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Don't take a Patriots win for granted

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  January 11, 2013 12:03 PM

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We all believe the Patriots are better than the Houston Texans. We all believe the Patriots will win. But two days before the Patriots and Texans face off in a divisional playoff, one cannot help but feel we are succumbing to arrogance.

And by now, we should know better.

I am guilty of this, too, course, and my head, heart and instincts tell me that the Patriots will defeat the Texans on Sunday by something along the lines of a 31-23 score at Gillette Stadium. Most of the predictions I have seen fall into the same neighborhood, and finding any level of cynicism or skepticism over the Patriots' chances this week is an exercise in futility.

By chance, have you read Dan Shaughnessy's Friday column? In this era of Boston sports, Shaughnessy serves as our Prince of Darkness, a most sarcastic, cynical, and skeptical voice of gloom. But ask Shaughnessy about the Patriots' chances against the Texans on Sunday and it's as if he's spent the last 10 days in a isolated mountain cabin with nothing but an Anthony Robbins DVD set.

"No matter how much I study and prepare," Shaughnessy wrote, "I cannot come up with a scenario that has the Houston Texans defeating the New England Patriots Sunday night."

Holy smokes. Not even a single scenario from the Vincent Price of Boston sports, a man who is part Scrooge, part Grinch, part Glum? We'll never make it. We're doomed. Is there no one we can rely on anymore?

Let's make something clear here: if the Patriots play poorly on Sunday, they will lose. A mediocre effort might similarly end their season. The Houston Texans have their share of issues, to be sure, but professional sports - and football in particular - can be a cruel reminder that nothing should ever, ever be taken for granted.

So the Patriots defeated the Texans by a 42-14 score in Week 14. Big deal. As we all know, the Patriots defeated the New York Jets by a 45-3 score late in December 2010, then lost to the Jets in the divisional playoffs. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reminded everyone earlier this week that football games are like snowflakes - each one is different - and one can only hope Belichick is privately pounding his players with memories of the Jets loss two years ago.

This Patriots team is the youngest of Belichick's tenure in New England, after all. Stevan Ridley has no real history of playoff success, Chandler Jones has no postseason experience. Ditto for Dont'a Hightower. Aqib Talib has never played in the postseason. Steve Gregory has one career playoff win on his resume. Nate Solder has never had to protect Tom Brady's backside with the season on the line.

And someone like Shaughnessy can't think of even a single scenario in which the Patriots lose?

How about something like this: Ridley fumbles, as he did in the playoffs last year. Brady throws an interception, as he has now done in five straight postseason games. Gregory blows an assignment or misses a tackle, as he did with some regularity earlier in the season. Hightower looks lost, as he has from time to time. Jones disappears. (He has not had a sack since Week 8.)

Now, are all of these things likely to happen? No. But the 42-14 blowout over Houston in Week 14 was not likely, either, and another blowout is even less likely given the outcome of the first game.

Certainly, the Texas have their own issues in this game, not the least of which is quarterback Matt Schaub, whose implosion at Foxborough in Week 14 has sent him spiraling. Beginning with his wretched performance against the Patriots, Schaub has thrown one touchdown pass - that's one - in his last five games. The Houston defense has shown great vulnerability against the pass over the course of the season and the Patriots shredded the Texans in Week 14 without tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Still, the Texans won 12 regular season games this season and claimed a 13th in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt can alter a game by himself. The Texans defeated Denver, Baltimore, and Indianapolis during the season, and their team is more resilient than many think. Last season, with third-stringer T.J. Yates at quarterback, the Texans won in the wild-card round and nearly won at Baltimore in the divisional round, which speaks to the Texans' resolve.

And yet, many of us continue to sit here, two days before kickoff, showing little respect for the Texans or little thought of defeat.

Isn't at least some level of skepticism healthy?

And when did we become so cocky, so downright arrogant, that we ignored the first rule of sports.

There is a reason we actually play the games.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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