When the teams met in Foxboro in Week 14, the Patriots demolished the Texans 42-14 in one of the most anticlimactic games of the season. New England jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead, as they handed Houston what was only their second defeat of the season at the time.
The Texans had no answer for Tom Brady and the Patriots' spread-out passing attack from the first whistle. Brady threw four touchdown passes by the midway point in the third quarter and easily could have thrown for another couple if the Pats had needed him to.
It should be noted that the Patriots were without Rob Grownkowski in the first meeting due to a forearm injury. Even without Gronk, Brady threw for 296 yards and posted a quarterback rating of 125.4.
The Pats offense is far more potent with Gronkowski in the fold, which must be making Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips very nervous.
Simply put, Brady will tear the Texans' 16th-ranked passing defense apart if given adequate time in the pocket. Houston must get to Brady early and often if it hopes to stifle the Pats offense, which means J.J Watt, Connor Barwin and the rest of the Texans' pass-rushers will need to produce consistent pressure.
If the Texans hope to slow the Patriots down, they will have to limit the number of opportunities they give Brady. The only way to do that is to establish an effective running game, something they couldn't do last time around because they fell behind so quickly.
Arian Foster only gained 46 yards on 15 carries in the Week 14 loss, while Ben Tate gained an efficient 46 yards on eight carries for an average of 5.8 yards per rush. Those numbers suggest Gary Kubiak should look to utilize Tate on Sunday if Foster is struggling to make an impact.
The Patriots will look to funnel Houston's backs inside due to the dominating presence of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. That strategy worked for them once, but the Texans coaching staff must find a way to get the get the running game established.
The Texans lost the time of possession battle the first time around, which is an area they must win this time. Brady and the Pats explosive offense cannot light up the scoreboard when they are standing on the sidelines.
Controlling the ball and battering Brady are the two key ingredients to a Texans upset, but they will also need a good game from Matt Schaub. The problem with that is Schaub hasn't looked right the past couple of weeks after starting the season red-hot.
In fact, Schaub has only thrown one touchdown versus four interceptions since Week 14. Whether or not he is injured is unknown, but the Texans need the Schaub from the beginning of the season to show up against the Patriots.
The Texans cannot afford to hold anything back because it's imperative for them to play this game from ahead rather than behind. Brady is a great closer, but his two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants have proven he can be rattled by a consistent pass rush.
The formula for the upset is there. Now the question is whether or not the Texans can execute it.