Last week’s AFC Wild Card games were an absolute snooze fest. With no surprises and no close finishes to speak of, the Steelers and Texans took care of business against a pair of teams that pretty much had no shot. Now, both will have to go on the road in order to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive.
#4 Houston Texans at. #1 New England Patriots
Well, it was a good year, Houston. I almost decided to not give an analysis here and just give a prediction, but I figured that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. The Pats already beat the Texans this year, with third string rookie Jacoby Brissett leading the Pats to a 27-0 victory.
Last week, Houston beat the Derek Carr-less Oakland Raiders 27-14, and the number one ranked Houston defense held Oakland to less than 250 yards of total offense. Brock Osweiler had a passing and rushing touchdown, while Lamar Miller grinded out 73 yards on 31 carries. The offense wasn’t impressive, but the defense was lights out, and it will need to be again against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Everybody knows about Brady: 28 TD’s, two interceptions, four games missed due to the witch-hunt that was Deflategate. The offense for New England isn’t one dimensional like it has been in past years. LeGarrette Blount found the end zone an NFL leading 18 times this year and Dion Lewis and James White have been solid complementary speed and pass catching backs to Blount’s tough running.
The receivers surrounding Brady have been good all year long. Julian Edelman went over 1,000 yards on the season and the acquisitions of Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd (even if for only one game) have paid off.
One thing that has been surprising all season long is the play of the offensive line. Marcus Cannon seems to have turned a corner at right tackle, and the rest of the line has been impressive, opening up huge lanes for Blount and the rest of the running backs. The offensive line has also only yielded 24 sacks on the year.
The Texans have the best defense in the league, but New England is well rested and obviously well prepared.
For the Pats defensively, while there may not be a true star on the field, the unit as a whole is an elite one. The Patriots eighth ranked defense has virtually no holes, and stuffs the run. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler each had solid years at corner, while Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung each had good years at safety, rounding out one of the better secondaries in all of football.
Trey Flowers led the team in sacks as a rookie with seven. Despite trading away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, the defense seems to have gotten better, and has only gotten stronger as the year went on, only allowing 20 points combined in the last three games. The defense should have no problem containing Osweiler, Miller and the rest of the Texans offense.
The decision here is an easy one. The Pats are 15.5 point favorites, and I’ll take the over.
PREDICTION: Houston 7, New England 31
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers at. #2 Kansas City Chiefs
This game should be the best of the weekend. An elite offensive team in Pittsburgh goes up against one of the better defenses in the league. Last week, Pittsburgh dominated the Dolphins en route to an easy 30-12 victory. The Steelers beat Kansas City 43-14 earlier this year.
The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown carried the Steelers last week, but offense will be tough to come by against a Kansas City team that forces a ton of turnovers. The Chiefs forced 33 turnovers, led by Marcus Peters, who plays the ball better than any corner in the game. Peters picked off six passes, while forcing a fumble and recovering three.
The return of Eric Berry has been one of the stories of the NFL season. The seventh season of Berry’s career was his best, accumulating 77 tackles, four interceptions and two touchdowns. Berry also intercepted a two-point conversion attempt by Matt Ryan and returned it for a touchdown, giving KC the win.
While Kansas City does a good job of forcing turnovers, they don’t get to the quarterback a lot, and have clearly missed Justin Houston, who should be able to play on Sunday night after missing the last few games with a knee injury and missed games earlier in the year recovering from a Torn Achilles. Dee Ford filled in admirably for Houston, registering 10 sacks on the season.
On offense, it’s the same old story for Kansas City.
Alex Smith refuses to throw the ball further than 20 yards down the field, but doesn’t turn the ball over and can make plays with his legs. Travis Kelce had an incredible year at tight end, with over 1,100 yards and four touchdowns. Spencer Ware was solid on the ground, rushing for 921 yards and averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Kansas City doesn’t have an explosive offense by any means, but Tyreek Hill is an absolute game changer.
Hill is dangerous from anywhere on the field and is a home run threat in the return, passing, and running game. The more touches he gets, the more likely Kansas City moves on. The rookie from West Alabama (same college as Malcolm Butler) found the end zone 12 times on the year, but Pittsburgh’s defense is underrated and might be able to contain him.
Both of these teams are equal on paper, so something will have to give. Both of these teams are playoff experienced, but Big Ben has always shined when the lights are brightest. Kansas City is one of the toughest places to play and should be rocking for Sunday night.
PREDICTION Pittsburgh 23 Kansas City 21
Cover Photo via SportsWorldReport