't-break style. They finished ninth in points allowed, so it is not like they make the offense do all the work.
The Texans started the season looking like one of the most physical teams in the league. As the season drew to a close, it was clear something had changed. The secondary, in particular, has been a source of concern.
In losing three of their last four games, the Texans allowed nine passing touchdowns without intercepting a pass. They did get a little redemption last week, intercepting Andy Dalton once without allowing an offensive touchdown.
J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, and he has to be a monster in this game to prevent the secondary from having to stay in coverage longer than it is capable of.
Right now, if we are talking about which defense we trust more, you have to go with the Patriots. They finished first in the league in forced fumbles (32) and fifth in in interceptions (20). They are loaded with ball-hawking playmakers who will stop at nothing to steal the pigskin from you.
Even though they allowed 41 points to San Francisco and more than 400 yards to Jacksonville, they finished the season with a great performance against Miami and are playing at home in the frigid cold.
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