Saturday sees the first game in the 2015 NFL Playoffs feature the winner of the worst division in the league (AFC South) versus the hottest team. The latter (Kansas City) travels to Houston to take on the former (Houston Texans) in a rematch of a victorious, 27-0 Week 1 performance by Kanas City.
Odds: Kansas City (-3) O/U 40 (as of 1:47 PM 01/04/2016 via SB Nation)
Chiefs: Alex Smith, the Utah grad who struggled at San Francisco before finding his stride at KC. He's considered a "game manager" type but he doesn't turn the ball over and, this year, he's finally found a WR in Jeremy Maclin who can score some touchdowns. Season Stats: 307-470, 3486 yards, 20 TD's 7 INTs. 45 sacks.
Texans: Brian Hoyer. A journeyman QB who famously lost his job to Ryan Mallet, before regaining it and famously missing some time due to concussions. Season Stats: 224-369, 2606 yards. 19 TDs 7 INTs 25 sacks.
Edge: Chiefs. Both QB's are so-called game managers but Smith has done a better job of it, and stayed healthier, all year.
Chiefs: Charcandrick West: 160-634 (4.0 ypc) & Spencer Ware 72-403 (5.6 ypc) Since the injury to Jamaal Charles the Chiefs have utilized a 2-prong running attack effectively.
Texans: Alfred Blue: 183-698 (3.8 ypc) & Chris Polk: 99-334 (3.4 ypc) & Jonathan Grimes 56-282 (5.0 ypc) & Akeem Hunt 17-96 (5.6 ypc) - After the injury to Arian Foster the Texans have relied heavily on four running backs, to varying degrees of success.
Edge: Chiefs. Both teams lost their starting RB for the season due to injury, the Chiefs have done a better job continuing to run the ball after the loss.
Wide Recievers and Tight ends:
Chiefs: Jeremy Maclin (87-1088 and 8TD's) and Travis Kelce (72-875 and 5TD's) are the two leaders in a Chief's passing attack that likes to spread the ball all over the field.
Texans: DeAndre Hopkins (111-1521 11TDs) is going to be the best receiver on the field against the Chiefs. The Texans also have veterans Nate Washington (47-658 4TDs) and Cecil Shorts (42-484 2TDs) who combined have had a productive season.
Edge: Texans. Even though they get nothing out of the TE position, Hopkins, Washington and Shorts are better options than Maclin and Kelce.
Chiefs: Conventional wisdom suggests that the Chief's O-line is one of the strongest in the NFL. This might be true but I'm not sure the stats support it. On the year Smith has been sacked 45 times, that ranks them twenty-seventh (27) out of 32 teams. The conventional wisdom is that this O-line will be able to blunt a Texans pass rush (Houston is 5th in sacks per game)
Texans: The Texans line cannot block for the run. The Texans are in the middle of the pack (15th) in yards per game despite being a team that constantly focuses on running the ball. They do about the same on sacks per game (16th) making them a very average offensive line. One huge problem for the Texans is that their best offensive lineman (Left Tackle Duane Brown) went down in week 17 with a season ending quadriceps tendon tear.
Edge: Chiefs. With a healthy Brown I might give the edge to the Texans. But missing him it's going to be hard to stop Allen Houston and Tamba Hali from getting to Hoyer.
Edge: Chiefs. When it comes to evaluating offenses I'm typically only concerned about one thing. How many points do you score? The Chiefs have the clear edge in this department Averaging 25.3 points per game (9th) to the Texans 21.2 points per game (22nd). That's quite a spread over time.
Defensive Line & Linebackers:
Chiefs: Kansas City has a very good front 7. They rank 9th in opponent rushing yards per game and 4th in sacks per game. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are two of the better inside-the-box tacklers and pass rushers in the game.
Texans: The conversation begins and ends with J.J. Watt. He is, simply put, the best defensive player in the game right now. Behind Watt the Texans front 7 have spectacular rankings in rushing yards per game (10th) and sacks per game (5th).
Edge: After praising Watt I have to say that, based on the full units, this is a push. Watt is a great player but the Chiefs have better balance and more players who can disrupt plays. Houston is a magnificent pass rusher as is Hali, but the entire front 7 of the Chiefs plays well as a unit. Watt, Wilfork, McKinney are a strong 3-pronged attack however, who can all disrupt games.
Chiefs: Kansas City is a top third defense in the league giving up an average of 231 passing yards per game (9th) they have one of the better feel-good stories of the year in Eric Berry.
Texans: Houston boasts a spectacular defensive backfield which ranked 3rd in passing yards allowed per game. They also ranked 14th in passing touchdowns per game (The Chiefs ranked 17th)
Edge: While on paper, the Texans have a better defensive backfield much of that is due to the dominating nature of the front 7. That said I think Kansas City has a more complete defensive backfield (The Texans are incredibly thin and weak at Safety) and have a decided edge here. The Chiefs also rank 2nd in the league in interceptions per game which could be a big stat.
Edge: Chiefs. Defense, again, comes down to points allowed for me. And Kansas City gave up the 3rd fewest points per game in the NFL this year. (Houston ranked 7th)
Edge: Chiefs. Football Outsiders has the definitive ranking system for special teams IMO. They rank the Chiefs 7th in the league, and the Texans 32nd, dead last.
Chiefs: Andy Reid is a veteran NFL coach with playoff experience, but not much of it very good. He's 10-10 lifetime which is pretty pedestrian. Given that, he has the Chiefs on a roll right now as they've won their last 10 games (after starting 1-5 that only win being against the Texans) and they are a confident group heading into this game.
Texans: Bill O'Brien has a lot of playoff experience as an assistant coach, but none as a head coach. He, ostensibly learned from Belicheck and it's hard to deny that 2015 was his best coaching job to date, taking a beat up offensive unit that couldn't keep a quarterback healthy and parlaying that to a 9-7 record and the AFC South crown.
Edge: Chiefs. O'Brien has been good this year, but Reid is more experienced. One other issue: The Texans have won soft. O'Brien has a track record of getting outcoached and out-schemed by better coaches.
Prediction: Kansas City 27 Houston Texans 10
I'm taking KC with the points, but I think both defenses keep the scoring suppressed. I also predict that KC's defense or special teams scores a touchdown at some point.