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.