NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff Round

The Wild Card round of the playoffs is in the books, and there are four teams left in the AFC. After squeaking out a win against the Buffalo Bills, the Houston Texans now face the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans head to Baltimore to face the top seeded Ravens. Which teams will make the AFC Championship round?

Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

After trailing early in their Wildcard game, the Texans were able to claim a victory thanks to their Quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Watson also had a big game when these teams met during the season, leading Houston to a win over the Chiefs in Week 6. Since then, however, the Chiefs have improved on Defence, going 8-2, while the Texans were less consistent, going 6-4.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Houston’s greatest strength is their Offense, led by Watson and Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins. While they have been successful running the ball when necessary, they should look to use it more here. The Chiefs were 26th against the run this season, allowing over 120 yards per game. Additionally, the Texans were improved on Defence with the return of Defensive End JJ Watt against Buffalo. But they still gave up over 450 yards in that game, and were especially bad at covering smaller, quicker receivers.

Which is particularly good news for Kansas City, whose receiving corps is littered with smaller, quicker receivers in Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs may give up a large number of ground yards, but they were a top 10 team against the pass. Additionally, with their quick-strike Offense and QB Patrick Mahomes’ ability to make plays against anyone, they can keep up on the scoreboard. Mahomes in particular will look to exploit the Texans’ secondary, as they lack the depth to cover the versatile weapons the Chiefs possess.

The Gameplan

Houston need to prioritise a few things in this one. Pressuring Mahomes is important, but it’s more important that he doesn’t make plays with his legs. Cornerback Bradley Roby is likely to matchup against Tight End Travis Kelce, but Hill will most likely be bracketed by CB Gareon Conley and Safety Justin Reid. If the other CBs can survive in single coverage, the Texans should be able to restrict the Chiefs from scoring too much. Offensively, they will need to not only lean on the run, including designed runs for Watson, but also take their shots and hit on them downfield when they can.

Kansas City are going to rely on their Offense to put up points, allowing them to play from in front on Defence. WR Sammy Watkins should see a large amount of single coverage, and if he can find space on intermediate routes he will open up other players. Likewise, Kelce’s size will make it difficult for the Texans to line up defensively, and should see a lot of time as a run blocker. It’s unlikely the Chiefs will employ a spy to contain Watson, but they also may not blitz too much unless they have a lead. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is likely to see more time in the box if Houston try to run the ball with Watson, and should see some snaps as a blitzer.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans

Finishing the season with a charge into the 6th seed, Tennessee have developed one of the best Offenses in the league. They have become highly effective in the red zone, and finished as the third best rushing attack. Yet Baltimore were far and away the best rushing attack in the league, and have had multiple weeks to get healthy and focus on how to stop Titans’ RB Derrick Henry.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Without Henry, Tennessee would have most likely not made the playoffs. While QB Ryan Tannehill was able to move the ball with his arms and legs, the Offense is built around Henry. WR AJ Brown and TE Jonnu Smith have been the reliable targets for Tannehill, supplemented by other players as needed. However, their Defence has been porous, allowing over 350 yards per game, faring a bit better against the run. In their final 8 games, 6 of their opponents scored 20+ points, with one of the 2 who didn’t being the Texans in Week 17, who sat players with nothing to play for.

Baltimore have developed one of the strongest ground attacks in NFL history, averaging over 200 yards per game. But their passing attack isn’t ineffective – it just doesn’t need to be used much. The Defence boasts one of the best secondaries in the league, while they allow less than 100 yards rushing per game. Between both phases, they finished 4th in the league in total yards per game, although struggled to get sacks.

The Gameplan

Baltimore will want to play from in front so that they can continue running the ball, and are likely to run between the tackles. They will continue to use 2 and 3 TE sets, and may look to pass the ball early, so that the Titans don’t stack the box as much. The Offensive Line has been strong all season, and should create strong running lanes for the Ravens. Tennessee will need to rely on their Linebackers as they did against New England Patriots last week, to shore up the holes left by their mediocre Defensive Line.

Tennessee will need Tannehill to make enough plays in this matchup. Brown will need to separate from his coverage, but will face a Pro Bowl Cornerback wherever he lines up. They will target Ravens’ LB Jaylon Ferguson with Henry and the run game. But Tennessee will especially need to avoid running up the middle too much, which is the strength of the Ravens’ Defence. RB Dion Lewis may see an increased role in this one as a pass catcher, aiming to generate yards after catch.

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