The NFL playoffs are off to a sizzling start with two of the four Wild Card round games going into overtime, a Tennessee Titans victory over the Patriots in Foxborough, and another heartbreaking loss for the New Orleans Saints at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings.
This upcoming weekend, my beloved Kansas City Chiefs and star quarterback Patrick Mahomes II take on the Houston Texans and stud quarterback Deshaun Watson, who essentially willed his team to victory by being great last week against the Buffalo Bills.
For starters, these two teams played back in Arrowhead Stadium, the site of Sunday’s divisional round matchup, back in Week Six of the regular season in early October. The Texans won that matchup 31-24. In that game, the Texans out-gained the Chiefs 472 yards to 309 yards. The Texans also ran for 192 yards and also got 35 first downs in that game while the Chiefs only ran for 58 yards and got 20 first downs. However the Texans did turn the ball over three times compared to KC’s two turnovers, two of which were Deshaun Watson interceptions.
However, I believe none of that matters this time around. The Chiefs were without a significant number of starters for that matchup, including starting DT Chris Jones, starting OL Andrew Wylie and Eric Fisher, starting WR Sammy Watkins, starting LB Anthony Hitchens as well as LB Dorian O’Daniel. Furthermore starting CB Kendall Fuller left midway through the second quarter with an injury, and star WR Tyreek Hill was just coming back from his injury. QB Patrick Mahomes also twisted his ankle during the game which hindered his ability to escape the pocket and extend plays. Simply put: the Chiefs were wounded.
That is not to say that the Texans were not without their own injuries. Starting WR Kenny Stills missed the game the last time these teams met as well. Stills had a decent regular season, hauling in 40 catches for 561 yards and 4 TD’s. It’s not the type of numbers that will wow any one person, but those numbers are respectable and force defenses to pay attention to him, which opens up more targets and takes more attention away from guys like Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
Below are three keys to the game for both teams that I believe will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:
- Kansas City must convert on 3rd down. They convert on average 47.6% of their third downs throughout the season. The Texans ate up roughly 40 minutes of game clock last time these teams met. That cannot happen if the Chiefs expect to win this game. Converting on third down and extending drives will ensure the Texans do not have the ball for that long this time around.
- Kansas City must stop the rushing attack of the Texans. They rushed for 192 yards last time they met. The Chiefs defense has played well lately, giving up only an average of 95 rushing yards over the last six weeks.
- Kansas City must pressure Deshaun Watson consistently throughout the game. Deshaun takes the most sacks out of any QB in the league, but there were two games this season in which he was not sacked. One of those games was when he last faced the Chiefs in Week Six. The Chiefs must pressure Watson and sack him a couple of times in order to find success in this game. Having DT Chris Jones back and adding DE Terrell Suggs to the defensive line this time around should help the Chiefs be able to do so.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR THE HOUSTON TEXANS:
- Protect Deshaun Watson. Contrary to one of the keys for the Chiefs, Houston must protect Watson. He has been under pressure for much of the season. When he was not sacked against the Chiefs, Watson threw for 280 yards and one TD while also running for 42 yards and two TD’s. The less pressure Watson is under, the more time he has to make better decisions and throw the ball accurately to his receiving core.
- Contain the Chiefs running game. The Texans must try to make the Chiefs one dimensional. Now forcing Patrick Mahomes to drop back and throw with all those weapons around him might not sound like a bad idea to all the Chiefs fans, but I believe Houston should aim to make the Chiefs one dimensional. This allows the Texans defense to more accurately defend against the deadly passing attack Kansas City possesses. If the Texans stop the Chiefs’ run game, this will allow guys like DE JJ Watt, DE DJ Reader, and LB Whitney Mercilus to pin their ears back and go all out on rushing the quarterback in order to attempt forcing Mahomes into some bad decisions.
- Get all three main wide receivers involved. The Chiefs are missing rookie standout safety Juan Thornhill, who tore his ACL against the Los Angeles Chargers in the regular season finale for the Chiefs. This forces second year safety Armani Watts to step into a bigger role. Watts has not seen as many reps as Thornhill, and I believe the Texans should try to take advantage of that by stretching the field vertically against the Chiefs’ secondary. Hopkins is one of the top three receivers in the league in my book, so he obviously needs to be involved, but the play of Will Fuller and Kenny Stills could go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
The Chiefs are 10 point favorites according to Vegas, but I think it’ll be closer than that. I think the Chiefs convert on third down to help keep the Texans offense off the field for less than 40 minutes (which is how long they were on the field last time these teams met). However, I like Houston’s ability to challenge the Chiefs’ defense, who has been good as of late, but has not faced the best QB’s the last six weeks. While the Chiefs did face Tom Brady in Foxborough, they also faced an aging Phillip Rivers (twice), rookie Drew Lock, Derek Carr, and Mitchell Trubisky. Deshaun is definitively better than most of those quarterbacks, but I believe the Chiefs defense will play better than last time these teams met. The Chiefs will limit the Texan’s rushing attack and will create some pressure on Deshaun. Mahomes will have his full compliment of weapons and a way improved defense behind his back. Add in the home field advantage, and I see the Chiefs walking away with the win. I’ll take Kansas City to win 27-20.
As always, you can find me on twitter as @bradyvaughan30