BOSTON (CBS) – After a week of waiting, the NFL Playoffs are finally here for the New England Patriots.
The Patriots host the Houston Texans, who they beat 42-12 in the regular season, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium, with a trip to the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens on the line. A Patriots win, and that game will be in Foxboro for the second straight season.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. As we all know, the Patriots take it one game at a time.
Here are the 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ-TV and WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Sports team’s predictions for Sunday’s big game:
Scott Zolak, 98.5 The Sports Hub
All the feelings I have on the Houston Texans has nothing to do with how they played the first time in New England, it’s how they’ve played since their loss in New England.
They had the first-round bye, AFC home field advantage locked up. All they had to do was beat Indy, a team that had nothing to play for, and they couldn’t take care of that. Then they barely beat Cincinnati in the first round, in what could have been a statement game.
They’re now coming up here to face a team that has had two weeks to get ready for them. I watched the rewind of the first game, and I actually feel more confident after watching it. Gresh made the best point this week; the Patriots won every single man-on-man, one-on-one battle. This is the best team the Patriots have played that they physically match up well against.
This is not a finesse game, I think it’s a smack yourself in the mouth game.
Patriots 44, Texans 20
Andy Gresh, 98.5 The Sports Hub
A very different feel for the Houston Texans walking in this time, because they have an idea of how well the Patriots can play. However, it’s playoff time, and the Patriots are driven by Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski is also back.
I think Houston needs to be more judicious in the amount of times they try to blitz to get pressure on Brady, to force a bad throw and try to make something happen. If I’m Houston, I’m not afraid of the wide receivers and loading up on the tight ends to make sure they don’t kill me — which leaves them open for the run game.
The bottom line is, whether it’s the run game or the pass game, the Texans don’t have enough gumption to be able to win.
Patriots 38, Texans 21
Walt Perkins, WBZ NewsRadio 1030
Is there anyone on the planet, outside of Houston, who thinks the Texans can beat the Patriots on Sunday? Maybe one? Maybe two?
I keep thinking back to 2010 and the New York Jets. You may remember what happened that season; a late-season Patriots blowout in Foxboro followed by a shocking Jets win a few weeks later in the post-season.
You can bet Bill Belichick remembers. You can bet Tom Brady remembers. You can bet everyone on this year’s team that was on that team remembers. Over-confidence will not be an issue on Sunday. Bank on it.
That said, this is a very good Houston team. The Patriots will be the first to tell you that. But the Patriots are better and if they take care of the football, they will win and advance to the AFC Championship next weekend.
I think the difference Sunday will be in the Red Zone. Houston has had trouble the last month punching it in. They have come away with 3 instead of 7 on most occasions. The Patriots have been lights out in the Red Zone and I think that will be the difference Sunday.
Patriots 27, Texans 16
Steve Burton, WBZ-TV
The Patriots beat the Texans 42-14 back in December, but you can throw that game right out the window. At least if you’re New England; Houston hasn’t forgotten, which is why they’ll come in with a huge chip on their shoulders.
Don’t be surprised if the Texans start by turning up the heat on Tom Brady. They’ll try to disrupt his timing by holding up the Patriots’ receivers. They’ll be sending J.J. Watt, who had an OK game the first time around, but knows he has to be more of a force in his second try against the Pats offensive line.
If the Patriots can protect Brady, the Texans have no chance. He’ll pick them apart, as Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez and Lloyd can’t all be covered at the same time. Brady’s favorite receiver is the one that is open, and with a running attack like the one Stevan Ridley has been providing, look for the offense to explode.
On defense, Vince Wilfork is the key. The Patriots front four have to contain Arian Foster, and if Brandon Spikes can get a few licks in Houston will have problems on Sunday.
The Patriots secondary is still suspect, but since Aqib Talib arrived at the trade deadline they have improved immensely Turnovers are the key to the Patriots success, and the Pats are hungry after having a week off.
This game probably won’t be a blowout like the Week 14 meeting, but the Patriots should still come out on top for another AFC Championship berth. With a little luck, that game could even be in New England.
Patriots 28, Texans 17
Dan Roche, WBZ-TV
When you look at this game, on paper, it’s easy to pick the Patriots.
You have a team that has “been there, done that”. The Pats have been in all kinds of big games and have experience on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots also had their way with the Texans on December 10th in Foxboro. The Texans couldn’t get out of their own way, and Tom Brady was surgical-like against a highly touted Houston defense that came in as one of the top defenses in the NFL.
So what to make of Sunday?
After spending a day in Houston, I got the feeling that the Texans were angry and embarrassed from what happened up here. There was no talk of the “biggest game in franchise history” like last time. The one thing I think they will do is come out angry, especially on defense. Watch for J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, and Brooks Reed to try to rough up Tom Brady. Watch for blitzes too.
The question is, how will Matt Schaub handle the game? He hasn’t played well down the stretch and didn’t do much in the Texans win over Cincy in the Wild Card game. So, the Texans will probably use Arian Foster(running and receiving) early and often and try to strike with Andre Johnson when they can. If I’m the Texans, I also don’t want to get away from what got them here: Foster and Johnson. Sometimes it sounds simple, but teams tend to think too much and get away from their identity. The Jets did a good job of simplifying things (ground and pound) when they upset the Pats in 2010 after getting embarrassed earlier in the season in Foxboro.
As for the Pats? I Gronk it up and let Brady high tempo things. No huddle right out of the chute. Attack. Be aggressive!
I like the Pats, but I think the Texans will play much better.
Patriots 35, Texans 21
Levan Reid, WBZ-TV
I think the Patriots have taken the right approach when it comes to the Texans. They’ve practiced hard and not over-looked Houston. I know that’s not hard to do with Belichick as the coach but everyone, to a man, has bought into the idea that this game is going to be tough.
Last time they played Houston, the chip on the Patriots’ shoulder was the Texans were being called the best team in the AFC. The Pats put it to them for that to the tune of 42-14. This time around, a trip to the AFC Championship is on the line, and that’s a chip for both teams.
The Pats are on familiar ground and are rested. They talked all week that getting to the playoffs is an expectation and this is what they do. I think that mind-set is what pushes them over the edge.
We know the Texans will try to get Arian Foster going and gun for the big play with Andre Johnson. The Pats are going to mix it up, but they are still focused on stopping Foster. Also, can the Texans defense slow down the Pats offensive attack. Houston wants this game to be close in the third quarter, so they feel they have a chance. I think it will be close but the Pats fire power will pull away in the end.
Patriots 27, Texans 13
Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Texans playoff game on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Kickoff is at 4:30pm, with pregame coverage beginning at 1pm on 98.5 with Patriots Preview, and 11:30am on WBZ-TV with a special hour-long edition of Patriots GameDay. Following the game, tune in to three hours of postgame coverage on the Hub, and Patriots 5th Quarter on myTV38!