Patriots will host Texans in Divisional Round game on Jan. 14

Patriots will host Texans in Divisional Round game on Jan. 14

When the Dolphins were trampled by Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, it guaranteed that the Patriots would host the Texans at Gillette Stadium next weekend.

The Divisional Round game in Foxboro will be held at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday. The Steelers advanced to play the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

This will be Houston's second trip to New England this season, and head coach Bill O'Brien, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, special teams coach Larry Izzo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork will be hoping their next visit to the place they once called home goes better than the last time.

Back in Week 3, the Texans fell to the Patriots, 27-0, but this game will feature a much different look -- at least on the host's side of things. 

At that point in the season, Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett had taken over for Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder injury) and Jamie Collins was still one of the centerpieces of Bill Belichick's defense. After the game, Brissett got his first game ball as a pro. Two weeks later, Tom Brady returned from his four-game suspension and went on to earn MVP consideration, setting an NFL record with his touchdown-to-interception ratio (28-to-2).

The Texans are a group that has undergone significant change since September as well. Since their last meeting the Patriots, they've benched quarterback Brock Osweiler, made Tom Savage their starter, then were forced to go back to Osweiler when Savage suffered a concussion in Week 17. 

Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the Texans-Patriots matchup can now zero-in on their next opponent . . .

Patriots open as heavy favorites: This comes as no surprise. Regardless of which team was going to be headed to Foxboro -- Oakland, Houston or Miami -- the Patriots were going to be listed as the heavy favorites. But an initial look at the lines serves as an indicator of just how far apart these teams are considered to be. According to Sportsbook.ag, the Patriots are 16-point favorites.

Osweiler turns in turnover-free Wild Card Round: Osweiler's performance after signing a deal for $72 million this offseason has been . . . uninspiring. And that's putting it kindly. Among signal-callers who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps, Osweiler graded out as No. 36 out of 36, per Pro Football Focus. The only quarterback from that group with fewer yards-per-attempt than Osweiler (5.8) was Rams rookie Jared Goff (5.3). Osweiler was, however, able to take care of the football against Oakland's below-average defense in the Wild Card Round. He was not intercepted, and while he fumbled once, the Texans were able to recover. If Houston is to have any chance at moving on, they'll need to make sure their quarterback does not give the Patriots extra opportunities by turning it over.

Wilfork headed back to where it all started: Will Wilfork's career end where it began? The 35-year-old defensive tackle recently acknowledged that he's considering retirement, which means there is a very good possibility that he plays his final game in the stadium where he spent 11 years of his career. Wilfork played well in 36 snaps against the Raiders, helping to bottle up Oakland's running attack with Latavius Murray.

Texans pass-rush a problem: Every week, Belichick finds several facets of his opponent's game to praise during his press conferences. This upcoming week, it would be a safe bet for the Patriots head coach to laud the Texans pass-rush over and over again. Even without JJ Watt (who's on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery) to attract attention, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus provide good burst off the edges of Houston's front. Clowney batted two passes against the Raiders and intercepted one, while Mercilus recorded a pair of sacks in the win. A good test awaits Patriots tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.

Mike Giardi: Don’t think Patriots will use franchise tag on Dont'a Hightower

Mike Giardi: Don’t think Patriots will use franchise tag on Dont'a Hightower

Mike Giardi discusses the odds that the New England Patriots franchise tag Dont'a Hightower and what he expects the Pats to get if they were to trade Jimmy Garoppolo.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

cardinals_chandler_jones_022717.jpg

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.