AFC Playoff Betting Picks — Chiefs-Texans: Looking at “Value” in a Different Way

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If you are asking me if the line should be as high as it is in the AFC Divisional Round game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, my answer would probably be “no.” And yes, I have certainly heard enough people talk about how the number shouldn’t be six points higher than it was when they met during the regular season.

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No arguments there.

And then of course, on top of that, the Texans actually won that previous game. At Arrowhead Stadium, which is the scene of this week’s conference semi-final.

I know all that. I know we have some perceived value here.

But I think there are sometimes circumstances where we might want to throw some of that stuff out the window, because, after all, this IS a new season.

On this game I’m playing the numbers less than I am the matchup and the situation itself, if that makes any sense.

OK, let’s talk about those numbers, where the Chiefs are considerable favorites:

Kansas City Chiefs -9.5
Houston Texans +9.5

Over 51.5 points -110
Under 51.5 points -110

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We know that every playoff-level team has the capability of beating another. Minnesota’s upset of New Orleans should tell us that, as should Tennessee’s victories at New England and Baltimore.

We also know that sometimes these playoff games can turn into blowouts when the roof falls in on one team and they have no idea how to recover under the pressure.

It is interesting that 49% of the Divisional Round games played over the last 35 seasons have been decided by moire than ten points. So it’s not that unusual.

And we know going in that Kansas City is explosive enough on offense that a blowout against ANY foe is a possibility. So let’s start there.

Is there anything in the evidence that indicates there is an opening for that to happen?

Well, I would have to reveal a personal bias. I just have very little confidence in the Texans as a playoff entity, because they have historically (albeit in a short history) been a failure in that arena. DeShaun Watson has started two playoff games, and Houston has not scored a point in the first half in either game. Last week the Buffalo Bills made almost every kind of blunder imaginable to ensure that the Texans could make a comeback and eventually win. If they had missed any of those, Houston would be back home this weekend; not hosting a playoff fame, but rather hosting friends and family in front of their theater-sized TV screens.

I look at Kansas City and I see a team that has had much difficulty stopping the run. They are 30th when it comes to stuffing running plays for a loss or no gain. I wish I could say something more encouraging in their favor, but the best I could tell you is that no team averaged five or more yards per carry against them in the last six games.

I know that Houston rambled for 192 yards to control things last time against a Chiefs team that was without Sammy Watkins and had a hobbled Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill out there, and was not as healthy on defense. I would be surprised if that script worked again.

Houston’s running game was a concern at the season’s outset, as Lamar Miller got hurt. But it has become more than serviceable with Carlos Hyde. They have also had success getting the ball down the field to a trio of receivers who know how to get there – DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. And I imagine that if they have to trade points, they are going to try to strike through the air.

The Chiefs should be prepared for that. They’ve actually done a pretty good job mitigating the effect of big plays. And since the opener, when they allowed raw rookie Gardner Minshew of Jacksonville to put up some impressive numbers, they’ve allowed more than 300 passing yards only once.

There are a few things that stick out like a sore thumb here. One of them is that Houston does not protect very well. The sack rate allowed by their offensive line is third worst in the league. And the Chiefs have done a rather good job in rushing the passer, with 45 sacks that have helped out the secondary’s cause.

Another thing is that the Texans have allowed their opponents to convert 48.9% of their third downs. This is only a hundredth of a percentage point better than the Washington Redskins, who were dead last in the league. More importantly for purposes of our discussion, it is the worst defensive figure in that category of ANY playoff team since the AFL-NFL merger was finalized in 1970.

And just by coincidence, not only are the Chiefs much better defensively in that category (37.1%), they are the league’s best offense when it comes to converting third downs (47.6%). They also go three-and-out very seldom (13.5% of drives), so they’ll move the sticks.

And the Texans are horrific when it comes to red zone defense, allowing touchdowns 71.4% of the time. No one in the NFL is worse. Kansas City leads the league in field goals on a per-drive basis, so they have not been terrific when pushing it over the goal line inside the 20 (54%). But when you are as ineffective as the Texans are, you can transform an average red zone offense into a good one.

Houston’s kinds of numbers would bring a screeching halt to any team’s Super Bowl hopes. And the Chiefs can take advantage of these numbers the second time around. Mahomes stays away from interceptions and minimizes sacks, and he’s got the NFL’s best coach coming out of a bye week (Andy Reid is 19-3 in his career, although he says he can’t quite explain it). Considering that Houston coach Bill O’Brien has largely been a post-season underachiever, I think the Texans can certainly win this one by double-digits.

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