NFL divisional playoff matchups: AFC previews

With all four games this weekend being rematches from the regular season, we preview the AFC playoffs, where the four remaining teams are division winners.




Nobody is more heavily favored in the divisional games than the New England Patriots, who are 16-point favorites and still have 75 percent of the betting public on their side, according to There is good reason for that. The Patriots have won seven of eight all-time meetings, including the playoffs and including all four home games against the Houston Texans. In Week 3, that meant a 27-0 New England win.

The quarterbacks aren’t even a contest. New England’s Tom Brady has the playoff cache with 22 career postseason wins, the most in NFL history, four Super Bowl wins and three Super Bowl MVPs, both tied for the most. He also is the NFL postseason leader in completions (738), attempts (1,183), passing yards (7,957) and touchdown passes (56).

The really bad news for the Texans is that Brady doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, with a plus-100 passer rating in eight of his 12 games played after returning from suspension this season. His 112.2 rating in 2016 was second in the NFL. He simply rarely makes the big mistake with a 14/2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, the best in NFL history.

He creates weapons in the passing game (Julian Edelman had 98 catches for 1,106 yards) and is complemented with a running game that ranks fourth. LeGarrette Blount is the workhorse with 299 carries for 1,161 yards and Deon Lewis had double-digit carries in the last three games.

The Texans counter with a shaky Brock Osweiler, who had one more interception (16) than touchdowns (15) and a 72.2 rating in the regular season. With the Houston passing game ranked 29th, they rely heavily on RB Lamar Miller, who had 1,073 yards and five touchdowns rushing and averages about two catches a game.

Where the Texans make their mark is on defense. They had the top-ranked unit in the league and were 12th against the rush and first against the pass, led by DE Jadeveon Clowney, who ranked second among AFC defensive ends with 16 tackles-for-loss and had a career-high six sacks.  LB Whitney Mercilus also packs a pass-rushing punch and led them with 7½ sacks .

The Texans can bring it defensively, but they may have a hard time turning over the disciplined Patriots, who had a plus-12 turnover differential compared to the Texans’ minus-7.

LEADER   7-1
STREAKS   Past 5
COACHES VS. OPP. Bill O’Brien: 0-2 Bill Belichick: 7-1
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Bill O’Brien: 1-1 Bill Belichick: 23-10
VS. COMMON OPP. Hou: 1-1 (Cin 1-0; Den 0-1)
NE: 2-0 (Cin 1-0; Den 1-0)
LAST WEEK W 27-14 vs. Oakland Bye (Week 17: W 35-14 at Miami)
LAST GAME 9/22/16: Texans 0 at Patriots 27. New England rookie QB Jacoby Brissett has rush TD. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount rushes for 105 yards & 2 TDs.
LAST PLAYOFF 1/13/13: Texans 28 at Patriots 41. New England QB Tom Brady passes for 344 yards & 3 TDs. Patriots WR Wes Welker has 8 catches for 131 yards.
REFEREE Pete Morelli
BROADCAST CBS (8:15 PM ET): Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely (Field reporters). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (Hou), 82 (NE). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (Hou), 82 (NE).
PASSING Brock Osweiler: 301-510-2957-15-16-72.2 Tom Brady: 291-432-3554-28-2-112.2 (2L)
RUSHING Lamar Miller: 268-1073-4.0-5 LeGarrette Blount: 299-1161-3.9-18 (1L)
RECEIVING DeAndre Hopkins: 78-954-12.2-4 Julian Edelman: 98-1106-11.3-3
OFFENSE 314.7 386.3
DEFENSE 301.3 (1L) 326.4
SACKS Whitney Mercilus: 7.5 Trey Flowers: 7
INTs Quintin Demps: 6 (T2L) Malcolm Butler: 4
PR Tyler Ervin (R): 9.7 Danny Amendola: 6.7
KR Tyler Ervin (R): 18.8 Cyrus Jones (R): 22.5
PUNTING Shane Lechler: 47.5 Ryan Allen: 44.7
KICKING Nick Novak: 127 (22/25 PAT; 35/41 FG) Stephen Gostkowski: 127 (46/49 PAT; 27/32 FG)

TEAMS MEET for 2nd time in postseason. Patriots defeated Texans 41-28 in Divisional playoff on 1/13/13. NE leads all-time series 7-1 (incl. playoffs). NE defeated Hou. 27-0 in Week 3.


Won consecutive AFC South titles for 2nd time in franchise history (2011-12)…QB BROCK OSWEILER had pass TD & rush TD in WC win vs. Oak…RB LAMAR MILLER rushed for TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with rush TD. Ranked 6th in AFC with 1,073 rush yards, 7th most rush yards in single season in franchise history. Has 170 scrimmage yards (140 rush, 30 rec.) in past 2 vs. NE…WR DE ANDRE HOPKINS had rec. TD last week. Is 1 of 9 in NFL history with 50+ catches & 800+ rec. yards in each of 1st 4 seasons. Has most receptions (317) by player in 1st 4 career seasons in franchise history. Led team with 78 catches & 954 rec. yards. TE C.J. FIEDOROWICZ had 54 catches in 2016, tied for 4th most by TE in Texans’ history. WR-PR WILL FULLER ranked 3rd among NFL rookies with 635 rec. yards. Was 1 of 2 NFL rookies with rec. TD (2) & PR-TD (1) this season…DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY was named to 1st career Pro Bowl. Had INT in 1st career playoff game last week. Ranked 2nd among AFC DEs with 16 TFL. Had career-high 6 sacks. Has 4 TFL, 3 sacks, INT & FF in his past 4 (incl. playoffs). LB BRIAN CUSHING is franchise leader with 648 tackles. Has 28 tackles (9.3 per game), INT & TFL in past 3 postseason games. S QUINTIN DEMPS led team & tied for 2nd in NFL with 6 INTs. Has INT in 5 of past 7 (incl. playoffs). LB BENARDRICK MC KINNEY was only NFL player with 125+ tackles (129) & 5+ sacks (5) in 2016. LB WHITNEY MERCILUS has 5 sacks & 6 TFL in past 2 postseason games. Set franchise postseason record with 3 sacks in 1/9/16 WC vs. KC. Has 5 sacks in past 5 (incl. playoffs). Led team with 7.5 sacks. CB A.J. BOUYE had INT & 4 PD last week.


Have won 8 consecutive division titles, longest streak in NFL history. Since 2001, have won 4 Super Bowl titles, most in NFL. Have 29-19 (.604) all-time postseason record, 3rd highest winning pct. in playoff history…Head coach BILL BELICHICK has 23 career postseason wins, most all-time. Has won 4 Super Bowl titles (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX), tied with CHUCK NOLL for most in NFL history…Patriots had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: QB TOM BRADY (12th), LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER (1st), S DEVIN MC COURTY (3rd) & ST MATTHEW SLATER (6th)…QB Brady is all-time postseason leader in wins (22), passing att. (1,183), completions (738), yards (7,957) & TDs (56). Has 10 career postseason games with 300+ pass yards, most all-time. Has won 4 Super Bowls as starting QB & 3 Super Bowl MVPs, both tied for most in NFL history. Had 14.0 TD/INT ratio (28 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs), highest in NFL history (min. 20 pass TDs.)…RB LE GARRETTE BLOUNT led NFL with franchise-record 18 rush TDs. Has 7 rush TDs in 5 career postseason games. Aims for 6th in row with rush TD. Rushed for 105 yards & 2 TDs in last meeting. RB JAMES WHITE tied for lead among NFL RBs with 5 TD catches…WR JULIAN EDELMAN has 9+ catches & 95+ rec. yards in 3 of past 4 in postseason. In past 7 playoff games, has 59 catches (8.4 per game) for 607 rec. yards (86.7 per game) & 2 TDs. Has 3 seasons with 90+ catches, 2nd most in franchise history. TE MARTELLUS BENNETT has TD catch in 3 of past 4…CB MALCOLM BUTLER led team with 4 INTs & 17 PD. Has INT & 6 PD in past 3 postseason games. LB ROB NINKOVICH has 5 career postseason sacks. Has 4+ sacks in 7 consecutive seasons, tied for 4th longest streak in team history. CB LOGAN RYAN was only NFL CB with 90+ tackles (92), 2+ INTs (2), 1+ sack (1) & 1+ FF (1) in 2016.



In their October meeting, the Pittsburgh Steelers owned the Kansas City Chiefs with a 43-14 win and they have won four of the last five meetings. However, that game was in Pittsburgh and this time the Steelers will have to travel.

With the Steelers and their seventh-ranked offense, it’s all about the three B’s – QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown.

Last week, Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 50 and 62 yards to Brown in the first quarter, making Brown the first player in NFL history to score two touchdowns of 50 yards or more in the first quarter of a playoff game, and Bell rushed for 167 yards (a franchise playoff record) and two touchdowns. It was certainly an impressive performance, but all three are the team leaders in their respective categories. The only real concern is how an injured foot on the last drop-back last weekend will affect Roethlisberger, who says he is playing.

Roethlisberger put together a very solid season with 3,819 yards passing, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a 95.4 rating, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns, and Brown was second in the league with 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. All three were selected to the Pro Bowl, along with center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro.

Defensively, the Steelers have shown some vulnerability, but they gotten better as the season progressed, with LB Bud Dupree reinvigorating the pass rush. The Chiefs will have to exploit the weaknesses when present if they want to keep up with the Steelers offense.

The Chiefs do come in hot, having won 10 of their past 12 games and have an impressive plus-16 turnover differential. Much of that is thanks to QB Alex Smith, who has a 0.5 interception percentage (one interception in 186 passes) in his playoff career. During the 2016 season, however, he threw only 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions with TE Travis Kelce his favorite target with 85 catches, 1,125 yards and four touchdowns.

Pittsburgh should have the edge offensively, but Kansas City has a great equalizer on special teams, where receiver and returner Tyreek Hill is the only player in NFL history to have at least three touchdowns receptions (he has six), three rushing touchdowns (three) and three total kickoff-return touchdowns (three) in a season.

LEADER 21-11  
STREAKS 4 of past 5  
COACHES VS. OPP. Mike Tomlin: 4-2 Andy Reid: 3-4
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Mike Tomlin: 7-5 Andy Reid: 11-11
VS. COMMON OPP. Pit: 2-0 (NYJ 1-0; Ind 1-0)
KC: 2-0 (NYJ 1-0; Ind 1-0)
LAST WEEK W 30-12 vs. Miami Bye (Week 17: W 37-27 at San Diego)
LAST GAME 10/2/16: Chiefs 14 at Steelers 43. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger passes for 300 yards & 5 TDs for 152.5 rating. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward has 3 sacks.
LAST GAME AT SITE 10/25/15: Chiefs 23, Steelers 13. Kansas City RB Charcandrick West rushes for 110 yards & TD. Chiefs LB Tamba Hali has 2 sacks & FF.
LAST PLAYOFF 1/8/94: Steelers 24 at Chiefs 27 (OT). Kansas City WR Tim Barnett scores TD with 1:44 remaining. Chiefs K Nick Lowery has 32 yard GW-FG in OT.
REFEREE Carl Cheffers
BROADCAST NBC (1:05 PM ET): Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya, Heather Cox (Field reporters). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (Pit), 82 (KC). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (Pit), 82 (KC).
PASSING Ben Roethlisberger: 328-509-3819-29-13-95.4 Alex Smith: 328-489-3502-15-8-91.2
RUSHING Le’Veon Bell: 261-1268-4.9-7 Spencer Ware: 214-921-4.3-3
RECEIVING Antonio Brown: 106 (2L)-1284-12.1-12 (T2L) Travis Kelce (TE): 85-1125-13.2-4
OFFENSE 372.6 343
DEFENSE 342.6 368.5
SACKS James Harrison: 5 Dee Ford: 10
INTs Artie Burns (R), Ryan Shazier: 3 Marcus Peters: 6 (T2L)
PR Antonio Brown: 9.3 Tyreek Hill (R): 15.2 (1L)
KR Fitzgerald Toussaint: 21.4 Tyreek Hill (R): 27.4
PUNTING Jordan Berry: 45.6 Dustin Colquitt: 45.1
KICKING Chris Boswell: 99 (36/36 PAT; 21/25 FG) Cairo Santos: 129 (36/39 PAT; 31/35 FG)

TEAMS MEET for 2nd time in postseason. Chiefs defeated Steelers 27-24 (OT) in Wild Card round on 1/8/94. Pit. leads all-time series 21-11 (incl. playoffs). Steelers won Week 4 meeting 43-14.


Have 35-23 all-time postseason record, most playoff wins all-time. Rank 5th all-time in postseason win pct. (.600).Have won 7 division titles since 2002…Club had 5 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: RB LE’VEON BELL (2nd), WR ANTONIO BROWN (5th), G DAVID DE CASTRO (2nd), C MAURKICE POUNCEY (5th) & QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER (5th)…QB Roethlisberger is 10th QB in NFL history with 300+ pass TDs (301). Ranked 6th in NFL with 29 pass TDs. Has 12-6 (.667) career postseason record & is tied for 5th in postseason winning pct. by starting QB (min. 15 starts). Is 1 of 12 QBs in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl wins…RB Bell has rushed for 1,002 yards (143.1 per game) & 8 TDs in his past 7 (incl. playoffs). Had franchise postseason-record 167 rush yards with 2 TDs last week. Led NFL with 157.0 scrimmage yards per game avg., 3rd highest in NFL history. Ranked 3rd in NFL with 1,884 scrimmage yards (1,268 rush, 616 rec.) & 5th in rush yards (1,268)...WR Brown had 124 rec. yards & 2 TD catches last week. Is 1st player with 2 TD catches of 50+ yards in playoff game since RANDY MOSS (1/6/01 with Min. vs. NO). Ranked 2nd in NFL with 106 catches & tied for 2nd with 12 TD catches. His 481 receptions in past 4 seasons are most in any 4-year span in NFL history. Is 1 of 2 in NFL history (MARVIN HARRISON) with 4 consecutive 100-catch seasons. Has 5 career seasons with 1,000+ rec. yards, 2nd most in team history. Aims for 4th consecutive postseason game with 100+ rec. yards…LB JAMES HARRISON had 1.5 sacks & FF last week. Aims for 4th consecutive postseason game with sack. Has 10 TFL & 7.5 sacks in past 9 playoff games. LB LAWRENCE TIMMONS led team with 14 tackles & 2 sacks last week. Has 4 career seasons with 100+ tackles, 2+ sacks & 2+ INTs, most in franchise history. LB RYAN SHAZIER had INT in WC win vs. Mia. Was only NFL player with 3+ sacks (3.5), 3+ INTs (3) & 3+ FFs (3) in 2016.


Have won 10 of past 12. Since 2015, have 23 wins, 2nd most in NFL…Club had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: S ERIC BERRY (5th), RS TYREEK HILL (1st), TE TRAVIS KELCE (2nd) & CB MARCUS PETERS (2nd)…Head coach ANDY REID has 11 postseason wins…QB ALEX SMITH has 1,309 pass yards (261.8 per game) with 11 TDs vs. INT for 99.1 rating in 5 postseason starts. His 0.5 INT pct. (1 INT in 186 att.) is lowest in NFL history (min. 150 att.). Has 4 consecutive seasons with 3,000+ pass yards, 2nd longest streak in franchise history. Set team record with 67.1 comp. pct. (328 of 489)…RB SPENCER WARE had 1,368 scrimmage yards (921 rush, 447 rec.), 7th most in AFC. RB CHARCANDRICK WEST had rush TD in last playoff game (1/16/16 at NE). Had 110 rush yards & rush TD in 10/25/15 meeting vs. Pit...Rookie WR-RS Hill is 1 of 2 players in NFL history with 70+ yard TD via rush, KR & PR in same season. Is only player in NFL history with 3+ rec. TDs (6), 3+ rush TDs (3) & 3 total kick-return TDs (2 PR, 1 KR) in single season. TE TRAVIS KELCE led NFL TEs with 1,125 rec. yards & tied for 2nd with 85 catches. Had 6 games with 100+ rec. yards in 2016, tied for most by TE since 1999. Had rec. TD in last meeting. WR JEREMY MACLIN has 271 rec. yards & TD catch in 4 career postseason games. WR CHRIS CONLEY has 133 rec. yards & TD catch in past 2 vs. Pit…CB Peters has INT & 3 PD in 2 career postseason games. Tied for 2nd in NFL with 6 INTs. Since 2015, leads NFL with 14 INTs. S Berry had 4 INTs, tying career high. LB JUSTIN HOUSTON has 54.5 sacks since 2012, 3rd most in NFL. LB DEE FORD led team with 10 sacks. DT DONTARI POE is 1st player since 1982 with TD pass & sack in single season. LB TAMBI HALI had 2 sacks, FF & FR in last home playoff game (1/9/11 vs. Bal).

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