HOUSTON — When the Texans lost 42-14 at New England on Dec. 10, CB Johnathan Joseph was slowed by hamstring and groin issues, and LB Brooks Reed sat out with a groin injury.
With both ready to go Sunday in a playoff rematch, Houston believes its defense will be much stronger.
"I can probably say this is the best I've felt all year," said Joseph, who often shadows the opponent's best receiver. "(Dec. 10) I was good enough to play, but I wasn't at my best. Right now I can say I'm 100 percent."
Reed, a second-year player, started 12 games during the regular season. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called him a "physical force."
"He's obviously a good player," Phillips said. "But I think just his physicality really helps us as far as our mental toughness overall as a defensive unit."
Reed had a sack last week against the Bengals and has at least one in each of the three postseason games in Texans history. His best playoff performance came last season in a division round loss to the Ravens, when he had 2½ sacks.
"Now it's a little bit different," Reed said of the second matchup against the Patriots. "So I'll be out there and try to make plays of my own."
Patriots: The Patriots have spent all week maintaining their rout of the Texans means nothing Sunday. Coach Bill Belichick went so far as to call any connection "meaningless" and "a bunch of garbage."
New England learned its lesson two years ago. It beat the Jets 45-3 in Week 13. Six weeks later, in a division game in Foxborough, the Jets won 28-21.
The Patriots remember that well, even if they refuse to acknowledge it.
"No one has really brought it up," QB Tom Brady said. Said WR Deion Branch: "I promise you we don't think about that."
Broncos: After beating the Colts last weekend, Ravens WR Anquan Boldin said he was glad to get another shot at the Broncos, who won the teams' regular-season meeting 34-17. The Broncos shrugged it off.
"We beat them," CB Chris Harris said. "So of course they want to play us again."
Said RB Knowshon Moreno: "It's going to be a tough game. It's not going to be easy."
But some Broncos fans are ready to talk trash before what could be the final game of Ravens LB Ray Lewis' career. (Lewis missed the regular-season matchup with a torn triceps.) Read a marquee at a hotel near the Broncos' stadium: "Join us for Ray Lewis' retirement party."
Ravens: LG Jah Reid went on injured reserve with a toe injury. He started seven games this season but sat out last week. Rookie cornerback and special teams player Asa Jackson was activated to take his spot on the roster. Jackson returned this week after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.