It looked like Bill O’Brien was going to hold his team back and create a first-round exit for the Houston Texans in the NFL Playoffs. I’m not a big fan of the “hold my beer” meme, but it really applies to Sean McDermott and the second half for the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen certainly had a hand in how things went down, but on a weekend full of game management blunders, McDermott didn’t do his team any favors.
As a result, the Texans advanced to the Divisional Round weekend, where many people believe their postseason run ends at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Early betting action has bumped Kansas City from -8 to as high as -10 in the market, with 9.5 sitting there as the predominant number. It may be a little chalky, but bettors are likely tripping over themselves to take a seven-point teaser on the Ravens and Chiefs and who can blame them?
Stranger things have happened, but it would take some very quirky occurrences to not get an AFC Championship Game in Baltimore of Chiefs vs. Ravens on January 19. It just would. That says nothing about my take on the spread for this game other than to simply say that it would be shocking if the Texans beat the Chiefs.
Give Houston credit. They persevered through a brutal game against the Bills. Deshaun Watson was 20-of-25 for 247 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked seven times and harassed throughout the game. Watson was forced to run 14 times for 55 yards, so he took all sorts of hits. Watson was every bit the leader that his team needed, especially because Carlos Hyde was totally ineffective as a runner and DeAndre Hopkins found very little breathing room while being shadowed by Tre White. He had six catches for 90 yards on his eight targets and made a couple big plays that changed the complexion of the game.
Houston’s defense was the benefactor of a weird strategy from Brian Daboll. The Bills rattled off 5.7 yards per carry, but still put the game in Allen’s hands far too often with 46 pass attempts. Buffalo’s only offensive touchdown was a John Brown pass to Allen. Otherwise, the Bills settled for four field goals, including Stephen Hauschka’s 47-yarder that sent the game to overtime.
While this debacle was going on, the Chiefs were chilling at home with their feet up. A very unexpected bye fell into their laps when the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 17. Suffice it to say that the Patriots would love to run that one back and give it another shot. The Chiefs and their fans were thrilled to get the bye and who can blame them? Their QB didn’t take 20+ hits last week.
The Texans were dead last in the NFL in yards per play allowed over the 16 games of the regular season. That seems suboptimal taking on the Chiefs, but JJ Watt is back now and he is a game-changer, as we all know. Even running 81 plays, the Bills were held to their normal output with 5.2 yards per play. Of course, Allen throwing 46 times is still inexplicable and the Bills could very well have won the game if they used the run more. The Chiefs aren’t exactly known for running it, but Josh Allen isn’t Patrick Mahomes on his best day.
Mahomes did miss some time, but the Chiefs still wound up with the highest adjusted net yards per pass attempt in the NFL. The Texans were 26th defensively in that department. Houston’s run defense was actually really bad, which seems like something they might be able to overcome against the Chiefs, but they also allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game and the sixth-most yards after catch. Both of those are bad things against the Chiefs. Only the Dolphins and Lions allowed a higher average depth of target, which means Mahomes’s skill position players will have room to roam.
It would behoove the Texans to be better on third down in this game. The Bills were 11-of-21 on third down. The Chiefs led the NFL in third down conversion rate. Amazingly, with all that talent, the Chiefs bogged down in the red zone with the 20th-ranked TD%. That happens with teams that need room to work and run a lot of spread concepts. That might be the saving grace that keeps Houston in the game. It probably won’t be a shutdown of Mahomes, who posted a 26/5 TD/INT ratio while throwing for over 4,000 yards in his 14 games. He was also only sacked 17 times.
In past years, the prospects would certainly look better for the Texans, but the Chiefs defense is actually quite decent these days. Kansas City still allowed 4.9 yards per carry, but the pass defense got markedly better from last season and actually ranked sixth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt. The Chiefs had 45 sacks and also 16 interceptions.
The under is 23-4-1 in Andy Reid’s last 28 games off a bye. Extra time for one of the best planners in the business has not been good for the opposition. Opponents came into this season scoring 15.4 points per game. That won’t do it against the Chiefs in the postseason. The Raiders, who are clearly worse than the Texans, only scored nine points against the Chiefs in Week 13. In fact, the Chiefs allowed 31 points in the four games immediately following their bye week.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -9.5
The tone of this preview said all it needed to say about my pick. The Texans just aren’t good enough and aren’t well-coached enough. If Kansas City’s defense was last year’s version that was 31st in yards against and 31st in passing yards against, a stronger case could be made. Maybe the Chiefs defense just benefitted from a weaker schedule late in the year. That could very well be true.
But I have no doubt that they will be ready here. Houston has major offensive line problems and plenty of coverage issues in the back seven. Kansas City comes into this game with very few problems and a pretty clean slate on the health front. The only worry here is the backdoor cover, but you can plan for that with in-game wagering if need be.