There was lots of talk after the Houston Texans beat the Oakland Raiders on Saturday of wanting Houston to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. The main point of logic for that seemed to be the idea that Houston could beat the Chiefs, but not the Patriots.
While that’s a theory you can’t easily punch holes in, it is short-sighted. If Houston wants to be the best, which means lifting the Lombardi Trophy at NRG Stadium when the last seconds of the Super Bowl click away next month, they need to beat the best.
And make no mistake, right now the Patriots are playing like the best team in the league. From Bill Belichick, arguably the best coach of this century, to Tom Brady, who many say is the best quarterback in NFL history, to a great supporting cast, stifling defense and unparalleled home field advantage, on paper the Patriots will win on Saturday night, and win handily.
But games aren’t played on paper. They’re played on the gridiron.
Looking back through recent history, who has defeated the Patriots in big games? Teams with shutdown defenses who know how to put pressure on Brady and knock him around. The Giants used this scheme in the 2008 Super Bowl and walked out victorious after no one gave them a chance to win.
The Ravens have also done it, as have the Broncos and Jets.
Of those teams, Houston should have an even better shot. Romeo Crennel has engineered the best defense in the league this season. He knows Tom Brady’s tendencies. He knows Bill Belichick’s tells and instincts. He watched the Giants’ defense take it to Brady and beat him on the biggest stage in all of football – twice.
On the opposite side of the ball, Brock Osweiler may not be an epic field general, but he did beat the Patriots in prime time last year with the Broncos. Lamar Miller may not be Barry Sanders, but he can do enough to help this offense put some points on the board.
And, just like the Patriots used Adam Vinatieri to squeak out postseason wins for years, Nick Novak has proven he can get the job done when Houston needs three points.
Sure, the odds are against the Texans. Sure, history is against them as well. But this is the team that shouldn’t even be in the playoffs if you listen to the TV talking heads. This team didn’t stand a chance against the AFC elite, like the Oakland Raiders. Or the Chiefs, who are already a W in the Houston game column from earlier this season.
If the Texans are truly in their metaphorical red zone, this game is the litmus test.
If they want to be the best, they have to beat the best.
On any given Sunday, Houston can field the best team in the NFL. They just have to do it this Saturday – in prime time, in Foxborough, against the NFL royalty they hope to dethrone.
In the history of Houston football, it doesn’t get any bigger than this.