Now that our regular season has ended, its time for us to preview the first round of the NFL playoffs. There are some hot teams in this wild card round entering the playoffs, and potential Super Bowl threats, so let’s get on to previewing these games.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Houston Texans
Introducing the first playoff game for the NFL season, the late red-hot Kansas City Chiefs vs the resurgent Houston Texans. There are many good matchups for these teams on both sides of the ball as Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin go against JJ Watt and the Houston defense. There is also DeAndre Hopkins, a one man offense who will go up against the Chiefs.
Kansas City is coming into this game have a 10 game win streak. This pretty impressive, but the true challenge for the Chiefs comes from its lack of playoff experience. The Chiefs were not able to make it to the postseason last year, but they have a good chance to win against the Texans this year, that is of course if they do not blow the game like they did against the Colts in 2013. The Kansas City Chiefs are favored to win this game, because their defense has been superb in the red zone as well as Alex Smith throwing to wide receivers more often. Travis Kelce has been Alex Smith’s favorite target, but now Smith is starting to throw to more wide receivers like Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson. The Chiefs need to take advantage of their red zone opportunities in order to win. In the last four games, the Chiefs were able to score an average of 15.5 points per game. This will not work against a tough Houston Texan defense. If the offense can get some points and take control of the game clock allowing their defense to get rest, they will most likely win this ball game. Another key improvement for the Chiefs to win is to improve their run game. Even though Jamaal Charles is out, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware are filling in nicely, but they need to do a better job to relieve the pressure for Alex Smith to throw the ball.
For the Chief’s defense, I do not personally see any improvements needed. They just need to play the style of defense they have been playing in their last 7 games, which is pressuring the quarterback and getting sacks. The key matchup for the Chief’s defense is Eric Berry against DeAndre Hopkins. DeAndre Hopkins has been hot lately and is performing like a top five receiver. Even though the Texans offense does not look like they have the ability to score, Hopkins can always keep an offense alive. The Chiefs would need to bring pressure to Brian Hoyer and make him throw bad balls.
The underdog Texans have a chance, but they would need a lot of help. First, Brian Hoyer needs to involve other wide receivers besides Hopkins if they are to have a chance. If they rely solely on Hopkins, then it gives the Chiefs’ defense an easier job. They also need to improve their run game. They are currently 15th in rushing yards, while Kansas City is 6th. The Offensive line needs to help Alfred Blue and the rest of the running backs gain some ground and yards in order to keep the drive going. Thirdly, the Texans defense needs to cover Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, who are Smith’s favorite targets. If they are open Smith can use that opportunity to make some big time plays. Currently the Chiefs are ranked 27th in the passing game, so they would mostly rely on their run game in close situations. For the Texans to win JJ Watt and the front line need to shut down the Chiefs’ run game in close scenarios. The offense also needs to be able to keep drives alive in order to let their defense rest so they can be prepared for the next Chiefs drive.
This game will most likely be decided by how the defense performs, which also comes from the time of ball possession. Whoever has the most ball possession time could most likely win the game, since it gives their defense more time to rest. For the Chiefs to win, they have to primarily focus on their offense in terms of the passing game and protecting Alex Smith from the aggressive JJ Watt. With the Texans, they need to improve their run game and also pass more to other receivers than Hopkins. With the current hot streak from the Chiefs, I believe the momentum will carry onto the postseason and they will win 23 – 20.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinatti Bengals
These are both very hot teams, but they aren’t looking as strong as they used to be. The Cincinatti Bengals had an unbeaten streak to start the year, but an injury to quarterback Andy Dalton has slowed then down. AJ McCarron is a decent game manager, but he’s clearly a step down, and doesn’t have as much chemistry with star wide receiver AJ Green. On the Steeler side, there are two significant injuries. The first one came to star running back LeVeon Bell. Such a major loss seemed like it would significantly derail Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes, but instead, the Steelers got on a hot streak on the backs of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and new starting running back DeAngelo Williams. However, DeAngelo Williams will be out for the season,
Both teams have slowed down in the last few weeks, whether its Cincinatti losing to Denver or Pittsburgh of losing to Baltimore. However, the Bengals were still far enough ahead to win the AFC North and the Steelers beat the Browns and got help via the Buffalo Bills to make it to the postseason. Now we see a familiar division showdown. But who will win?
The Steelers have the weapons to make a long playoff run. with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant being one of the most explosive receiving duos in the league. However, losing DeAngelo Williams is a huge blow to the Steelers’ title hopes. After a down year in Carolina, Williams rose to the occasion in Pittsburgh and picked up where LeVeon Bell left off. However, Pittsburgh must now resort to third stringer Fitzgerald Toussant to carry the rock. This is clearly a setback, especially if an inability to run the ball jeopardizes the Steelers’ ability to run a four minute offense.
The Bengals still have their running back duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and with AJ McCarron under center, they’ll be leaned upon heavily. It’ll be up to Cincinatti to set the tempo of the game with successful rushes from these two backs, because they will not win if they put too much pressure on their young quarterback. They will get Andy Dalton back next week, but they’ve got to survive a tough matchup this week. AJ Green has not done as well with McCarron as QB, and while he has done generally well against Pittsburgh, I see McCarron relying more on tight end Tyler Eifert, especially in the red zone.
At the end of the day, I think this becomes a close game, and potentially an ugly one due to the significant injuries on each team. At the end of the day, I think Pittsburgh gets the win simply because their offense isn’t as hobbled as that of the Bengals. The Bengals have the better defense, but Antonio Brown is impossible to defend, and even mild success against Brown would leave Martavis Bryant open for major gains. I believe the Steelers move on to play Denver and beat the Bengals 27-21.