FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots runs the ball for a first down against the Houston Texans in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 10, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Game time: Sunday, Jan. 12, 4:30 p.m. ET, Gillette Stadium
Weather: low 50s, rain possible
Records: Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4)
1. Can the Patriots slow down JJ Watt?
If this question sounds familiar, it should: it's the same one we asked six weeks ago ahead of the first matchup between these two teams. At the time we noted, "It will be a great test for an offensive line that has done a good but not great job of protecting Tom Brady this season." By the time it was over, Tom Brady had completed 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards with 4 TDs and zero picks. He also wasn't sacked on, and Watt managed just two tackles (though he did force a Danny Woodhead fumble -- rhat was recovered by Brandon Lloyd). On Wednesday, Watt said "You can learn a lot (from the last game)." We'll just how much on Sunday afternoon.
2. Can the Patriots slow down Arian Foster?
Again, we asked this question in mid-December, and again, New England's sometimes maligned defense was up to the challenge. Foster had 15 carries for 46 yards, and a meaningless third-quarter touchdown. But Foster has motivation this time, thanks to Boston Globe columnists Dan Shaughnessy. Foster, like Pats coach Bill Belichick, isn't putting much stock in the first game between the two teams. "All it takes is one week to turn things around in the NFL and we did that," Foster said after the Texans' wild-card win over the Bengals. "We like to run the ball, we like to play good defense. ... We're happy, but we've been here before so we know what to expect."
3. Will the weather be a factor?
The Texans play in -- duh -- Texas, and on top of that, their stadium has a retractable roof. Two of their four losses came on the road (New England, Indy), but Sunday's rematch with the Patriots will provide the toughest weather conditions, too. It's expected to be in the low 50s, mostly cloudy with 8 to 10 mph winds, and a 20-percent chance of rain. Given the time of year and location, circumstances could be much worse, but New England is accustomed to inclement weather. The Texans, much like the Buccaneers of the early 2000s, are seen as a fair-weather team (literally) and until they prove otherwise, that perception will remain.