With the regular season over and the post-season beginning we have just 11 games left in the 2016 NFL season. With all 11 being shown live on British TV over the next month I’ll be previewing each and every one on here. Earlier today I posted a preview of every team involved in the playoffs and right now we will move on to the two Saturday games on wildcard weekend.
Houston Texans Win @ 27/20 Vs Kansas City Chiefs (9.25pm)
Had I been told back in September that wildcard weekend would kickoff with a clash between these two I’d have been expecting a run heavy battle between Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster. However like many of the league premier running backs both were lost to season ending injuries early in the year. In their place lesser known lights, Charcandrick West for Kansas and Alfred Blue for Houston have came in and carried the can admirably. In truth though, the reason that both are still involved at this stage of the year comes down to their defences.
After 6 games Kansas’s season already looked done and dusted. After winning opening weekend they then went on to loss 5 on the spin.
However a week 7 upset win over the Steelers where the picked off backup QB Landry Jones twice and forced a fumble ignited their season and set the tone for the rest of the year. Over the course of that game and the subsequent 9 they have conceded an average of just 13.2 points a game while having the 2nd best turnover differential in the league. Quarterback Alex Smith has been steady if unspectacular. He seems a perfect fit in this offense, a good game manager who doesn’t turn the ball over.
Similarly Houston’s playoff hopes looked slim as they started their own season 2-4. Over their last 9 games they conceded an average of 12.7pts a game, even better than the Chiefs. One crazy stat I’ve seen is that during those nine games they have limited 5 teams (Bengals, Saint, Jaguars and the Titans twice) to exactly 6 points. In a time where NFL scoring as been at one of its highest levels ever for a season that’s mind blowing! Their own QB, Brian Hoyer, after being discarded by 5 different teams in 5 seasons and being benched earlier this year must have though his shot at being an NFL starter was done. He is coming back from a concussion but has played surprisingly well this year throwing 19 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions.
When the sides met all the way back in week 1, the Chiefs prevailed 27-20 in Houston. Most will be expecting a similar result here if not a larger Chiefs victory. I do agree that the Chiefs are the better football team and as i mentioned in the SuperBowl preview if they can keep rolling could be a genuine contender to win it all. As we know the best football team does not always win though and I like the Texans for the upset here for a couple of reasons.
Firstly they have home field advantage having won their division. They have won both their previous home playoff games while the Chiefs have not won a playoff game in 22 years! In addition they have the two best players in this game in JJ Watt on defence and DeAndre Hopkins on offence. Hopkins has the ability to blow any team away at wide receiver while I expect Watt to get after Alex Smith early and force some mistakes. Don’t expect a high scorer but the Texans to sneak it.
Pittsburgh -3 @ 21/20 vs Cincinnati Bengals (1.30am Sunday morning)
There will be no love lost between these two divisional rivals when they square up for the third time this season. Before the game in December the fighting broke out on the field between the two before the game had even kicked off! Expect plenty more fireworks here with so much on the line.
The Bengals have made the playoffs for a 5th straight season although amazingly the last time they tasted victory in the post-season was all the way back in 1991! After starting the season 8-0, they have split their last 8 games 4-4. Their defence has had a franchise record year and will need to be at its best when facing an explosive Steelers passing attack. Meanwhile their own offence has stagnated a little after a great start. Quarterback Andy Dalton has not recovered from a broken thumb in time so it will be left to rookie AJ McCarron to try and get them rolling. He have all the weapons to do so with AJ Green at wide receiver and a breakout year from tight end Tyler Eifert.
The Steelers have had their own problems on offence over the last number of weeks with QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing 6 interceptions over the last 6 games. It has a lot to do with the chances that he’s been taking but it will have to be limited if the Steelers hope to advance particularly now that the running game is threadbare with DeAngelo Williams ruled out for this week. However Big Ben has seen it all before and I expect him to right the ship especially considering that he has receivers of the quality of Brown, Bryant and Wheaton to throw to. They will hope to make a step up on defence also as while they have posted decent numbers of sacks and interceptions and still allowed too many team to pass on them.
This is a matchup that Roethlisberger has dominated over his time in the NFL. Pittsburgh has won 4 of the last 5 games between the two including the last 2 here in Cincinnati. The Bengals will try to take the pressure off McCarron by establishing a run game but I don’t see them having great success as this is where the Steelers defence has been solid. In a high pressure playoff matchup such as this I’m happy to take the wily veteran over a rookie making his 5th start and while the loss of Williams is worrying i still think the Steelers will prevail by more than 3.
These two as a double will return close to 4/1 odds.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of the final two games of wildcard weekend.
Best of luck,