AFC Divisional Playoff Forecast

Houston Texans at New England Patriots: Texans QB Brock Osweiler surprised a lot of people in a win over the Oakland Raiders a week ago. Osweiler was 14 of 25 for 168 yards with 1 TD and no INTs, he also ran for a score. The conservative, do not make mistakes mentality allowed the Texans to score just enough points to get the win in the wild card round. The Raiders were without their star QB Derek Carr and the Texans defense, which ranked 1st in total defense, shut down the Raiders offense. This week, Osweiler will have to continue to not turn the football over as he faces his toughest challenge yet, the red hot New England Patriots and their 8th ranked total defense. We expect the Texans to try and run the ball and keep Tom Brady off the field, but eventually Osweiler will have to hit some big plays downfield if the Texans want a chance for a massive upset. We think the key will be how the Texans defense will play against the league’s 4th ranked offense. They can rush the QB with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus off the edge, and if you can continue to harass Tom Brady you give your defense a chance to get stops. I believe it will be closer than people expect, as the Texans defense will keep them in the game but eventually the Patriots will force Osweiler into mistakes and too many 3rd and longs which will ultimately decide the game. The Texans inability to hit big plays on offense will wear the defense down as they will be on the field for too long and the Patriots should run away with it in the 4th quarter.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: These are the two teams with the chance to upset the New England Patriots this postseason. This is the first time the Steelers have had a fully healthy “big three” in QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, so that will definitely be a major factor. The Dolphins could not stop Brown as he had 5 catches for 124 yards and two TDs in their win last week. We believe the Chiefs star CB Marcus Peters will do a much better job of limiting what Brown can do in the pass game, and force other WRs to beat them. The Chiefs defense has been susceptible this season, as they rank 24th in total defense, but they make up for it with a league leading +16 in turnover differential. The Chiefs defense forces you into mistakes and their offense does not make very many mistakes. The Chiefs are a completely different team with an emerging star in WR Tyreek Hill, who led the league in 60 plus yard TDs this year. He is explosive and a great complement to WR Jeremy Maclin and the All-Pro TE Travis Kelce over the middle. RB Spencer Ware has done a nice job filling in for the injured Jamaal Charles, and we believe the Chiefs will have great balance on offense. The biggest key to this game is QB Alex Smith, he has been called a game manger in the past but he has the ability to rip it downfield. The key will be his legs, which are vastly underrated. Smith runs the read-option and is far more athletic than people think, he can convert big third downs on the ground if the defense plays man across the board which will be a huge factor in sustaining drives. This game is a toss up, but I think that the Chiefs defense will get enough stops, force some turnovers and allow the offense to manage the game, while hitting a few big plays. The Chiefs should get the win with the help of their home-field advantage, but it will be a great game!

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]