Previewing Saturday’s AFC Wild Card games

Playoff time arrives Saturday with two AFC matchups in which both of the road teams are favored, but with plenty of offensive weapons on display in both games.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Houston Texans (9-7)

The Kansas City Chiefs have pulled off the previously impossible, winning 10 straight games after losing five straight and making their way into the playoffs.

Both the Chiefs and Houston Texans have top-10 defenses, with Houston third overall and third against the pass. Kansas City is seventh overall, eighth against the rush and ninth against the pass.

Andy Reid is 5-0 against Houston and his Chiefs beat the Texans 27-20 in Week 2 of the 2015 season, with Alex Smith throwing for 243 yards, three touchdowns and a 118.6 passer rating and Travis Kelce going for 106 yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Still, this is the first meeting between the teams in the playoffs.

Things couldn’t be much closer between the quarterbacks and running backs for the two teams. Smith has 20 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 95.4 rating and has thrown nine playoff touchdowns and no interceptions. His 114 postseason passes without an interception is one completion away from tying the NFL record to start a career, and his nine touchdowns without an interception in postseason play is already a record.

Brian Hoyer has 19 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 91.4 rating and is making his postseason debut.

On the ground, Charcandrick West has 634 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carry for the Chiefs while Alfred Blue has 698 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

Both teams also have 1,000-yard receivers, although DeAndre Hopkins has been about 50 percent more productive than the Chiefs’ Jeremy Maclin. Hopkins has 111 catches for 1,521 yards (both second in the NFL) and 11 touchdowns. Maclin has 87 catches (the most in Chiefs history) for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns.

But for all the offensive comparisons between the two teams, both have lived on strong defenses. The Chiefs lead the AFC with a plus-14 turnover ratio and the Texans are at plus-5. Justin Houston has missed time with the Chiefs, but he still leads them with 7½ sacks while J.J. Watt not only leads the Texans with 17½ sacks but also leads the NFL. Combined with Whitney Mercilus (12 sacks), the Texans are the only team that had two players with 12 or more sacks.

In the defensive backfield, Kansas City’s Marcus Peters leads all rookies with eight interceptions and is tied for first in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

The Cincinnati Bengals have the better record in the AFC and the division title, but the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked higher in many of the basic categories – third in overall offense, third in passing offense and fifth in rushing defense. The Bengals are top 10 only in rushing defense, ranking seventh there. The Steelers have also won four of the past five and have their starting quarterback in place. The last time they met, the Steelers won 33-20 in Cincinnati.

Neither team is fortified with a 1,000-yard rusher. For the Steelers, DeAngelo Williams is tied for first in the NFL with 11 rush touchdowns and ranked third among AFC backs with 1,274 scrimmage yards in 2015, but for the season he has only 907 yards. Jeremy Hill leads the Bengals with 794 yards rushing and also has 11 touchdowns.

The Steelers offense runs through Ben Roethlisberger’s passing arm. He has 3,938 yards, despite starting only 12 games), 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and has arguably the best receiving threat in the NFL with Antonio Brown leading the league with 136 catches. The Steelers offense is ranked first in the AFC by averaging 395 yards a game and Roethlisberger’s 328.2-yard average in passing yards per game is the third-highest in NFL single-season history. He also has an 11-2 record at Cincinnati.

While Andy Dalton continues to recover from a thumb injury, A.J. McCarron is expected to make the start for the Bengals. He has been solid, completing 66 percent of his passes for 832 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in his last four games. He has a good receiving corps to lean on, spanning from a receiving threat out of the backfield like Giovani Bernard to a tight end like Tyler Eifert, who led all NFL tight ends with 13 touchdown catches, to wide receiver A.J. Green, who has 6,171 yards in his first five seasons, fifth-most of any NFL player in his first five seasons.

While Cincinnati has the 11th-ranked offense, it will have to be on point against Pittsburgh’s third-ranked offense.


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