The playoff table is set, and four of the 12 teams still alive will be eliminated next weekend. Here’s a breakdown of the AFC games on Saturday…
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET: (5) Kansas City Chiefs at (4) Houston Texans
Both are hot: The Chiefs have won a ridiculous 10 straight games, many in lopsided fashion, while the Texans have quietly won seven of their last nine.
Defense wins wild-card games: At least it should here. Both ranked in the top eight in terms of both points and yards allowed.
Matchup to watch: Young stud Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins against young stud Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, who has given up a lot of big plays but also makes them and can shut good wideouts down.
Houston could be Houston’s problem: The Texans lost Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown to a torn quad in Week 17, which could be a killer considering the Chiefs defensive front is likely to get Justin Houston back from a knee injury. The Texans might have the best defensive player on the field in J.J. Watt, but a healthy Houston isn’t far off.
Prediction: We know both defenses will be good, but the streaking Chiefs also have a top-10 offense and a more reliable quarterback. They hardly ever turn the ball over and they were a solid 5-3 away from home this season (including a Week 1 victory in Houston). The Texans survived with an easy schedule in a weak division and are destined to be one-and-done here. Chiefs 23, Texans 17
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET: (6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (3) Cincinnati Bengals
One has a healthy quarterback: Timing is key. Most of the season, the Steelers were faced with injuries to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger while the Bengals skipped along merrily with Andy Dalton in a breakout campaign. But now Big Ben is healthy and is ready to do damage with his deep receiving corps, and Dalton is on the sideline. AJ McCarron hasn’t been bad, but he’s green and Dalton finished the year with the second-highest qualified passer rating in football. It’s a quarterbacks league, and McCarron might not have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Roethlisberger.
Turnovers matter: On paper, the Bengals were better defensively than the Steelers this season. But both gave up fewer than 18 points per game during the final five weeks of the season. The reality is the Pittsburgh defense hasn’t been close to as bad as many expected prior to the season, and they actually had a league-high 12 takeaways in those final five games. Cincy doesn’t turn it over often, but it could be a different story in McCarron’s first playoff game. The Bengals have also committed 13 turnovers in six playoff games under head coach Marvin Lewis.
Matchup to watch: Jeremy Hill vs. Cameron Heyward and a Steelers run defense that ranked in the top five in football while giving up just six touchdowns and 3.8 yards per carry. Hill has to find a way to put together a big game against an underrated unit.
Prediction: Pittsburgh beat the Bengals handily on the road in each of the last two Decembers. It might be tough to pull away against a good defense, especially if they don’t have a lot of balance without DeAngelo Williams, but they should still get past a Bengals team that has faded without Dalton. Steelers 27, Bengals 23