The Houston Texans need a win and help to earn the first playoff
berth in franchise history, but they’re happy to at least have
something to play for in Week 17 for the first time in their eight
The New England Patriots, meanwhile, are happy their
regular-season finale is relatively meaningless, and some of their
banged-up starters will likely get some rest as they tune up for
the playoffs Sunday at Houston.
The odds are still against the Texans completing their push to
make the postseason, hampered by four straight losses by a combined
19 points from Nov. 8-Dec. 6. But Houston has at least given itself
a chance by winning its last three games, including last Sunday’s
27-20 victory at Miami.
To advance, the Texans (8-7) need to beat New England and get
losses from two of three teams – Baltimore, Denver and the New York
Jets. The Ravens face Oakland and the Broncos host Kansas City,
matchups that seemingly put a damper on Houston’s prospects.
But coach Gary Kubiak is still happy with his team, which can
secure its first winning season by defeating the Patriots.
“We’re going to have to beat the top franchise in football to
get to that point,” Kubiak said. “So it’s a great challenge for us
as coaches, as players, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to
be. If we want to get there some day, these are the types of people
we’ve got to be able to compete against.”
Houston certainly responded well to its latest challenge, racing
to a 27-0 lead before holding off the Dolphins’ comeback bid. Matt
Schaub threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Pro
Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson.
The duo has formed the league’s most prolific combination this
season. Schaub leads the NFL with a career-high 4,467 passing
yards, while Johnson has a league-best 1,504 receiving.
“That’s why we’re here – to take this franchise to the next
level,” Schaub said. “All we can do is control what we do, and
that’s what we did (against Miami).”
Schaub will try to pick apart a New England pass defense that
has shown major improvement in recent weeks. After allowing nearly
700 combined passing yards in back-to-back losses to New Orleans
and Miami just after Thanksgiving, the Patriots have held opponents
to an average of 164.0 passing yards during a three-game winning
New England (10-5) missed the playoffs last year, but it locked
up the team’s seventh AFC East title this decade with a 35-7
blowout of Jacksonville last Sunday.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, including three to Randy
Moss, and the Patriots looked more like the team that went 16-0 in
2007 than the one that has struggled with inconsistency this
“It’s the time of year where we really need to start playing
good football,” Brady said, “and I think (Sunday) was one of our
best 60 minutes that we played all year.”
While the Patriots could end up with either the No. 3 or No. 4
seed in the AFC, their first-round opponent in either position is
still to be determined, with the Texans even a possibility. That
means New England can gain little from a victory, giving coach Bill
Belichick the option to limit his starters’ playing time.
“I do what’s best for our football team,” Belichick said.
“That’s my philosophy.”
Most likely to spend some or all of the game on the bench are
injured defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren – and perhaps
Brady, who has dealt with rib, finger and shoulder problems.
Belichick remained cryptic about his plans.
“Whoever plays, plays,” the coach said. “Whoever doesn’t play,
If Brady does play, he’ll see an all-too-familiar face on the
other side of the ball. The 2007 NFL MVP missed nearly all of 2008
after a major injury to his left knee that came on a hit by
then-Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard.
Pollard was cut by the Chiefs earlier this season and has
started the last 12 games for Houston.
“He’s given us some stability back there,” Kubiak said of
Pollard. “He’s given us a physical nature back there as far as
playing in the box and doing those things, so we’ve been very
pleased with him.”
The Texans had three defenders named to the AFC’s Pro Bowl
squad, including linebackers Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans. The
third was defensive end Mario Williams, but Kubiak said the No. 1
overall draft pick in 2006 “needs to factor more in the game” after
he didn’t record a tackle against the Dolphins.
The Patriots have won both previous meetings with Houston, but
their last visit to Reliant Stadium was more memorable. New England
beat Carolina 32-29 there in Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1,
The Patriots are 1-5 this season on the road, where they’ll have
to play in the divisional round if they win their playoff
Houston is 3-4 at home.