In mid-October you would have got long odds on this being a play-off matchup, with both teams struggling at that point. Fast-forward 3 months and you now have a matchup between two of the hottest teams in the entire NFL – go figure! Kansas City enter the play-offs on a 10 game win streak, having narrowly failed to catch Denver for the division crown. Undeservedly, their reward is to have to go on the road to face a Houston team on a win streak of their own and face a, healthy again, JJ Watt at NRG Stadium. They will be pleased to welcome back their own pash rushing terror in Justin Houston who has missed the last month with an injury. Houston could care less about the politics of playoff seeding – happy as they are to overthrow the Indianapolis Colts and capture the AFC South crown. That they have done so while starting 4 different QBs this season is testament to the stellar work of HC Bill O’Brien and his staff. Brian Hoyer is back leading the Houston offense and, while no superstar, does bring a veteran savvy to the position that will be key to standing in against the KC rush.
Keys to the Game
- Can Kansas City protect Alex Smith?
Smith is notoriously careful with the football and also is athletic enough to get himself out of trouble against opposing pass rushes – but he cannot do it all on his own. If KC can give him the time necessary to push the ball down the field, KC should be able to score enough points to win.
- Can Houston generate enough offense?
DeAndre Hopkins has been one of the most productive Wide Receivers across the league this season, but will need support from his offensive teammates if Houston are going to come out on top in this game. Kansas City boast a strong secondary with likely Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters and 2015 All-Pro Safety Eric Berry on the back end. Someone is going to need to step up for Houston and generate some points.
- Who wins the turnover battle?
Both of these teams are good at creating opportunities for their offenses by turning the ball over. Marcus Peters was tied for the league lead in interceptions this season while JJ. Watt is a master at forcing QB fumbles. The turnover battle could quite easily be the difference in this game
Matchup to Watch
Houston DE Whitney Mercilus vs Kansas City LT Eric Fisher For the last few years Houston has been hoping that someone could step up and take advantage of the double teams that are sent the way of JJ Watt. Finally, in Mercilus, they have found someone to do just that, logging a career-high 12 sacks this season. Fisher had a rough start to his career and was widely panned his rookie year, with the dreaded ‘bust label being bandied about. He has been better this season but will need to live up to his 1st overall billing to keep Alex Smith clean in this game.
This will likely be a low scoring affair with one mistake, or moment of genius, proving the difference. Kansas City seems the least likely of the two to make the big mistake so I am taking them – by one score.