For much of the season, a playoff matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans seemed farfetched. Before the season began, Houston wasn’t expected to make the postseason at all, as the Indianapolis Colts were the clear favorite in the AFC South. As for Kansas City, a 1-5 start supposedly sank a team that many thought would contend for the AFC West title. Now, we enter Wildcard Weekend with a Chiefs versus Texans matchup among the competitors on the four-game slate.
The Texans seems to be the underdog, despite playing at home, and actually hold a record that is two wins short of the Chiefs’ mark (9-7 versus 11-5). This causes many to assume that the Chiefs should roll in this game, but their playoff success has been nonexistent since the ’90s, so it remains debatable if the franchise can actually win a postseason game. With that, here are the strengths and weaknesses of this matchup, which will ultimately determine the victor of this contest.
Breaking down the Texans
For the Houston Texans, the 2015 regular season was truly about overcoming adversity and finding a way. After beginning the season with a 1-4 record — including a loss to Kansas City in the season opener — the team finished 8-3 over its final 11 games (one of the better marks in the league over that time span). During that early stretch, the Texans struggled mightily on defense, giving up multiple 40-point performances in their first seven games. Their defense, led by J.J Watt (who led the league in sacks), figured it out though after a blow out loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The Texans’ defense consistently held teams to under 10 points week in and week out, as they ultimately ended up as the seventh stingiest unit in the NFL. The emergence of the defensive side of things has been integral in Houston’s division-winning season. On offense, things could be better for the Texans. It’s been a bit of a carousel at quarterback, as the team has had four different starters at signal caller this season.
Brian Hoyer will likely be the man getting the call in this game, which is probably the right choice. The inconsistency at starter, though, has led to a relatively low scoring offense. Outside of the quarterback position, the only true threat for Houston is the dynamic DeAndre Hopkins, who broke out to have the third-highest receiving yardage total in the league this season. If the defense is as dynamic as they have been down the stretch, Houston will be a tough team for Kansas City to beat. If the defense struggles though, the Texans could be in for a long day.
Breaking down the Chiefs
Since that 1-5 start, everything has gone well for the Kansas City Chiefs. As the winners of 10 straight games — the longest active streak in the league — the team has used an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over and a defense that doesn’t give up a lot of points to take care of business. It’s not highlight-reel football that the Chiefs play. Instead, it’s a team brand of football that is producing all of these wins. Diving into that defense, there is talent at every level.
Eric Berry has returned to help lead the unit at safety. Rookie corner Marcus Peters actually leads the league in interceptions. Linebackers Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston are as good as they come at that position. This doesn’t even include the defensive line, but players like those are the reason that Kansas City has been dominant on defense, especially during their current winning streak. They get sacks, they force turnovers, and they keep teams out of the end zone. That’s all you can ask out of an NFL defense.
Offensively, Alex Smith has played efficiently at quarterback, completing over 65% of his passes and only throwing 7 picks all season. The loss of running back Jamaal Charles early in the season was huge, but Kansas City found a way to be effective on the ground. The addition of Jeremy Maclin at receiver has been underrated. With over 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns, Maclin (and tight end Travis Kelce) has been critical in adding another dimension to the Chiefs’ offense. Again, nothing the Chiefs do is particularly exciting, but they have found a winning formula and it works to perfection right now. It’s like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Home-field advantage is definitely a nice thing to have in the NFL, especially in the postseason. Sometimes having that edge simply doesn’t matter though. We think that’ll be the case when Houston hosts Kansas City on Saturday. Kansas City is, frankly, the better team in this matchup. They have more on offense and defense, which should allow them to control this game from start to finish. It’s nothing against the Texans; Kansas City is probably better than most teams in the NFL right now. Houston will put up a fight (no doubt), but we see the Chiefs breaking that playoff drought and moving on to the divisional round.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs 33, Houston Texans 20
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