We started with 32 teams and now we are down to 12 as the 2019 NFL Playoffs get underway. Four teams have earned the right to sit out the Wild Card Weekend action. Eight have not. Two such teams are the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Texans. The Bills were the top Wild Card, drawing the #5 seed and a trip to NRG Stadium for the first of four Wild Card Weekend matchups.
The Texans are home favorites of three points across most of the market early in the week, but a few sportsbooks have made a move down to 2.5 to see where they stand in terms of interest on the host squad. The +3s that do remain are loaded with extra juice in the -120 range. The total on the game has crept up from 41.5 to as high as 43 in the marketplace.
A higher-scoring environment would seem to favor the Texans, who scored 64 more points than the Bills, but an environment in which the Bills are expected to move the football would be difficult for a Houston defense that ranked 32nd in yards per play allowed with 6.1.
The Texans are the AFC South champs for the second time in as many years, but they are also the first division champion with a negative point differential since they themselves did it in 2016. That Texans team beat Oakland 27-14 during the Wild Card Weekend as a four-point favorite.
The stats say that the Texans don’t really have a playoff résumé. Ask most of the respected sharp community and they’ll poke holes in the Bills as well. Buffalo played one of the weakest schedules in the NFL this season and went 10-6. Their point differential wasn’t exactly befitting of a playoff team either at +55 and no playoff team scored fewer points than Buffalo. The Bills made up for their lack of offense by holding the opposition to just 4.8 yards per play. While the Bills offense may not look playoff-worthy, only New England allowed fewer points and they were +375 in turnover margin, give or take.
Houston will have a tough task against the Buffalo defense and the Week 17 rest period for several key players may not be enough to get everybody back in the mix. The Texans offense is a much different animal without Will Fuller taking some of the attention away from DeAndre Hopkins. Fuller missed five regular season games and his status is up in the air for this weekend as well. Kenny Stills got a blow last week, but he has been bothered by a leg injury as well. Hopkins caught 104 of his 150 targets from Deshaun Watson, but his 11.2 yards per reception were the fewest of his career and he’ll draw standout cornerback Tre’Davious White in this one.
Speaking of Watson, he has played well this season with 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and 3,852 yards passing, but he could have done better. He’s been sacked 44 times, 18 fewer than last season, but his adjusted net yards per pass attempt was still the lowest of his three pro seasons. His 12 interceptions were also three more than last season. It’s clear that he needs Fuller healthy and active.
Even a better running game for the Texans hasn’t done enough to help out Watson and the passing game. The Texans rushed for 4.6 yards with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. Johnson also had 44 grabs for 410 yards, but his 820 yards from scrimmage really weren’t enough. He’s the type of guy you need involved this week to keep Bills linebacker Matt Milano on his toes. You can run on the Bills a little bit, as they allowed 4.3 yards per carry, but it would be better to use an outside-the-tackles runner. That is not Hyde’s style.
While there are some clear concerns about the Texans in this game, those questions are not at the forefront of the discussion. The questions about Josh Allen are. Allen was not a Bill in 2017 when Buffalo made the playoffs and went one-and-done behind Tyrod Taylor. Allen greatly improved this season. He threw 10 more TD passes and had three fewer interceptions. His sack rate went down and some better skill position talent improved his numbers with 5.71 adjusted net yards per pass attempt. On the other hand, Allen still only averaged 6.5 completed air yards per pass attempt, which was down from the previous season.
Allen should have time to go through his progressions. Houston ranked 31st in Pressure% this season, a byproduct of losing JJ Watt early in the season. Only the Dolphins had a lower Pressure% and a lower Hurry%. The Texans allowed the fifth-most yards after catch, which is how Allen and the Bills accumulate a lot of their passing yardage.
A healthy Devin Singletary is a big asset for the Bills as well. He had one more touch than Frank Gore and 270 more yards from scrimmage. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry. The Texans have allowed 4.8 yards per carry this season. This seems to be about as good of a matchup for the Bills offense as they could get in the playoffs.
This is also a pretty good opportunity for the Bills because Sean McDermott would seem to have the coaching advantage over Bill O’Brien. O’Brien has often had the best talent in the AFC South, which is why the Texans keep winning the division, but few in the betting community consider O’Brien a good coach. McDermott has proven to be quite solid during his Bills tenure.
Pick: Buffalo Bills +3
How good was the Bills pass defense? Remember that the Bills have Allen at QB. With 40 more pass attempts against and 49 more completions against, their pass defense allowed 55 fewer yards than Allen and the QBs gained on offense. Houston doesn’t pressure well, doesn’t cover well, and doesn’t tackle well. If Hopkins is neutralized by White, it will be a very frustrating day for Bill O’Brien’s offense.
Even though the total is on the rise here, perhaps the best way to play this game, assuming the Bills at 2.5, is to tease Buffalo to +8.5 and pair it with New Orleans -2 or -1.5. This is a pretty good Wong teaser to get 3 and 7 in both games in what should be a competitive NFL playoff environment.