Chiefs (-3) at Texans, 4:35 PM EST, ESPN
These teams played back in Week 1, which means both coaches have a firm grasp on many of the points of contention they need to win in order to advance. Although certain personnel is completely different, philosophy remains the same, as do the starting quarterbacks both teams prepared for to start the season, Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Houston’s Brian Hoyer.
Smith torched the Texans for a season-high three first-half touchdowns in the opener, proving active with his feet as well. In fact, up until he tied the mark during the finale against Oakland, his nine carries against Houston held up as a season-long. J.J. Watt did pick up the first two of his NFL-leading 17.5 sacks, but the game was basically over at halftime after Travis Kelce found the end zone twice in the first quarter and the Chiefs held a 27-9 lead after 30 minutes. Andy Reid’s team didn’t manage to gain more than 25 yards on a single drive in the second half, in part because they didn’t have to.
This isn’t that Chiefs offense, one that helped the team to a perfect preseason and was fueled by Charles, who was perhaps the NFL’s most feared playmaker at the time, scoring five touchdowns in the first three games. Kansas City relies on an improved offensive line, Smith’s quick decision-making and mobility and the legs of former backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. West, an undrafted free agent, is most like Charles and a threat catching passes out of the backfield, while Ware, a former sixth-round pick, is more of a pounder and short-yardage threat. Both will see action to help keep the Texans pass-rush, which ranks fifth in the league with 45 sacks. Kansas City ranks fourth with 47.
Hoyer threw for 236 yards before being replaced by Ryan Mallett, who wound up starting the next two weeks, part of what has been a wild year for the player who emerged from training camp with the job but wound up starting only 11 games due to concussion issues and Bill O’Brien’s early indecision. After suffering concussions each of the past two months, Hoyer returned in Week 17 to throw 40 passes, completing 25 for 249 yards, in the 30-6 win over Jacksonville that clinched Houston’s postseason berth.
The Texans offense will rely on Alfred Blue as the primary back. Blue, who shared carries with Ware at LSU, comes off his third 100-yard game of the season against the Jaguars and has been a reliable option. Jonathan Grimes will get third-down carries, while top receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be leaned upon to help move the chains in chunks.
It should be noted that these are two of the better defense in the league against tight ends, which makes Kelce’s Week 1 exploits all the more impressive.
Kansas City is expecting to have sack-leader Justin Houston back after a lenghty absence due to a knee injury, which combined with the availability of Tamba Hali and Dee Ford, means the defense will be absolutely loaded up front. Safety Husain Abdullah is also due back from a neck injury, though he’s listed as questionable. Houston is completely healthy outside of former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, who is questionable due to a foot injury. He practiced Thursday.
The total here opened at 41 but has settled at 40 at most books. Weather is expected to be partly cloudy with some wind, but should be relatively mild for a January playoff game. Reid is 10-10 in the playoffs and 0-1 with Kansas City, losing that memorable 45-44 game to Indianapolis two years ago. O’Brien, who has a rich playoff history as an assistant in New England, will be leading his first playoff game as head coach.