AFC Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview
The two AFC wild-card round games this year are both on Saturday so that’s good in one respect for the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos and No. 2 New England Patriots as they will know their opponents for the divisional round by late Saturday night. One interesting note about this Saturday’s games is that both road teams — i.e. the non-division winners — are the favorites.
CHIEFS AT TEXANS
No team is hotter than Kansas City (11-5), which is the AFC’s No. 5 seed and enters the playoffs on a league-high 10-game winning streak. That immediately followed a five-game losing streak that had the Chiefs at 1-5 and seemingly already looking to 2016. Kansas City is the first team in NFL history to win 11 games in a season in which it had a five-game losing streak. The Chiefs are 3-point favorites for Saturday’s first game at AFC South Division winner Houston (9-7).
It’s probably fair to call the Texans the worst teams in these playoffs. They have cycled through a handful of quarterbacks this season and in fact have had five players through a touchdown pass. But there’s no question the starter for Saturday as it’s Brian Hoyer. He missed two late-season games with a concussion but returned for Week 17 and played solidly. He’s fine here, although a big hit to his head could mean Houston has to turn to backup Brandon Weeden, the former Dallas Cowboys castoff. The Texans have won seven of their past nine games, allowing just 12.7 points per game over that stretch and holding opponents to six points or fewer in five of those contests. They have the likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the incomparable J.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 17.5 sacks this season.
The Chiefs defeated the Texans 27-20 in Week 1 in Houston with Alex Smith throwing three touchdown passes, including two to Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, who finished with six catches for 106 yards. Hoyer started that game but was rather ineffective and replaced in the fourth quarter by Ryan Mallett (no longer with team), who led the team to a couple of largely meaningless touchdowns.
Kansas City is 7.000 to win the AFC title and Houston is 26.000.
STEELERS AT BENGALS
It’s the third meeting this season between No. 6 seed Pittsburgh (10-6) and No. 3 Cincinnati (12-4), which was the AFC North champion. The Steelers backed into the playoffs in Week 17 thanks to their win over Cleveland, which was expected, and the New York Jets’ loss at Buffalo, which was a minor surprise. The Steelers are 3-point favorites for this game with a total of 45.5.
The Bengals tied a franchise-record with 12 wins and won the division for the fourth time under head coach Marvin Lewis. However, Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990, the longest drought in the NFL right now. And the Bengals will continue to go with backup quarterback A.J. McCarron because Andy Dalton remains out with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
These division rivals split during the season, each winning on the road. There were key injuries in each. Pittsburgh lost star running back Le’Veon Bell for the season in a Week 8 home loss, while the Bengals’ Dalton injured his thumb early in Cincinnati’s Week 14 defeat to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is 5.5000 to win the AFC title and Cincinnati is 13.0000.
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