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Traps have had no bearing on Patriots' performances

FOXBOROUGH -- Wile E. Coyote could not have designed a better trap for the Road Runner than the league's schedule makers have for the Patriots.

Here are the Houston Texans, positioned between an emotional, prime-time affair with the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday and what already is viewed as the game of the year a week from today in Indianapolis, concealed by a 4-6 record and the "second-year expansion franchise" label. Guaranteed foolproof.

Except that the Patriots have a little something in common with the Road Runner: They avoid traps. Whereas good fortune protects and preserves the Road Runner, the Patriots depend on their good sense to avoid them altogether. They watch their steps. So they never get caught slipping.

The Patriots aren't looking ahead to the Colts. We can say that with authority not because we're in each of their heads, but because over the course of three-plus seasons under Bill Belichick they've never been guilty of overlooking an opponent, and they don't suffer letdowns.

Late in the 2001 season, the Browns following the Jets and preceding the Bills could have been considered a trap game. So could lowly Carolina to end the season, even though a first-round bye was at stake. The Patriots could have taken the harmless Bears lightly last year; pretty much everyone else did. But they didn't and they don't because they give what they feel they don't get enough of: respect. And they win.

The Patriots respect the Texans for beating the Bills in Buffalo a week ago, 12-10. New England can't match that; the Patriots took a beating in Buffalo in Week 1, 31-0. On opening day, Houston accomplished in its second year what the Patriots did for the first time last month: beat the Dolphins in Miami in September or October. The Texans beat one of the best teams in the NFC, Carolina. They played it close with one of the best teams in the league, the Chiefs.

"Records don't mean anything," Belichick said. "It doesn't mean anything. Carolina was 6-1 and Houston went in there and beat them. They didn't care about Carolina being 6-1 or anything else. It came down to how the game was played that day and the way that it was played that day, the Texans played better. This game is about how we play it and how Houston plays it. It doesn't matter what their record is. It doesn't matter what our record is. Nothing in the past really has any bearing on this game, it will just be the performance [today]."

Houston will be without its starting quarterback, David Carr (doubtful, shoulder), but has several elite performers who can make up for their star's absence. The Texans' top receivers -- Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford, and Jabar Gaffney -- all can be showstoppers. Rookie Domanick Davis has rushed for 100 yards in three of his six starts. And did you know that Tony Banks once threw five touchdown passes in a game?

The way New England is hurting, particularly at receiver, not only could this be a close game, but Houston could very well make the Patriots look like the 4-6 team.

"They're a tough team," said Belichick. "This is a team that has plenty of talent." The Patriots want a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Today is another step toward earning it. . . .

The Patriots receivers who were listed as questionable -- Deion Branch (ankle), Troy Brown (leg), and David Givens (leg) -- all made the trip and likely will be game-time decisions . . . The Patriots waived receiver Jamin Elliott and signed safety Shawn Mayer from the practice squad.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 8 2 0 .800 19.6 15.5
Dolphins 6 4 0 .600 17.7 14.7
Bills 4 6 0 .400 15.9 17.0
Jets 3 7 0 .300 19.7 21.1
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