A spot in the AFC Championship Game is on the line as the Kansas City Chiefs begin their playoff run by hosting the Houston Texans. Game time is at 3:05 EST on Sunday, January 12 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
The Chiefs are currently listed as 9.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 50.5 points. Click here for the latest betting odds for all four of the NFL’s Divisional Round playoff games.
The Texans were fortunate (to say the least) to have survived last week’s Wild Card game with the Bills. Houston trailed 16-0 midway through the third quarter before finally waking up and eventually winning in overtime. The comeback averted disaster for the Texans after an impressive 10-6 regular season. They will now look to finally take that next step forward. This is the fourth time in franchise history the Texans have reached the Divisional Round and the second time under Bill O’Brien. However, they’ve lost all three of their previous games at this stage and would love to finally get over the hump.
As for the Chiefs, they are hoping to reach the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season. Despite playing in the conference title game a year ago, Andy Reid has just a 2-5 playoff record since coming to Kansas City. However, the Chiefs enter the playoffs on a six-game winning streak that helped them cap off another 12-4 regular season. Rather quietly, Kansas City finished 2019 as one of the hottest teams in the NFL and an obvious contender to win the Super Bowl.
Of course, it’s worth noting that this game is a rematch of a Week 6 contest at Arrowhead that the Texans won 31-24. Kansas City’s 17-3 lead at the end of the first quarter didn’t hold up, as Houston overcame three turnovers to win the game. More importantly, the Texans dominated the game statistically, holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes, out-gaining the Chiefs by over 150 yards and racking up 35 first downs compared to Kansas City’s 20. However, replicating that kind of performance in a January playoff game will be easier said than done.
While it’s tough to put too much stock in a Week 6 game, Houston’s win that day was even more impressive than the final score indicates. If nothing else, it’ll give the Texans confidence that they can pull off another upset over the Chiefs. Houston survived last week despite not playing their best game, which makes me think this spread is way too big. After Houston already out-played Kansas City once this season, I’ll lean toward the Texans to at least beat the 9.5-point spread in a close game that could go either way.
With Kansas City, I have no doubt that Patrick Mahomes can carry them to a win and perhaps carry them to a Super Bowl. But I’m not sure he alone can beat the Texans by double digits. The Chiefs had just three wins over playoff teams this season, and all three games were decided by seven points or less. I think Kansas City’s margin for error is a little smaller than people realize. They might also be putting too much on the shoulders of Mahomes.
My biggest concern with the Chiefs is the running game. While the Houston defense has been vulnerable against the run this year, the Chiefs couldn’t muster much on the ground back in Week 6. Things haven’t gotten much better since then. Even with Damien Williams back, the Chiefs are averaging less than 100 rushing yards per game. Winning in the playoffs requires a productive running game, and there’s no certainty the Chiefs can generate one.
If the Chiefs can’t run the ball effectively, it opens the door for Houston’s pass rush to make an impact on the game. J.J. Watt returned from injury last week and was an immediate difference-maker. The Houston defense wasn’t the same late in the season after he got hurt, but there was a notable difference with Watt back last week. After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive last week, the Texans only gave up field goals the rest of the way. With Watt back, Houston’s pass rush has a chance to disrupt Mahomes just enough to keep the Kansas City offense at bay, especially if the Chiefs don’t get much from their running game.
On the other side of the ball, a lot hinges on the shoulders of Deshaun Watson. The Kansas City defense became an asset late in the year, giving up 11.5 points per game during the team’s six-game winning streak. Watson will likely face a bigger challenge than he did in Week 6, especially with Houston’s porous offensive line allowing him to be sacked seven times by the Bills last week.
However, Watson was incredibly productive last week despite those sacks. He didn’t throw an interception and still managed to complete 20 of his 25 passes for nearly 250 yards. Watson made some truly spectacular throws and also did some damage with his legs. The hope for the Texans that Will Fuller can return from injury and open up the passing game. But even without him, DeAndre Hopkins will be a handful for the Kansas City defense. The Texans have also had a steady rushing attack all season behind Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 116 yards against the Chiefs in Week 6.
In the end, the Chiefs are not without their flaws and the Texans have too much high-end talent to go down without a fight. There isn’t much of a gap in offensive talent between these teams, and with Watt back, the same can be said of each team’s defense. This feels destined to be a close game and I can’t abide by the 9.5-point spread. I like the Texans to at least make this a one-score game and beat the spread.