The NFL playoffs officially get underway this weekend with an AFC Wild Card game between the Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills. Kickoff is set for 4:35 EST on Saturday, January 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Fans can watch the game on either ESPN or ABC.
Early betting odds have the Texans listed as 3-point favorites at home with an over/under of 42.5 points. Click here to check out the betting odds for every NFL playoff game during Wild Card Weekend.
Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, the Bills might be the biggest surprise. They started fast, going 5-1 out of the gate and remained at the top of the Wild Card standings nearly all season. For what it’s worth, Buffalo was just 1-4 this year in games against playoff teams. However, the Bills were able to take care of business against weaker opponents on their way to being 10-6 despite losing three of their last four games heading into the playoffs.
For Buffalo, this will be their second trip to the playoffs in the last three seasons. The Bills snapped their 17-year playoff drought in 2017, only to lose 10-3 to the Jaguars in the Wild Card Round. This time around, the Bills are hoping to take another step forward and win a playoff game for the first time since 1995.
As for the Texans, going to the playoffs has become old hat. After winning the AFC South crown this season, Houston has won the division in six of the last nine seasons, including four of the last five years under Bill O’Brien. However, playoff success has been harder to find. The Texans are just 3-5 all-time in the playoffs and just 1-3 under O’Brien, including a home loss to the Colts in last year’s Wild Card Round.
This year, the Texans showed remarkable consistency, to a certain extent. Houston never lost back-to-back games, although they never once had a three-game winning streak. In a way, that bodes well for them after losing 35-14 to the Titans in Week 17 with several key starters getting the day off. They also have a 3-3 record against playoff teams, so the Texans have proven that they can beat quality opponents.
This might be one of the toughest games to call this weekend. Despite a few losses late in the year, the Bills are 6-2 on the road this season. They also play good defense and run the ball effectively, two qualities that usually pay dividends in the playoffs. However, the Texans undoubtedly have more talent at quarterback and the offensive skill positions. I think Houston finds a way to win by a touchdown and cover the spread.
The key for Buffalo will be running the ball effectively and keeping the Houston offense off the field. Rookie running back Devin Singletary averaged over five yards per carry during the regular season and should be a factor against a sluggish Houston run defense. Veteran Frank Gore should also be a factor. If nothing else, he can soften up the Houston defense to help make things a little easier for Singletary.
However, I still have some concerns about Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen playing a road playoff game. To his credit, Allen has limited himself to just two interceptions over his last 11 games. He’s undoubtedly made some strides in the ball security department. However, his accuracy late in the season left much to be desired, completing less than 50% of his passes in the month of December. That’s not going to cut it in the playoffs.
Adding to the problems is that Allen was sacked 11 times from Week 14 to Week 16. The Bills conceded 2.5 sacks per game on the season and may have to contend with J.J. Watt, who is hoping to return from injury this week. Buffalo is also lacking in elite receiving options. John Brown and Cole Beasley have been good enough to get by during the regular season. However, the Bills have scored no more than 17 points in their final four games. They’ll need to find a way to overcome Allen’s accuracy issues and a lack of elite playmakers in the passing game.
In fairness, Buffalo has a quality defense that might be able to force a low-scoring game that gives Allen and the offense a chance late in the game. However, the Texans might have the most dynamic offense the Bills have faced all season. The overall numbers on the Houston offense are just a tick above average. But when Deshaun Watson and company get rolling, they can be difficult to stop.
The Houston offensive line is one area of concern, as the Texans yielded 49 sacks this year. However, those offensive line woes didn’t prevent Carlos Hyde from rushing for over 1,000 yards this season, helping to keep the Houston offense balanced. Hyde and the running game make the receiving trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills all the more challenging to defend. Fuller, while questionable, is trending in the right direction, so the Texans should be at full strength. Despite Buffalo’s talented secondary, keeping all three contained will be difficult, especially with a mobile quarterback like Watson who’s a threat with his legs.
In the end, I think Watson and Houston’s receivers will create enough big plays to get some separation in this game. The Buffalo defense is good, but they won’t be able to keep the Texans under wraps all game. At some point, Allen will have to make plays with his arm, and I’m just not sure he’s ready to answer the call. I think Houston wins by at least touchdown and covers the 3-point spread.