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Dan Shaughnessy

Patriots look like they’re heading to Super Bowl

WesWelker cradles the ball as he hits the deck inside the 5-yard line after giving Houston defensive back Kareem Jackson (25) the slip. The play set up the Patriots’ first touchdown.

JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

WesWelker cradles the ball as he hits the deck inside the 5-yard line after giving Houston defensive back Kareem Jackson (25) the slip. The play set up the Patriots’ first touchdown.

FOXBOROUGH — The Falcons don’t scare me a bit. The Niners could provide some resistance and we’ll get a look at them this weekend. But if you really want to know the truth, the team that scares me in Super Bowl XLVII is the . . . New York Giants.

Sorry for the buzzkill. But the Giants are on my mind today.

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The Patriots are going to play in the Super Bowl Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Nobody in the AFC is better than New England. Not this year.

If the playoffs started today, the AFC contenders — in addition to the Patriots — would be the Broncos, Ravens, Colts, Steelers, and Texans.

None of them can beat the Patriots. The Ravens already beat the Patriots by a point, but that was three months ago and Baltimore may lose the rest of its games. The Patriots have not played the Steelers, who lost a terrible game last weekend. The Patriots routed the Broncos (never mind the 31-21 final, it was a blowout) and the Colts.

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And Monday night the Patriots exposed the Houston Texans as 11-1 frauds of the highest order. It was 21-0 after 19 minutes. It was 28-0 after five minutes of the third quarter. It was 35-7 in the first minute of the fourth quarter. It was 42-7 when both starting quarterbacks exited. The final was 42-14.

“We got good contributions from everybody,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, who seemed to know this might happen. “We played a good, solid football game in all three phases.’’

This was a statement game. Monday Night Football. In December. Houston’s veteran wideout Andre Johnson said it was the biggest game in the history of the franchise. The clueless Texans wore matching letter jackets for the trip to New England and then played like a high school team.

Shock and awe. What a beating. If Howard Cosell were still alive, he’d have been speechless.

This was supposed to be a chance for the Texans to establish themselves as legitimate NFL contenders. This was supposed to be a coming-out game for the “other” team from the Lone Star State.

Instead it was a beatdown. From the jump.

Belichick was unusually relaxed. He took time from his pregame routine to chat up Marky Mark Wahlberg and Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the sideline. It was as if he knew something the rest of us did not know.

Everything went according to the playbook right from the start. The Patriots won the coin flip (shocker), then deferred (another shocker).

It was an amazing 59 degrees at kickoff and Gillette Stadium was full. No one could remember a game starting with almost every red seat occupied in the Gatsby level.

The Texans had a 12-yard run by Arian Foster nullified on their first play from scrimmage because of an illegal formation. You’ve got to wonder about a team’s game preparation when there’s an illegal formation on the first play from scrimmage.

Great coverage by Kyle Arrington stopped the Texans on third and 6 on Houston’s first series and the visitors were forced to punt.

After the Patriots marched to the Houston 4 on their first drive, Steven Ridley fumbled the football. This was Houston’s big chance, but Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson failed to scoop the free ball and Aaron Hernandez recovered for New England. On the next play, Tom Brady connected with Hernandez on a 7-yard touchdown pass and it was 7-0 with less than six minutes gone.

This is what happens to otherwise good teams when they see the Patriots. They wet themselves. They blow opportunities, then the Patriots make them pay.

On the ensuing drive, Houston moved to the New England 21-yard line, but Matt Schaub was intercepted by Devin McCourty on the goal line. It was a great play by the Patriots cornerback, who came from the far side of the end zone to make the pick.

Six plays later, Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd on an amazingly easy 37-yard touchdown pass and it was 14-0 with 2:49 left in the first quarter.

When, oh when, will they ever learn?

In the fourth minute of the second quarter, a 4-yard Brady-to-Hernandez TD strike made it 21-0.

Party on.

Excellent.

The Patriots were so good in the first half, they took the life out of their own crowd. With eight minutes to go in the second quarter, Gillette sounded like the inside of a church. On Tuesday morning.

With 9:48 left in the third, Brady hit Donte “Welcome Back” Stallworth with a 63-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-0. An 11-1 team has limited experience trailing, 28-0. And it showed.

The ultimate Patriots moment came at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Danny Woodhead fumbled the ball forward, and it plopped into the end zone, where it was covered by Lloyd for an easy touchdown. The Patriots are not only good. They are lucky.

“It was a good game,’’ said Brady (21 for 35, 296 yards, four TD passes, zero interceptions, new baby girl at home). “We’ve played in a lot of big games here. Monday night in December is important. I think we can use it as something to build on. This has been a great week. This was a great way to end it.’’

The Patriots have won seven in a row. They have won 13 straight in recent Decembers. They are 21-0 in the second halves of their last three NFL regular seasons. They are 81-16 at home (including playoffs) since 2002. They are going to get a first-round bye. The worst scenario would have them going to Houston for the AFC Championship game.

“Whatever happens, we’ve got to move on, and we will,’’ said Belichick.

Going to Houston doesn’t scare anybody in New England. The Texans turtled like everybody else who plays New England.

Except maybe the Giants.

See you in New Orleans. It’s 11 years since the Patriots won the first one there.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.
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