Kansas City Chiefs (11-5 SU, 8-8 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS)
AFC Wild Card Playoff Round
Date/Time: Saturday, January 9, 2016 at 4:20PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: KC -3.5/HOU +3.5
Over/Under Total: 40
The NFL wild card playoffs begin on Saturday, as the Kansas City Chiefs come into NRG Stadium to face the Houston Texans to begin the postseason.
Both teams deserve a lot of credit for turning around their seasons to get here. Houston started off 1-4, while the Chiefs were 1-5 after 6 games. The Chiefs are in the midst of a 10-game win streak, which allowed them to finish the season 11-5. Houston, meanwhile, took the AFC South on the strength of winning 8 of their last 11 games. The Texans finished the regular season on a positive note, beating Jacksonville, 30-6, Kansas City also ended the season well, beating Oakland, 23-17, on Sunday.
On the surface, we see a normal-enough-looking game, but it’s important to gauge the manner in which both teams arrived to this position. The character, strength of coaching, self-belief, and resolve shown to reverse form so drastically is something that will resonate in this game, as neither team will be easily dissuaded. Houston really looked lost at sea. Their QB situation was a mess and nothing was working. Brian Hoyer became the starter, the defense played well, and they managed a 9-7 record—not bad at all. Kansas City’s turnaround was one of the best ever seen in this league. For a 1-5 team to win 10 straight games is truly amazing. What makes it even more surprising is that they did it after losing their best offensive player in Jamaal Charles.
Basing a pick on previous performances can be a dicey undertaking, but these teams did meet in week one, with Kansas City winning 27-20. They built a big 27-6 lead, with the Texans coming on late. But with the different transformations both teams have gone through over the season, it’s iffy whether week one even matters at this point. But Kansas City did match up well with Houston, with a big first half offensive showing. Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce caught two TD passes, while Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins also caught a pair of TD scores.
For Houston to make it work with Brian Hoyer behind center with a cast of playmakers on offense that is lacking firepower really speaks volumes to how this team gets the most of what they have. Hoyer is a guy who has been handed off from one team to the next, but showed himself to be a serviceable starter this season. Arian Foster, their most productive offensive player, was lost for the season, leaving the running duties to Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk, and Alfred Blue—a trio of backs who seldom make a difference. Hoyer works with one of the better young receivers in the game with DeAndre Hopkins, with Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington adding a nice dimension to the aerial attack. Both Shorts and Washington are questionable fr this game and their absence could be critical if neither take the field. The Texans struggled offensively for most of the season, but with over 30 points scored in their last two games, they might be hitting their groove at the right time.
The Texans’ defense is a big part of the reason they are here and will be key if they look to advance. Their pass-defense has been excellent. Guys like Jonathan Joseph, Quintin Demps, and Kareem Jackson have been great this season. Up front, JJ Watt continues to be a difference-maker, bolstered by the help of Whitney Mercillus, as the pair has applied a nasty pass-rush this season. This is the third-ranked defense in the league. And they enter this game with some good momentum, having allowed a combined 12 combined points in their last two games.
It was understandable for those who buried the Chiefs earlier this season. A 1-5 start and the loss of Charles suggested an ominous season. But the coaching of Andy Reid, the steadfast play of QB Alex Smith, and a robust defense helped things get turned around. They don’t excel in the pass, but they do take to the air and they do so efficiently. Smith helped the Chiefs become a top-ten scoring offense this season. Jeremy Maclin was over 1000 yards on the year, while Travis Kelce is one of the more-productive tight ends in the game. But in the absence of Charles, it was key for some backs to step up and Spencer Ware and Chancandrick West have filled in nicely and kept the run-game moving. Even Smith has added some nice production with his legs.
Like Houston, the Chiefs rely on their defense a lot. This Kansas City defense offers nice balance, both good against the run and the pass. They have been in fine form and in their last 12 games, no team has surpassed 22 points and usually it’s a lot less than that. In terms of points allowed, they are the third-ranked team in the league. And they have playmakers, guys who can rush the passer and those who can make a big game-changing play, like rookie Marcus Gilbert, who was tied for the league lead with 8 picks. The defense has intercepted opposing quarterbacks 22 times this season. And when the offense falls flat, this defense can fill the void, as they’ve scored 6 touchdowns this season.
The Chiefs have more heat heading into this game with 10 straight wins. It might serve to blind us from the Texans. In a way, these teams have a lot in common. Houston is more of an aerially-inclined offense, but both teams overcame tough starts to the season after losing their starting running back, while relying on stout defenses to help get them over the hump. Both teams showed a lot of inner-character in getting to this spot.
Kansas City was able to keep running the ball after losing their top guy in Charles, whereas Houston had to opt for more of an aerial approach, with their back-ups not really being up-to-snuff. But I wouldn’t rule out the Chiefs’ passing-game in this matchup, despite Houston being pretty good in that area defensively. In a big game like this with two good defenses, I see the more bankable KC offense helping them get over the hump.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Kansas City Chiefs minus 3.5 points.
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