Curran’s Patriots-Texans preview: Meltdown-proof


Curran’s Patriots-Texans preview: Meltdown-proof

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Turnover battle likely won’t end well for Texans

Turnover battle likely won’t end well for Texans

John McLain of the Houston Chronicle had an interesting post on Brock Osweiler this week. The crux of it: He needs to not throw so many damn interceptions Saturday. 

That’s been easier said than done for Osweiler, who had a terrible first regular season with the Texans. Though he got his job back in Week 17, he finished the season with the third-highest interception rate among quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. Sixteen of the 510 passes he threw were picked off. 

Osweiler’s gone two games without throwing a pick, however, which McLain notes is the only time as a Texan that the tall drink of water has gone multiple games without being intercepted. 

Will he make it three in a row? The Patriots finished 15th in interceptions and didn’t have any played finish top-10 in picks (Malcolm Butler led the team with four, which tied for 11th through 20th in the league), so it’s not like Osweiler is walking into a buzzsaw. Then again, it’s Brock Osweiler, and he isn’t very good. 

When the Patriots faced Osweiler in Week 3, they intercepted him once and recovered two Texans fumbles; New England scored on short drives (22 and 21 yards) following each fumble. 

That was one of four games this season in which New England grabbed at least three turnovers. This might shock you, but the Pats won all of those games and did so by a large average margin (21 points). 

But say Osweiler holds onto the ball and so do his teammates. Better ball security would naturally help the Texans’ odds tremendously, but there’s a reason why virtually no one is giving them a chance in this game: Even when their opponent doesn’t turn the ball over, the Pats still usually win.

The only two teams to beat the Pats this season -- the Bills in Week 4 and the Seahawks in Week 10 -- did so with performances in which they didn’t turn the ball over. The Pats played six games this season in which their opponent held onto the ball, however, winning the other four by an average of 15 points. 

Really, the Pats have shown they can win this season whether you give them the game or not. When it comes to turnovers, it’s just been a matter of whether the game becomes a blowout. The magic number there is three, as the Pats have averaged a six-point win in games in which the opponent has turned it over once and won by an average of 14 in games in which the opponent turns it over twice. That average margin of victory jumps way up to 20 for three turnovers and 22.5 for four. 

Should the Texans hold on to the ball, they'll need to get it into the end zone more than they have. They finished tied for 28th in the league with 17.4 points scored per game in the regular season; their 27 points against a mediocre Raiders defense tied their season-high in a game. The Patriots, meanwhile, averaged more points per game than Houston's season-best total, finishing third in the league with 27.6 points per game.  

While the Texans limiting their turnovers is a respectable goal for Saturday, winning the turnover battle is a pipe dream. The Patriots set an NFL record for fewest interceptions with two this season, and even though they lost nine fumbles, that still left them tied with the Falcons for fewest giveaways (11) this season. The Texans had 24, leaving them with a minus-7 turnover differential (tied for 26th in the league) compared to the Patriots’ plus-12 (third). 

Sixteen-point favorites? Analyzing Patriots' propensity for blowout wins in playoffs

Sixteen-point favorites? Analyzing Patriots' propensity for blowout wins in playoffs

Tom Brady thinks it’s “ridiculous” to assume the Patriots will just walk over the Texans on Sunday, but everyone else assumes they will. In fact, the Patriots are favored by 16 points in the fourth-largest spread in postseason history.

Sixteen? That’s bold, even with how much better the Patriots are than the Texans. Then again, it’s not like postseason ass-kickings haven’t been in Bill Belichick's bag of tricks over the years. 

Brady and Belichick have won 22 playoff games together. Six (27 percent) of those wins have been by at least 16 points, and the average margin of victory in the aforementioned six wins has been 25 points. Patriots been winning playoff games by 16 points.  Here they are: 

  • 2014 AFC Championship: Patriots 45, Colts 7 (32-point margin of victory)
  • 2013 divisional round: Patriots 43, Colts 22 (21-point margin of victory)
  • 2011 divisional round: Patriots 45, Broncos 10 (35-point margin of victory) 
  • 2006 divisional round: Patriots 37, Jets 16 (21-point margin of victory)
  • 2005 divisional round: Patriots 28, Jaguars 3 (25-point margin of victory)
  • 2004 divisional round: Patriots 20, Colts 3 (17-point margin of victory)

Some notes on those games: 

  • All of them were at Gillette Stadium. 
  • Five of the six were division playoff games. 
  • Only one came against a top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed; the Texans were first this season. 
  • Somehow, Tom Brady threw for under 230 yards in five of the six games. 
  • The Patriots have got 100-yard rushing performances in three of them: one from Corey Dillon, two from LeGarrette Blount. Aaron Hernandez (61 yards) was the leading rusher in one of them. 
  • Two games featured a defensive touchdown, both (2005 against the Jaguars, 2006 against the Jets) in the form of an Asante Samuel pick-6. 

The findings there are interesting given that when you think Patriots blowout, you think Tom freaking Brady. Yet it wasn’t like he was carving up those teams for 400 yards or anything like that. However, in the only one of these games in which Brady threw 230-plus yards, he threw 363. 

None of this helps give a definitive answer as to whether the Patriots will actually win by 16-plus, but the fact that they already beat Houston by 27 this season explains why the spread is what it is. We'll learn Saturday whether the highest playoff spread in Patriots' history was warranted, but these types of blowout wins have been fairly common during the Belichick era.