The New England Patriots are widely expected to beat the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs this coming weekend. They’re listed as a -1800 favorite at Las Vegas sportsbooks, and the point spread, which initially opened at -14.5, has soared all the way up to -17 at some books. That makes New England the biggest favorite in a playoff game since way back in 1998.
Way back in 1998, the Minnesota Vikings team that shockingly lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship was a 16 point favorite over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Round. They won by 20, but had a 17 point lead less than 20 minutes into the game.
The 1994 San Francisco 49ers were also a massive playoff favorite in two of their three postseason games that season. They were a 17.5 point favorite over the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Round, and won by 29. They went into the fourth quarter up by 34 before the Bears mustered some form of a rally.
That Niners team was also a big favorite in Super Bowl XXIX against the San Diego Chargers, winning by 23 when they came into the game as an 18 point favorite. They led by 18 at the half, and only kept pouring it on in the second half against Stan Humphries and company.
And that brings us to this Patriots-Texans matchup. Way back in Week 3, with Jacoby Brissett at the helm of the team, New England was just a one point favorite. They won 27-0, mainly thanks to a trio of turnovers by the Houston offense (two of which led to points for the Patriots). It was only a ten point game at the half, and the Texans’s stingy defense held New England to just 282 yards of offense. Of course, the circumstances were much different then – mainly, Tom Brady was suspended for the Patriots.
Brady, to his credit, didn’t think that September win held much context today.
“This is a day-to-day league. It really doesn’t matter the last time we played them, or last year, because things change so much with the game or game plan and players. Coach talks all the time, ‘It’s not who you play, it’s how you play.’ We need to play well,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” program.
“If you look at games earlier in the season against them [a 27-0 victory in Week 3], we played well. We shut them out. We did a lot of things that are winning football. We’ve done that over the course of the whole season, but none of that stuff really matters if we don’t do that this week. So you put together a process and a winning formula, and then you need to go out and execute it. And if you don’t execute it, you lose.
“I don’t think you take anything for granted. I don’t think you mail in your preparation. I think we go about it the exact same way we’ve gone about it all year — we put everything into it this week, we empty the tank in our practices, which we always do, and then you come out the end of the week with confidence and ready to go out there and show everyone that we’re prepared and we can play.”
The Texans weren’t really tested on Saturday against the walking MASH unit that was the Oakland Raiders, winning 27-14 and holding the Raiders to just 203 yards of offense. The Patriots will be a different story.
And in case you’re curious, the Falcons, Chiefs, and Cowboys are all also favored this weekend – by a combined total of ten points.