The New England Patriots, in principle, have a season rematch with the Houston Texans on Saturday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But there’s a reason the Patriots are favored by 16 points this week while they were 2.5-point underdogs in Week 3. The Patriots destroyed the Texans 27-0 in that regular season matchup with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Tom Brady will be Saturday’s starting signal caller, and the Patriots have since added additional offensive firepower.
A 16-point line is the highest in the playoffs since 1998, and no one would think you were crazy for still taking the Patriots.
Here’s what’s changed in New England since Week 3.
— Jacoby Brissett is no longer the starting quarterback and is back to third string behind Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo
— Linebacker Jamie Collins, who started in Week 3 and had his best game of the season, was traded to the Cleveland Browns
— Linebacker Jonathan Freeny who also started, was placed on injured reserve
— Tight end Clay Harbor was cut
— Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was limited by injury in Week 3, was placed on IR
— Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was waived, added to the practice squad and signed off of it by the New York Jets
— Brady has returned from a four-game suspension
— Elandon Roberts, who was active but didn’t play, contributes on defense
— Eric Rowe, who was inactive, starts at cornerback
— Starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower missed Week 3 with an injury
— Running Dion Lewis returned off the physically unable to perform list
— Wide receiver Michael Floyd was waived by the Arizona Cardinals and claimed by the Patriots
— Tight Matt Lengel was signed off the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad
— Geneo Grissom was signed off the Patriots’ practice squad
— Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was acquired from the Detroit Lions at the trade deadline
Obviously the addition of Brady, Hightower and Lewis are positives. Rowe had penalty issues early in his Patriots career, but he has since settled down and led New England corners in passer rating against. Floyd had a strong regular season finale and could be an impact player in the playoffs. Van Noy could be a breakout performer in the playoffs if he’s allowed to rush the passer.
Losing Gronkowski hurts, but he only played 14 snaps and was targeted once without a reception against the Texans. Losing Collins negatively affected the Patriots’ defense initially, but they were collectively playing their best football at the end of the regular season and finished No. 1 in fewest points allowed. Roberts, Van Noy and Shea McClellin have taken on bigger roles in his absence.
The Patriots are only favored by 16 points, but there’s reason to believe to could decimate the Texans to an even greater extent than they did in Week 3 with Brady back in the helm. This was an ideal matchup for the Patriots and could be treated as a playoff primer and still be a blowout.
Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images