FOXBORO, Mass. — Three of this weekend’s divisional-round playoff games should be hotly contested affairs. The New England Patriots are playing in the fourth.
The Patriots enter Saturday night’s matchup with the Houston Texans as massive 16-point favorites. If that line holds, it would be the largest spread for an NFL playoff game since 1998 and the fourth-largest postseason spread in league history.
And it makes sense. The Patriots finished the regular season an NFL-best 14-2, while the Texans snuck into the playoffs at 9-7 by winning the league’s weakest division. New England also has beaten Houston once already this season, rolling to a 27-0 victory in Week 3 with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center.
“People have been saying all kinds of (expletive) about me my whole life, so I kind of got used to it now,” Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett said Wednesday. “I really don’t pay it any mind. People throw stones at you. After a while, you get really good, and sometimes you get hit with them and they don’t affect you. Eventually, you just start catching them.”
Linebacker and co-defensive captain Dont’a Hightower offered a similar take.
“Y’all (reporters) don’t have anything to do with the game, so what y’all think doesn’t really matter,” Hightower said. “I mean, y’all aren’t in between the lines. So, no I’m not really (paying attention). Blocking out the noise is part of that.”
Ditto for special teams captain Matthew Slater, who pointed to New England’s stunning divisional-round loss to the New York Jets in 2010 as proof that anything can happen in the playoffs. Slater also noted the high number of former Patriots on Houston’s coaching staff, including Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.
“We know it’s the National Football League,” Slater said. “A lot of us in 2010 experienced a similar situation with the Jets, and we saw how that went. I know Bill O’Brien. He was my first position coach in the NFL. He’s going to have those guys ready to play. Coach Romeo (Crennel), Coach (Mike) Vrabel, Coach (Larry) Izzo — those guys are going to have their players ready to play.
“Regardless of what odds say or who’s favored, this, that and the other thing — that means nothing to us. We have to go out and play this game, because we know they’ll be ready.”
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images