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Scouting the Matchup: Balanced Pats hold the edge

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

Although the Patriots have been able to move the ball effectively on the ground for most of the season, they failed to rush for 100 yards in each of their two losses. They ran for 90 yards during a 16-0 loss to the Bills and were held to 81 yards in a 31-24 setback against the Seahawks. The Texans, led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, have the NFL's 12th-ranked run defense but improved significantly in that area throughout the regular season. Houston surrendered at least 119 yards rushing in five of its first seven games but gave up more than 100 yards only twice in its last nine games. One of those 100-yard performances came in Week 17, when the Texans rested starters in a game that had no playoff implications. Advantage: Texans

WHEN THE TEXANS RUN

Houston's offense received a much-needed boost when running back Lamar Miller returned to the lineup last weekend after missing the final two regular-season games with an ankle injury. The Texans like to give the ball to Miller, as evidenced by his career-high 268 carries this season. He rewarded Houston by eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark (1,073) during the regular season for the second time in his career. The Texans entered the postseason ranked eighth in rushing offense. New England is tied for third in run defense and has been particularly stingy against the run lately. The Patriots failed to allow more than 75 yards rushing in five of their last six games. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

This will be strength vs. strength, as the Patriots have the NFL's No. 4 pass offense and the Texans are No. 2 against the pass. New England quarterback Tom Brady has had the most accurate season of his 17-year NFL career. Since returning from a suspension in Week 5,  Brady has thrown 28 touchdown passes and has been intercepted twice. Julian Edelman (98 receptions for 1,106 yards) has been his most reliable target, but the Patriots have five players with at least 32 receptions. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (7.5 sacks), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (six) and inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney (five) are Houston's top pass rushers. Mercilus had two sacks in last weekend's victory over the Raiders. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE TEXANS PASS

The lack of a consistent passing game has hampered Houston's offense more than anything else. The Texans finished the regular season ranked 28th in scoring (279 points), 29th in yards (5,035), 30th in passing touchdowns (15) and 31st in red-zone percentage (40.9). Although he was benched late in the season, quarterback Brock Osweiler has played well in his last two games (35 of 65 for 421 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions). Osweiler averaged the fewest yards per pass attempt (5.8) of any starting QB during the regular season. DeAndre Hopkins is the team's top receiving threat. Houston will be facing a New England defense that finished the regular season ranked 12th against the pass. Advantage: Patriots

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams, and kick coverage in particular, have been a major problem for the Texans, who ranked 28th in punt-return average (9.9) and 27th in kickoff-return average (23.6) during the regular season. The Texans surrendered a 37-yard punt return that set up a touchdown in Saturday's 27-14 victory over the Raiders. By comparison, the Patriots entered the playoffs ranked second in punt coverage (5.0) and third in kickoff coverage (19.3). Houston placekicker Nick Novak finished the regular season with 127 points - the second most of his career - and connected on 35 of his 41 field-goal attempts. He made three of his six kicks from beyond 50 yards. Advantage: Patriots

OTHER FACTORS

The Patriots enter this contest as the fresher of the two teams, as they got some extra rest by earning a first-round bye. Playing at home figures to give the Patriots a significant advantage as well, since the Texans have always had an extra-hard time playing well in New England. Houston has an 0-4 record at Gillette Stadium, and that includes a 27-0 loss in Week 3 when Jacoby Brissett was New England's quarterback. New England also beat the Texans at Gillette in 2006 (40-7) and twice during the 2012 season (42-14 and 41-28). Houston's 41-28 setback came in a divisional round playoff game. Houston coach Bill O'Brien is 0-2 against New England, and his team was outscored 54-6 in those two games. Advantage: Patriots

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