It’s funny how things in the NFL can change in just a few short weeks. The Vikings have all the Farve haters chuckling. The Saints are in disarray, having lost to the Buccaneers and Cowboys. The Colts look ripe for the plucking, and have the Patriots fans salivating at the possibility of revenging that fourth and two debacle. While New England no longer seems like the one dimensional team that, ‘just isn’t that good’- a quote that can be lifted from any Boston sportscaster. Now, the Pats have a decent running game, a more sophisticated passing attack, a curious pass rush, and a formidable offensive line. All of the pieces need to come into place in order for the Patriots to have a successful playoff run. Look for these matchups against Houston as a tune-up for the playoffs:

1. Andre Johnson vs. Patriots Secondary

The young Patriots secondary, recently infused with Shawn Springs’ and James Sanders’ experience, need to be able to step it up come playoff time. This week will be a great warm-up against Andre Johnson. He is clearly one of if not the best receivers in the league and is a handful for any secondary. The playoff run will be mired with elite receivers and the secondary need to figure out how to contain them.

2. Laurence Maroney vs. The Fumble

In order for the Patriots to have a successful playoff run, they need to have a reliable running game. Enter Laurence Maroney who is having a great season and is the team’s best running threat. However, his propensity to fumble on the goal-line has gotten him benched. What better way of regaining the team’s confidence, then to have a fumbleless performance in a meaningless game? No risk, all reward. Don’t mess up Maroney.

3. Patriots O-line vs. Texans pass rush

Sebastian Vollmer and Matt light have anchored the ends very nicely the last couple of weeks. They need to continue their good work and not let Tom Brady get hurt in a meaningless week 17 game.

4. Patriots tight ends vs. Texans Safties

Last week against the Jaguars, the Patriots finally utilized Watson and Baker in the passing game. It seems that the emergence of Vollmer has strengthened the offensive line and freed up the tight ends to venture out downfield. This new offensive wrinkle will keep defenses honest and pay dividends for the rest of the offense.

5. Ron Brace and Wright vs. Texans O-line

Second round pick Ron Brace is having a dismal rookie year and needs to show that he can provide depth on the defensive line. Brace, along with Wright and Myron Pryor need to stop the second worst running team in the league and show that they can be counted on to spell Wilfork and Warren in the playoffs.