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Inside the Matchup
Divsional Playoffs

By: Bill Andereson | Sal Marcoccio | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 46 18 71.9
2 Anderson 45 20 69.2
3 Smith 43 22 66.2
4 Marcoccio 37 26 58.7

BAL @ DEN | GB @ SF | SEA @ ATL | HOU @ NE

Ravens @ Broncos - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Before the season started, Joe Flacco declared himself a top 5 quarterback in anticipation of being paid like one. Turns out he was wrong and he is what we thought he was all along: an average quarterback that wins games due to the strength of the team around him. To his credit, he has brought his team to the playoffs all five seasons he’s been in the NFL and is 5-0 in the team’s first playoff game each season, including last week’s win over Andrew Luck and the Colts. Flacco has some nice weapons at his disposal, including Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice out of the backfield, but he can be terribly inconsistent because he looks for big plays downfield more than he should. Boldin doesn’t look the same as he did in his heyday—he no longer has his once deadly run-after-the-catch abilities—but he’s still a big dependable target that can use his size and strength to shield off defenders. And he's coming off a monster game in the wildcard round. Smith is one of the best deep threats in the league, but he has not rounded out his game enough to make him useful when the big plays aren’t connecting. The Ravens' biggest weapon is Rice, arguably even when discussing the passing game, as highlighted by his 47-yard reception on a screen pass last week.

Even at his advanced age of 34, Champ Bailey is still one of the best cover corners in the league. He may face some difficulties this week, however, with Boldin’s strength and Smith’s speed, but he should be able to hold his own for the most part. Overall, Denver was the third-ranked pass defense during the regular season, limiting opponents to less than 200 yards per game. However, they did allow 25 passing touchdowns on the season. They should be able to apply some pressure on Flacco—after leading the league in sacks with 52, with second-year outside linebacker Von Miller accruing 18.5 himself. Flacco is awkward when trying to escape pressure, but with his size and surprising mobility he can keep plays alive.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice uncharacteristically fumbled twice last week, and the Ravens were lucky to come away unscathed by the turnovers. Rice flashed big-play ability, but it was rookie Bernard Pierce who saw an increase in snaps and gained over 100 yards on the day. John Harbaugh claims that Peirce’s involvement was not the result of Rice being benched for his fumbles, but the rookie likely earned a bigger piece of the pie this week with his impressive running. Pierce has very good speed for a back his size, but it won’t be easy for the Ravens to keep Rice off the field once he establishes that his ball security will not be an issue. Rice isn’t quite as fast as Pierce, but his outstanding vision, balance, and fluid hips allow him to run effectively inside and find open space.

The Broncos were also a top 3 run defense this season—limiting the opposition to 91.1 yards per game and only five rushing touchdowns. Wesley Woodyard has thrived in Johns Fox’ system and should be an active member of the Broncos defense in a game where the Ravens should look to control the clock on the road.

Joe Flacco: 265 yds passing 3 TDs, 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 65 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacoby Jones: 10 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Ray Rice: 85 rush yds / 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Bernard Pierce: 40 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After missing all of last season following multiple neck surgeries, Peyton Manning will make his playoff debut as a Bronco after compiling an MVP-caliber season that saw the 36-year-old throw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. Manning admitted to still feeling some effects from his neck injury and has been wearing a glove on his throwing hand because he’s lost some of his grip strength. It’s obviously not been an issue though. While Manning had future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne for most of his career in Indianapolis, he never played with a receiver as physically dominating as Demaryius Thomas, the 6’3” speedster out of Georgia Tech. Thomas finished with over 1,400 receiving yards on the season and is a tough cover for any cornerback in the league. On the other side is Eric Decker, who tied James Jones for the league lead in touchdown receptions with 13. Decker is also a big target at 6’3” and can also get downfield against most corners.

The once mighty Ravens defense isn’t what it used to be, but it still has more than a few players that opposing offenses must contend with. The Ravens dropped to mid-pack in pass defense, allowing 228.1 passing yards per game but were second to only Atlanta in passing touchdowns allowed, with 15 on the season. Ed Reed may have lost a step but is still one of the biggest playmakers on the defensive side in football and will be looking to capitalize on any mistakes Manning makes.

Running Game Thoughts: Former Georgia Bulldog and New Jersey high school product Knowshon Moreno saw his career revived once veteran Willis McGahee was forced to the IR (designated to return). Moreno was inactive for a majority of the early season after the coaching staff felt perhaps he wasn’t fully recovered from his ACL tear. But he was then surprisingly shuffled to the top of the depth chart when McGahee went down. Moreno responded by looking better than he ever has, breaking 100 yards in four of his six starts and being a dependable weapon for the Broncos stretch run.

The Ravens reputation as a hard-hitting, stingy run defense took a hit itself this season, as the team allowed 122.8 yards per game and 15 rushing touchdowns on the ground. Ray Lewis returned from his arm injury wearing a brace last week, and while he provides an emotional lift for the team, on the field he’s a shell of his former self.

Peyton Manning: 295 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Stokley: 25 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 25 rec yds
Knowshon Moreno: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Ravens 31, Broncos 24 ^ Top

Packers @ 49ers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: With a full complement of pass catchers last week, Aaron Rodgers had a very efficient game against the Vikings, throwing for 274 yards (8.3 yds/att) and one touchdown (0 INT) in a blowout win in which the passing game let off the gas a bit in the fourth quarter. For the season, the Packers passing attack was one of the very best despite an array of injuries to a number of their receivers. Rodgers and the Packers ranked among the top 10 in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and interceptions. The one weak point the Packers had was giving up sacks—they allowed the second most. Comparatively, the 49ers defense was a top 10 passing defense in most categories including passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. With one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps today, the Packers should be able to throw on anyone because they go five deep in quality receivers and have the talent at quarterback to get those receivers the ball. On the injury front, both Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley are banged up but both are expected to play in this crucial game. While the passing yardage numbers should be there this week, this specific matchup comes down to two major things: pressure on Rodgers and the big play.

As far as pressuring the quarterback, the 49ers have the advantage because the Packers give up a ton of sacks, the 49ers rank 11th in sacks, and they have the league’s second leading pass rusher in linebacker Aldon Smith. While the 49ers should put a good amount of pressure on Rodgers, it's not as bad as it looks on paper for two reasons. First, other than Smith, the 49ers do not have a player in the top 40 in sacks, so the Packers should be focusing on helping out on blocking Smith. Second, the 49ers' best defensive lineman, Justin Smith, is banged up with a triceps injury and may not demand the double-teams he usually does, freeing up another guy to block the rush. As far as the big play goes, the 49ers are one of the best at stopping big plays. The longest they gave up all year was 53 yards (tied for best). Of course the Packers have the personnel to go deep at any time and will likely test the Niners deep a lot to keep them honest on the underneath routes. In their first matchup this year, the Niners held Rodgers to 6.9 yards per attempt— almost a full yard less than his season average. If the line can give Rodgers a bit more time in the pocket, it will up his chances at completing the big play downfield, so protection is a real key in this game. In fact, I believe it will have the biggest impact on the game. I give the advantage here to the Packers, who are just too deep and talented to be held in check for any significant part of the game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers do not pretend to be a running team. Still, in a blowout win, you would expect them to muster a bit more than 76 yards on the ground, especially on 31 carries (2.5 ypc). That is exactly what they put up last week against the Vikings, who on the season were a great run defense, but not as great as this week’s opponent. On the year, San Francisco was fourth best in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed, and third best in yards per carry allowed. When these two teams met in Week 1, the 49ers held the Packers to just 45 yards on the ground, with Aaron Rodgers being the team’s leading rusher. This total was the second lowest the 49ers allowed all season, and that was a home game for the Packers and they had running back Cedric Benson.

While the 49ers clearly have the advantage in this specific area, it is not all doom and gloom for the Packers. Justin Smith is going to try to play with a triceps injury that many say should have put him out for longer, so he will be nowhere near as effective as normal. Also, another small but hopeful bright spot for the Packers is the recent emergence of running back DuJuan Harris, who the 49ers have not yet faced and have limited tape on which to judge him. Harris is certainly not the next coming of Barry Sanders, but he has shown nice quickness on the edges and more power than one would expect from the smaller back that he is. Harris also offers a more than other Packers backs in the pass game— he actually led the team in receiving last week with five catches and was second in yards with 53. As for the other backs, Ryan Grant was virtually invisible last week (7 car, 7 yds), Alex Green was literally invisible (0 car), and James Starks is still injured, although he may make a return this week in limited action. While the injury to Smith and the emergence of Harris will not swing the advantage in favor of the Packers run game, it at least gives them something to attack and a new wrinkle that the 49ers must adjust to and plan for. Overall, however, this particular matchup will easily be won by the 49ers.

Aaron Rodgers: 290 pass yds, 3 TDs, 10 rush yds
Randall Cobb: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 50 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 45 rec yds
DuJuan Harris: 35 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While Colin Kaepernick didn’t play much of a role the first time these teams met this year, the starting job is all his now and he is coming into these playoffs hot, throwing for a total of 741 yards and seven touchdowns in his last three games. The main beneficiary of Kaepernick’s production has clearly been wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who is having a career year and has 35 catches, 538 yards, and four touchdowns in his last five games, or roughly two-thirds of the total production he had in all 16 games in 2011. While the 49ers finished the year with more rushing than passing attempts, and still prefer the run over the pass, Kaepernick has struck fear into opposing defenses as not only a quarterback capable of running, but also as one who looks deep downfield and is very capable of throwing it there. Of quarterbacks who have attempted 200 or more throws this year, Kaepernick is first, with 8.32 yards per attempt. The combination of a strong run game, a mobile quarterback, and a downfield passing attack has boosted the San Fran offense into a scoring machine that averages over 26 points per game since Kaepernick took over as the starter.

The Packers may be known most for their passing offense, but their passing defense has been quite effective all year as well. For the season, they rank 11th in passing yards allowed, fourth in sacks, eighth in interceptions, and fourth in completion percentage allowed. While these numbers are certainly impressive on their own, perhaps even scarier for the 49ers is the fact that two of the Packers' better defenders, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, missed a combined 14 games during the year but are both now playing at a high level again. A couple of things lead me to believe that the Packers defense will have a slight advantage in this matchup. First, while Kaepernick has a decent completion percentage on the year (62%), the Packers are good at forcing opponents into bad throws. And anyone who has watched Kaepernick this season knows that when he does miss on a throw, he really misses, often by several yards. This not only means a loss of downs, but also possible turnovers, of which the Packers are good at creating. Second, while Crabtree has been excellent for the Niners, the Packers are pretty good at taking away opponents’ first receiving option, and thus far Kaepernick has not really had much chemistry with his other receivers. For instance, tight end Vernon Davis has virtually disappeared the past five games (6 rec, 0 TDs). Finally, the intangibles of this game should not be taken lightly, as the Packers boast a veteran, playoff-tested defense and Kaepernick will be making his playoff debut with a good amount of pressure on him not to blow it like the team did last year. While the 49ers may be fairly efficient on offense and Kaepernick is bound to make a couple of highlight reel plays in the passing game, the Packers defense is smart, gritty, opportunistic, and knows how to bring the heat and make big plays themselves. I give this specific matchup to the Packers defense. Even if it's not by a landslide, it should be enough to influence the game significantly.

Running Game Thoughts: The 49ers rushing attack is one of the scarier units for opposing defenses to face for a few reasons. First, they attack with multiple players who have very different skill sets. Frank Gore leads the way with great vision, nice power, and deceptive speed. Then they have LaMichael James, who though small is as quick and fast as they come, with ankle-breaking moves in the open field. Finally, the San Francisco rushing attack also features Kaepernick, who is a threat to run on any play and even gets a handful of designed carries each game, where he uses his long strides and surprising speed as another weapon. In addition, the 49ers are not afraid to wear down their opponent with the run, something their elite defense affords them the ability to do. This season they were seventh in rushing attempts and ran the ball more often and with more yards and touchdowns in the fourth quarter than any other quarter.

All this might not matter much if the team they were facing were an elite run defense, but unfortunately for the Packers, they are not. They finished 17th in rushing yards allowed this year and even worse in yards per rush (26th). Worse yet for the Packers, in their previous meeting the 49ers ran for 186 yards— nearly 70 more than the Packers defense allowed on average. In that game, Alex Smith—much less of a running threat—was the starting quarterback, so it could be much worse this time around for the Green Bay defense. While the Packers run defense was far from great overall, their numbers are a bit skewed by a handful of games, namely two against the Vikings, where Adrian Peterson and company ran for a total of more than 400 yards. Of course, with Peterson in the equation, it all depends on how you look at it. Is the defense highly susceptible to giving up huge numbers on the ground, or could Peterson have done that to anyone? I tend to lean toward the latter, as the defense did step up last week and is a veteran group who elevate their play come playoff time. While a handful of games were very ugly, they did manage to hold individual running backs to under 100 yards 13 times this season. That includes last week against Peterson as well as a nine-game stretch in the middle of the season. While I certainly think the 49ers have the personnel and game plan to win this individual matchup, I don't see it being by that much. This is an aggressive and hungry Packers defense capable of slowing down opposing rushers to a manageable level.

Colin Kaepernick: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 30 rush yds
Frank Gore: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Michael Crabtree: 70 rec yds
Randy Moss: 45 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 27, 49ers 23

Seahawks @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: As good as Russell Wilson was this season, the Seattle passing attack is not a dynamic one. They ranked 27th in passing offense, which was just slightly ahead of Arizona, and we all know the troubles the Cardinals went through with their quarterbacks. Wilson was 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy points, yet he had just one wideout in the top-30 in fantasy scoring, and that was Sidney Rice. No Seattle wideout amassed even 750 receiving yards, and their tight ends were basically non-existent. This is a running team, and though fantasy owners should consider Wilson, the rest of the team’s passing offense should be left out of fantasy lineups, especially against an Atlanta team that kept opposing wideouts out of the end zone.

Though the Falcons ranked 23rd in pass defense during the regular season, no team gave up fewer passing scores through the air. Due to their stinginess in keeping passes from connecting in the end zone, Atlanta gave up the 11th-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and the ninth-fewest to wideouts, but the ninth-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The Seahawks may not have had a dynamic passing attack, but their running game more than made up for it. They ranked third in rushing offense for the year, with Wilson gaining nearly 500 yards and Marshawn Lynch running for almost 1,600. Lynch was fourth among running backs in fantasy points and scored 11 times on the ground. If he was more of a pass-catching threat, he’d be higher on the list, but as it is, fantasy owners can start him with confidence against a Falcons team that couldn’t stop running backs very effectively.

Atlanta did not have much success defending the opposition’s ground game during the 2012 regular season. They ranked 21st in run defense, which isn’t terrible, yet tied for eighth-most rushing scores allowed and yielded a YPC average of 4.8, which was fourth-worst in the NFL. Consequently, only nine teams in the league gave up more fantasy points to running backs than the Falcons.

Russell Wilson: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 40 rush yds
Sidney Rice: 65 rec yds
Golden Tate: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 35 rec yds
Zach Miller: 20 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 115 rush yds, 2 TD / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Falcons have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL, with Matt Ryan having a breakthrough season. He threw for more than 4,700 yards to go with 32 touchdowns and ranked fifth at his position in fantasy points. Ryan was one of four Atlanta players to rank in the top-10 at their position in fantasy scoring, along with Tony Gonzalez (third), Julio Jones (ninth), and Roddy White (tenth). Among that trio, we have the most confidence in Gonzalez to have a good game, because Seattle’s secondary is maybe the only one in the NFL with the size to match up with Jones and White.

Just five teams surrendered fewer passing yards than the Seahawks during the regular season and only the Falcons gave up fewer passing touchdowns. The combination of holding teams from accumulating yards or scores meant that opposing players had difficulty acquiring fantasy points against Seattle. As such, they allowed the second-fewest points in the league to quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner ended the season ranked 18th in fantasy scoring among running backs, but that was almost entirely on the strength of his 10 touchdowns. He ran for 803 yards this season, and in four of his last eight games had fewer than 20 rushing yards, and accumulated less than 55 yards in all but one of those contests. Turner also isn’t a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, so his fantasy value is limited, in part due to his production and in part due to his opponent.

Seattle’s defense wasn’t quite as good against the run as they were against the pass, but they were still solid. The Seahawks ranked 10th in rush defense during the regular season and allowed the fifth-fewest scores, but were ranked 23rd in YPC allowed. It’s odd that they’d give up such a high YPC average, but consider that last week they held Alfred Morris to 80 yards, yet he ran for 5.0 yards per tote.

Matt Ryan: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Tony Gonzalez: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 70 rec yds
Roddy White: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 25 rec yds
Michael Turner: 50 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 24, Seahawks 21

Texans @ Patriots - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After blowing games in Weeks 16 and 17 that would have given them a first-round bye, the Texans came reeling into the playoffs. With Matt Schaub having thrown only one touchdown over his previous four games, the team simply wasn’t moving the ball down the field enough to put the kind of points on the board that they had early in the year. For Houston fans, it was good to see a win on the board on Wild-Card Weekend as Schaub completed 29 of his 38 pass attempts for 262 yards. Tight end Owen Daniels led all Texans receivers across the board, catching nine passes for 91 yards, while Andre Johnson added 62 yards on four catches. Unfortunately, Schaub failed to throw a touchdown yet again, adding an interception in the process, which doesn’t exactly give us a whole lot of confidence going into the second round of the playoffs.

As if Schaub’s string of mediocre performances wasn’t enough, the Texans were humiliated on national television when these two teams met back in Week 14, as they lost the game 14-42 in New England. They head back to Gillette Stadium this Sunday and will be hungry to improve on what might have been their worst game of the regular season. During that contest, Schaub went just 19 of 32 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Only Johnson, who caught eight passes for 95 yards on his 10 targets, was a quality fantasy option in that blowout loss. What’s odd about this matchup is that the Patriots haven’t been great against opposing quarterbacks this season, yet they’ve peaked when it has counted. Since Week 12, New England has allowed only one team to throw for more than one touchdown against them in a game. With Schaub struggling to put the ball in his receivers’ hands in the end zone and the Patriots looking good on defense, this could be a tough day for the AFC South champions.

Running Game Thoughts: On a weekend when fantasy performances from meaningful players were hard to come by, we should have expected that the tried and true Houston running game would come through. Arian Foster was back to being the man as he destroyed the Cincinnati defense to the tune of 140 rushing yards and a score. He also added eight receptions for 34 yards. The performance was Foster’s 10th of the season with more than 100 total yards, and it marked the 13th game in which he scored at least one touchdown this season. When it comes to fantasy consistency, it just doesn’t get better than Foster.

If there’s a negative to be said about Foster, it’s that his production has slowed down a bit toward the end of the year when comparing it to the pace he started at. Although he has scored a touchdown in most of these games, Foster broke the 100-yard mark only once in his final five contests, failing to reach even 50 yards on the ground in three of those games. One of those performances came in Week 14 against the Patriots, who held him to just 46 rushing yards on 15 carries. He did get into the end zone that day and added 39 yards as a receiver, but the concern that the Patriots might get out to an early lead this week as they did in the previous game is certainly there. If that happens, don’t expect a whole lot out of Foster. Thankfully, Houston did look better this past weekend than they have in recent weeks, so if you didn’t use him in Week 1 of your weekly playoff league, this is probably the time get Foster in your lineup. The Patriots are as much as 10 point favorites to win this one, so you’ll want to get some production out of Foster before the Texans are eliminated from contention.

Matt Schaub: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 25 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 50 rec yds
Arian Foster: 85 rush yds, 2 TD, 35 rec yds
Ben Tate: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Yet another great season has Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in serious consideration for his third NFL MVP award. Brady finished with a staggering 34-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, cracking the 4,800-yard mark for the third time in his career. He also added a career-high four rushing touchdowns. What’s even more impressive is that he did this with major injuries to two of his favorite targets, tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who missed a combined 11 full games. With both players now healthy, the Patriots offense might be better now than it has been at any point this season. That’s terrifying, especially considering that they led the league in scoring, outscoring the next closest team (Denver) by 76 points on the year.

While the Patriots offense has become more balanced this season, there’s no denying that the buck stops with Brady and the passing game. When he’s on, this is one of the greatest offenses in the history of the league. They proved that back in Week 14 when they devastated a good Texans defense, dropping 42 points on them, including 28 points on four Brady touchdown passes before the Texans even got on the scoreboard. The game could have been even more out of control if they had kept their foot on the gas pedal. Aaron Hernandez scored twice in that contest and Rob Gronkowski didn’t even play, so the Texans will have a huge task in front of them if they hope to make this a game. J.J. Watt, one of the top contenders for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, will have a lot riding on his ability to rush the pass. We’ve seen that Brady can struggle when pressured, so Watt forcing him into some mistakes, or at least keeping the offense out of rhythm, might be the only chance Houston has of keeping this high-powered offense in check.

Running Game Thoughts: It may not have been quite as dominant as their passing game, but the rushing attack in New England was surprisingly solid in 2012. The emergence of Steven Ridley was predicted by many, but his consistency throughout the year has to be appreciated. The Patriots running back rushed for at least 80 yards or a touchdown in 11 of Ridley's 16 games this year, including a nice Week 17 performance in which he beat up the Texans for two touchdowns in the fantasy playoffs. Despite a crowded backfield—which has seen the likes of Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen have nice days—Ridley has been the one constant. His 1,263 rushing yards were the best of any New England running back since all the way back in 2004 when Corey Dillon rushed for more than 1,600 yards. The Patriots just know how to use their players. Ridley has been the workhorse back, Woodhead the scat-back receiver out of the backfield, Vereen the change-of-pace back, and Bolden the clean-up back when games are out of reach (other than during his suspension).

This four-back system has worked for the team all year, and it might shock some to learn that the Patriots actually ran the ball the second-most of any team in the league this season, at about 32 attempts per game. This has come largely because their offense has been so productive in the first half of games that they’ve turned to the running game in the second half. They did this back in Week 14 during their beatdown on Houston. Once they got out to a large lead, the Patriots leaned on their running game late. Despite being up 35- 7 with only about seven minutes left in the game, Stevan Ridley stayed in the game and scored a touchdown, giving him yet another nice fantasy day. The Texans were great against the run for most of the year and didn’t even allow a rushing touchdown until Week 12. But they allowed five rushing scores in their final six games, so they’re not quite as hot now as they were early in the year. Expect the Patriots to pass plenty, but they will likely test the Texans run defense early and often, hoping to slow down the pass rush of J.J. Watt in the process.

Tom Brady: 270 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Wes Welker: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Lloyd: 40 rec yds
Donte Stallworth: 30 rec yds
Rob Gronkowski: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 50 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 10 rush yds, 25 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots: 34, Texans 24