So, this game! The Texans beat a demoralized team playing a third-string quarterback after winning what most consider to be a historically weak division. (Though it's worth noting that the AFC South had only one losing team.) They benched their quarterback with two games left in the season but are now stuck with him again. Their games are legitimately difficult to watch, even when they win. (Especially when they win!) And they are playing at Tom Brady and the Patriots, in Brady's revenge year, in front of a crazy Foxborough crowd, at night.
There have been many wild upsets in the history of the NFL playoffs. This would almost certainly be the biggest one.
No. 4 Houston Texans (10-7) at No. 1 New England Patriots (14-2)
When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Most recent meeting: Sept. 22: Patriots 27, Texans 0. The Patriots' quarterback in this game was not Tom Brady. It was also not Jimmy Garoppolo. It was Jacoby Brissett. The Pats still won 27-0.
Simple Rating System numbers: New England 9.3, Houston -2.6
Current line: Patriots by 15 1/2.
Ranking among four divisional matchups: Fourth. The Pats are the biggest playoff favorite in 18 years. At least you can get to bed early Saturday night.
How the Patriots can win
1. Arrive at the stadium on time and wear the appropriate equipment. Here is the NFL's rule on forfeits: The Commissioner, (except in cases of disciplinary action; see last section on "Removing Team from Field"), League President, and their representatives, including referees, are not authorized unilaterally to declare forfeits. A forfeit occurs only when a game is not played because of the failure or refusal of one team to participate. In that event, the other team, if ready and willing to play, is the winner by a score of 2-0. This to say: If you think the Texans have a chance to win, definitely take the under.
2. Keep Brady safe, and get him out of there early. Just because the Patriots beat the Texans with Brissett back in September, that's, uh, hardly the preferred route of action. Houston does have a legitimately scary pass rush -- and "scary pass rush" can often mean "injured quarterback." You know how in practice, coaches put brightly colored vests on their quarterbacks because you don't want to get them hurt in a meaningless scrimmage? Brady and the Pats are going to have a challenge in the AFC Championship game. They need to make sure he gets there in one piece.
3. Stand behind Brock Osweiler and occasionally yell "Boo!" Osweiler has had all sorts of deficiencies as a quarterback this year, but the main one has been his jumpiness when he's pressured. The Patriots' pass rush isn't their most dominant feature, but Osweiler doesn't need a dominant pass rush to scare him. Get him to make a mistake early, build a lead and then spend the rest of the game letting Garoppolo hand off to James Develin until the clock runs out. It won't require a ton of effort for New England to win this game, but you'd still like to minimize the amount of time your horses need to be out there.
How the Texans can win
1. Stall the Patriots team bus at the hotel. See the forfeit rule above.
2. Take a ton of chances on defense. It's a pin-back-your-ears game for Jadeveon Clowney and those Texans pass rushers. It's very possible that Houston may need its defense to score multiple touchdowns to win this game, so don't just be opportunistic: Be downright animalistic. Think about taking it to the house every time Brady goes back to pass. You'll need a ton of breaks. Leap at every opening.
3. Give Lamar Miller the ball every time you need fewer than 10 yards, and maybe even beyond that. Suffice it to say, Osweiler is not going to win this game for the Texans. Miller is still an excellent back, and the Texans are going to have to keep the score low to have any hope at all. So hand it to Miller, or pitch it to Miller, or sweep it to Miller, and let the play clock run all the way down every time. Passively vanilla on offense, ferocious and lunatic on defense. Who knows? Stranger things have happened on this planet than the Texans winning this game. Like, a platypus. What a weird animal! What are the odds something like that would evolve itself into existence? Right? Now you're getting my drift here. Imagine yourself as more likely than the evolution of the platypus.
Seriously, this is going to be a lovely night to get some sleep. It's going to be cold, probably snowy, and there are two awfully exciting divisional games early on Sunday. Have a cocoa, put on a fire and if you doze off around the second quarter, it's OK. You've been working really hard. Enjoy the rest.
Patriots 31, Texans 10