December 9, 2012

AFC's best in playoff peek?

Monday's showdown between the Patriots and Texans could be just their first clash.

By Howard Ulman, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

But the Patriots haven't faced a defense as tough as Houston's. The Texans are fifth in the league in sacks per pass play, led by J.J. Watt's AFC-best 161/2 overall.

"They certainly get after the football. They can rush the quarterback. They do a great job stopping the run," Brady said. "They get a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, interceptions, fumbles. They've won a lot of close games. They've won overtime games. They've come from behind.

"I think our guys understand the challenge and we have to play our best game."

Houston is tied for fifth with 26 takeaways. New England is second with 33 and leads the NFL with a plus-24 turnover differential.

But the Texans have committed only 12 turnovers, including a league-low two fumbles.

With Matt Schaub throwing, AFC rushing leader Arian Foster running and Andre Johnson catching, the Patriots' defense has plenty to handle.

"They have a bunch of playmakers," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "It shows every week."

So does the Patriots' ability to force turnovers. They've even returned two interceptions and two fumbles for touchdowns in their past three games.

"They're very aware of the football and trying to strip it," Schaub said, "whether it be the runners or receivers with the ball or the quarterback in the pocket."

The Texans do that, too, just another of the similarities between two of the NFL's best teams.

"They never get too high, never get too low," Wilfork said. "They stay poised. That's a lot of (what coach Bill Belichick) tries to teach us around here, just to stay poised when things are not going well; things are going well, just keep an even keel."

Even when the game could help determine home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"Every game is big here coming down the stretch," Kubiak said. "We're in position, just like the Patriots are, to kind of control our own destiny."


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