The Chiefs started 1-5 and looked even more hopeless when it was announced that their star running back, Jamaal Charles, was done for the season with a knee injury. Then they magically got better.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t magic. Maybe it was their All Pro Safety, Eric Berry, rounding into shape as he bounced back from cancer; or maybe another it was Sean Smith, getting back to his ball-hawking ways that helped the secondary sure-up behind their vicious pass-rushing. Or maybe it was newly-acquired Jeremy Maclin getting on to the same page with the QB, Alex Smith. Regardless of what it was, Kansas City proceeded to run off 10 straight wins and enters into the postseason as the hottest team in the NFL. Not a bad way to be going into the playoffs, huh?
Kudos to Bill O’Brien for being able to coach a team to the playoffs that started four different QBs this season (ask the Cowboys how difficult a feat that is). Like their counterpart, the beginning of this season was fraught with peril, as well. The Texans won two games through seven and looked to be headed towards missing the playoffs yet again.
Simply put, J. J. Watt and the rest of the Texans defense wasn’t having it. Through the last ten weeks of the season, the defense was the highest scoring defensive unit in football. Everyone knows how great Watt is, but Whitney Mercilus, Vince Wilfork, Brian Cushing, and the oft-injured Jadaveon Clowney help to form a menacing front seven that kept the Texans in games all season. The fact that this unit essentially fireman’s carried this team to the playoffs despite the multiple signal-callers at the helm is the best case for why Watt deserves Defensive Player of the Year.
Houston’s offense vs KC’s defense
The Texans will have original starter, Brian Hoyer, at the quarterback position. He came back for their final game against Jacksonville that wrapped up their AFC South title. The offense has been middling, finishing 21st in points scored per game, but with the game of musical chairs at quarterback (Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, TJ Yates, and BJ Daniels have all seen time under Center), that number may be a bit misleading…as their recent back to back 30+ point performances that came against Jacksonville and Tennessee may be. The truth, as with most things, probably lies in the middle. Speaking of the truth, their 2nd team All Pro wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, has been a much needed shot in the arm for a team that lost Arian Foster earlier in the year. Their injuries at the running back position hasn’t stopped them from topping the century mark on the ground in six of the past seven games played. They’ll need a great performance from their starter Fitzgerald Touissant in order to stay in this game and keep the pressure off Hoyer.
Hoyer’s pressure will come in the form of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and a unit that ranked 4th in sacks this season. Make no doubt, while the Texans’ defense scored more frequently than the their counterpart, the Chiefs are a more complete unit. Berry and Smith help form a ball-hawking defense that was second in the league in interceptions. Combine that with that fearsome front, and the Texans will be in for a long day.
KC’s offense vs Houston’s Defense
Kansas City’s offense was much maligned headed into the year. Last season, Alex Smith somehow went 16 games without throwing a TD to a wide receiver, a dubious record if there ever was one. Enter Maclin and the offense has 11 TDs attributed to WRs. Studying Smith’s numbers reveals that over the ten game winning streak, his INT% is down and his yards per pass attempt is up over his career average. While Charles is obviously a great running back, because of his injury Smith has had to be more aggressive with his throws; Alex “Check down” Smith may be dead forever.
Smith has had only one test against a defense like Houston; his game against the rival Broncos was the second lowest passer rating he had during the Chief’s winning streak (and that was without Aqib Talib or DeMarcus Ware). It will be imperative that Houston keep the scoring low so that their weaker offense has a chance to make a big play with Hopkins and company. If they can generate turnovers, points, or a series of short fields, perhaps this team has a chance.
Outcome: Kansas City is getting three points on the road, I expect a low scoring affair. Take the points, but I think the Chiefs win a close one in Houston, 21-20.