Kansas City Chiefs (-3, 40 o/u) at Houston Texans
Despite playing at home, the Houston Texans (9-7, 5-3 Home) are not getting any respect from the oddsmakers, currently sitting as three point ‘dogs to the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 5-3 Away) for their Wild Card tilt this Saturday at NRG Stadium (4:20 PM Eastern).
Houston closed the season on a three-game win streak, but all three came against weak AFC South competition. The last time they played a playoff-caliber team, they were trounced (30-6 by the Patriots). While the defense is playing at an exceptionally high level thanks to Defensive MVP frontrunner JJ Watt, the Texans probably wouldn’t be here if they played in any other division in the AFC.
What’s making bettors even less inclined to take Houston is the fact that they already have a home loss to the Chiefs on their resume (27-20). That game came all the way back in Week 1, though, and a great deal has changed for both teams since then.
The biggest change for Houston has been the play of its defense. The unit gave up over 28 points per game through the first seven games. That number dropped to just over 12 in the final nine.
The secondary was solid, but the pass rush should get the bulk of the credit. Watt finished the year as the league-leader in sacks with 17.5, and he could have a field day chasing Kansas City QB Alex Smith, who was taken down 45 times, third-most in the NFL.
Despite protection issues, Kansas City comes into the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFL. The Chiefs have won ten straight after limping to a 1-5 start. They played an easy schedule down the stretch – and barely got by some struggling squads like the Chargers and Browns – but posting ten straight wins is a feat unto itself.
Much to everyone’s surprise, KC started its streak a week after losing star RB Jamaal Charles. The defense has been one of the premier units in the league over the last ten weeks, but the offense also evolved to a more aggressive approach that’s been paying dividends. After Charles went down, Smith started finding wideout Jeremy Maclin for chunk plays. Maclin, the team’s prized offseason acquisition, finished the year with 87 catches, eight touchdowns, and nearly 1,100 receiving yards.
Meanwhile, the combination of Charcandrick West (634 yards on 160 carries) and Spencer Ware (403 yards on 72 carries) kept the running game viable, and the KC offense did enough on a weekly basis to support its tenacious D (17.9 PPG, third in the NFL).
Not only do the Chiefs come in humming, they also have recent history on their side. They’re 4-1 ATS in their last five in Houston (and 7-3, ATS, on their current win streak), while the Texans are a concerning 2-5 ATS in their last seven games as a home underdog.
Pick: Chiefs -3.
(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)