Sunday’s AFC clash between the Texans and Bills could decide the wild card race. Houston currently holds the 6th seed and the final wild card spot while Buffalo has fallen to the 10th seed. If Houston wins, they will have secured their position with a tiebreaker over the Bills. If Buffalo wins, they will have catapulted themselves right back into the mix. The Texans have been one of the league’s best teams over the past few weeks, knocking Cincinnati from the ranks of the unbeaten before dominating the Jets and the Saints. J.J. Watt leads one of the most complete and disruptive defenses in the league, while Brian Hoyer and DeAndre Hopkins run a consistent offense. Buffalo have been victims of the fickle nature of football this season. Injuries have held back a talented team, and penalties have often caused the Bills to miss chances to win games. While the injuries have been less of a problem lately, the Bills have still struggled for consistency despite the emergence of Sammy Watkins.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Stopping J.J. Watt
Drew Brees will be having nightmares about Watt for weeks. The reigning defensive player of the year consistently got to Brees, finishing with two sacks. At one point New Orleans moved their left tackle next to their right tackle in an effort to stop Watt. He carved them in to before joining Brees in the backfield. Watt is the league’s most disruptive defensive force and could cause major issues for the Bills.
2. Houston’s offense
Leading up to the game, Rex Ryan said that he was preparing for a creative Texans offense. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts threw a 21 yard touchdown pass to running back Alfred Blue in Houston’s win over the Jets in Week 11. The Texans have been extremely creative on offense in an effort to offset the absence of star running back Arian Foster. Against a creative defense like Ryan’s, Houston will likely have prepared some more creative tricks. DeAndre Hopkins continues to dominate opposing secondaries, even when he is catching passes from Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates.
3. Houston’s run defense
The Bills’ offense works best when they can run the ball effectively. Against a defense like Houston’s, they may have trouble. With Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt on the interior and Brian Cushing lurking across the middle, Buffalo could find it difficult to get their running game going. With Karlos Williams likely to be out with an injury after not participating in practice, LeSean McCoy will be attracting a lot of attention from the likes of Watt.
Matchup to watch: Kevin Johnson vs Sammy Watkins
Rookie corner Kevin Johnson has impressed so far this season. He may not be putting up big numbers, but hasn’t been thrown at too much in many of Houston’s games. He had eight passes broken up and is part of a strong, underrated secondary. Sammy Watkins has emerged over the last few games into a true number one receiver, racking up 158 yards and two touchdowns on five catches in the loss to Kansas City. If the running game is stacked up against the Texans, Watkins could either struggle or dominate as Buffalo’s main offensive weapon.
Prediction: Houston Texans
The Texans have a dominant defense that should be more than capable of shutting the Bills down. No one in Buffalo’s secondary can hang with Hopkins, and the Bills are still struggling defensively. A win for the Texans will give them even more leverage in the AFC playoff race, and could put them atop the AFC South if the Colts lose to the Steelers.