Hous­ton a huge (151⁄2 points) un­der­dog

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NFL - By Dave Skretta Dave Skretta is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — The Hous­ton Tex­ans face an enor­mous chal­lenge against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots on Satur­day night.

The Tex­ans are 1-7 against the Pa­tri­ots. They are win­less in New Eng­land all time, in­clud­ing a shutout loss ear­lier this sea­son when Tom Brady was out be­cause of a sus­pen­sion.

The Pa­tri­ots en­ter the game as 151⁄2-point fa­vorites over the vis­it­ing Tex­ans — just the sixth time since 1966 that a team has been fa­vored by at least 15 points in a play­off game.

In the five pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions only one un­der­dog — the New York Jets in Joe Na­math’s Su­per Bowl guar­an­tee — won the game.

New Eng­land says it isn’t tak­ing any­thing for granted in its matchup against the NFL’s topranked de­fense.

But how does Hous­ton, which lost 27-0 in Week 3 to a Pa­tri­ots team with­out Brady, go about beat­ing a team that is one of the big­gest fa­vorites in play­off his­tory?

“The first thing that jumps out, you have to pro­tect the ball. If you are go­ing to beat the Pa­tri­ots, es­pe­cially in Foxbor­ough, you can’t have any turnovers,” Tex­ans quar­ter­back Brock Osweiler said. “If you have turnovers, you are giv­ing Tom ad­di­tional chances to score points ... and that’s never go­ing to be good for your foot­ball team.”

That will be eas­ier said than done against a Pa­tri­ots de­fense that has been cre­at­ing turnovers at a high rate dur­ing a se­v­engame win streak.

New Eng­land’s de­fense went three straight weeks in the mid­dle of the sea­son with­out forc­ing a turnover, but had 14 of its 23 to­tal take­aways over the fi­nal six games.

The Tex­ans turned the ball over three times in the first meet­ing. Two of the turnovers — fum­bles on kick­offs — led to 14 points.

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