It's safe to say the Houston Texans will have a chip on their shoulder when they face the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Divisional playoffs on Sunday. They were embarrassed in Week 14, losing 42-14 in a game that relinquished a first-round bye. More importantly, few are giving the Texans a chance of even competing. The ire of Arian Foster was stirred earlier in the week after a particularly incendiary Dan Shaughnessy column.
Of course, considering the Texans lost three of their final four games heading into the playoffs, perhaps the criticism is justified. After starting the year 12-1, Houston stumbled, losing by double digits to the Minnesota Vikings and the Indianapolis Colts on top of the shellacking by the Pats.
The offense will need to pick up the pace if it is to keep up with New England. Quarterback Matt Schaub hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in three games now, including during last week's 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card round.
The Patriots, meanwhile, remain one of the league's most prolific offenses, averaging 428 yards and 34.8 points per game. Rob Gronkowski will be making his return from an arm injury, giving the Patriots yet another target for quarterback Tom Brady.
The Texans still have Foster and defense that has been stout outside of a couple of lapses this season. On paper, the battle appears uphill, however. Whether they can pull off the upset may depend on just how motivated they are to quiet the critics.
Game Time: 4:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Jan. 13
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Line: Patriots favored by 9 points.