Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
The two hottest teams in the NFL kick off the AFC wild-card round on Saturday as the Kansas City Chiefs look to extend their franchise-best 10-game winning streak when they visit the AFC South-champion Houston Texans. Kansas City rebounded from a horrid 1-5 start to run the remainder of the regular-season table and push Denver to the limit before the Broncos claimed the AFC West title on Sunday.
Spencer Ware rushed for his team-leading sixth touchdown in Kansas City’s 23-17 victory over Oakland on Sunday, but the 24-year-old was on the practice squad when the Chiefs posted a 27-20 victory over Houston on Sept. 13. Jamaal Charles’ season-ending ACL injury a month later expanded the workload of Charcandrick West and Ware while Alex Smith’s conservative passing game helped Kansas City advance to the postseason for the second time in three years. While the Chiefs are favored on the road, the Texans have won three straight to unseat Indianapolis as the AFC South champion. Brian Hoyer, who was benched in the Week 1 loss to Kansas City, threw for 249 yards and a touchdown on Sunday as Houston claimed its first division title since 2012 with a 30-6 rout of Jacksonville.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (11-5): Smith tossed two of his three touchdown passes to Travis Kelce in the win over Houston, with the tight end making six catches for a season-high 106 yards. Jeremy Maclin was limited to five receptions for 52 yards in that contest but has settled in as Smith’s go-to receiver after finding the end zone six times in the last six games – including once in each of the past three weeks. Maclin suffered a bruised hip versus the Raiders but returned to finish that contest and is expected to play on Saturday.
ABOUT THE TEXANS (9-7): Stud defensive end J.J. Watt shed the cast on his broken left hand and registered three sacks versus the Jaguars on Sunday to finish the season with an NFL-best 17.5. Whitney Mercilus tied a career high with 3 1/2 last week and set a personal best with 12 this season for Houston, which recorded a franchise-best 45 sacks. Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins (career-high 111 catches, 1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns) began his breakout season with nine catches for 98 yards and two scores versus the Chiefs.
1. Kansas City LB Justin Houston sat out the team’s final five games with a knee injury but could be in line to return versus the Texans – against whom he forced a fumble that led to a touchdown in the opener.
2. Houston RB Alfred Blue (team-leading 698 yards) rushed for 102 yards last week but was limited to just 42 on nine carries in Week 1.
3. The Chiefs have lost eight straight postseason games.
LINE: Chiefs -3.5
PREDICTION: Chiefs 24, Texans 16