LOS ANGELES: The Houston Texans must cast off the weight of history as they attempt to halt the New England Patriots’ march towards another Super Bowl appearance this weekend.
The Texans travel to Foxborough on Saturday for a divisional playoff game against a Patriots team who are firm favorites to advance to the AFC Championship game.
Houston have never won at Gillette Stadium, have only ever beaten the Patriots once and were trounced 27-0 at the same venue during the regular season.
Their last two meetings with the Patriots have been lost by a combined score of 54-6 and they will also be playing in cold conditions when they are more used to the warmth of their own indoor NRG Arena.
Those disadvantages are reflected in bookmakers odds which have the Patriots as favorites to win by more than 15 points following their 14-2 regular season campaign.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator, acknowledged the scale of the task facing his team.
“It’s a big challenge. It’s a team that has done it year in and year out,” said O’Brien, whose team advanced from the wildcard round last weekend with a 27-14 win over a depleted Oakland Raiders.
“Last week was only this organization’s third playoff win. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” O’Brien added.
O’Brien spent five years working with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has enjoyed yet another impressive season after missing the first four games of the year through suspension.
“We’re not going to show him anything that he hasn’t already seen. He’s been doing it for years, 17 years or whatever it is,” O’Brien said of the 39-year-old.
“I mean, that’s part of what makes him who he is. He’s seen it all. He’s very well-prepared. He’s played against a lot of these players. He’s played against this scheme. We just need to kind of do what we do and execute and play every play. Be very focused on every single play, I think that’s big for us.”
Vince Wilfork, the Texans defensive tackle and former Patriots star, believes Houston will need to produce “probably the best game of the season to actually be able to hang with them.”
Defense key for Texans
Nevertheless Houston can take comfort from the fact that they boast the league’s number one defense, with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney outstanding in the absence of the injured J.J. Watt.
“Clowney’s having a good year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick remarked.
“He’s been very productive; long, very athletic, good pass rusher, good run player, good tackler, strip sacks, so he’s got really good awareness,” he added.
Patriots Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty meanwhile insisted his team-mates would not distracted by the long odds against a Texans victory.
“Football’s not played in Vegas or anything, so I don’t really think any of that matters,” McCourty said.
“I can’t imagine there are many players in the NFL that check the point spread going into the game, honestly.
“Like I said, they’re trying to earn the right to be here next week and we’re trying to do the same thing.”
Saturday’s AFC divisional game follows the opening NFC divisional round, which sees the Seattle Seahawks head to Atlanta to face the Falcons.
Sunday’s games see Pittsburgh travel to Kansas City while the Green Bay Packers face the marquee game of the weekend in their game at the Dallas Cowboys.