AFC Playoff Preview: Wildcard Weekend

By: Thomas Capo
Posted: January 4, 2020

Wildcard Weekend is here and we’re ready for it.

It’s do or die for the four AFC teams playing this Wildcard Weekend. Here are my predictions on who’s season will end and who will move on.

Buffalo Bills (10-6) at Houston Texans (10-6)

Saturday, January 4th, 4:35 pm EST.

Styles make fights.  So, can Buffalo ugly up this game enough to keep it close?

If Deshaun Watson can open up the field and score quickly, it will be tough for Buffalo’s run-centric offense to keep up.  When opposing offenses gain steam and Josh Allen is asked to pass too much, he’s prone to errors, but scoring on this Bills defensive unit is easier said than done. 

Buffalo is the third-best defense in the league by yards and points allowed, and they can stifle even the most well-oiled machines when they get pressure on the quarterback.  The Bills rank fourth in the league in passing yards allowed, and they’ll look to create some pressure and make Deshaun Watson exceptionally uncomfortable. Tre’Davious White is tied for the league lead in interceptions with six, and he’ll be looking for any mistake from Houston’s dynamic duo to change the game.  But he doesn’t necessarily need a pick-six to make his mark on Saturday. If he can help shut down DeAndre Hopkins and make Watson look elsewhere, he’ll have swung the odds towards Buffalo. Offensively, look for the Bills to eat the clock with sustained drives and a rushing attack that will wear down the Texans front over the course of the game. Yes, Josh Allen has a cannon for an arm, but in his first playoff game, I expect to see only a few downfield throws, focusing more on screen passes and quick hitters in the flat.  The Bills will run the ball a ton with Devin Singletary and Frank Gore and throw just enough to keep the Texans off balance. It’s a strategy that has the Bills back in the playoffs and poised to upset the apple cart.  

Prediction:  The Texans are only a 2.5-point favorite at home, and that tells you everything you need to know, since generally the home team starts off at -3.  It’s basically a coin flip, but if Houston can score more than 25, they’ll have the advantage. If Buffalo can hold them under 20, the Bills Mafia will probably be looking to party.  

Bills 17 – Texans 13

Tennessee Titans (9-7) at New England Patriots (12-4)

Saturday, January 4th, 8:15 pm EST

Let this sink in as we get ready for the first football of 2020.  New England hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2008 (Tom Brady was injured all season, they still went 11-5), and the last time they played on Wildcard weekend was 2009.  Sure, it might feel slightly odd to see Brady’s bunch active instead of getting the bye, but with the ups and downs that New England has shown this year, I’m guessing that Bill Belichick is fine with a home game this weekend. 

We know that New England’s offense hasn’t been as scary this season, but their defense and special teams units sure have been. New England leads the league in almost every important defensive metric. They’ve allowed the fewest yards and fewest points this season, and they lead the league in both interceptions and turnover margin.  Tennessee has been somewhat rejuvenated by Ryan Tannehill this season, and he’s looked great, but the key to this offense is simple, if hard to slow down. It’s Derrick Henry. He leads all rushers this season with 20.2 attempts per game, 1,540 yards and 16 TDs. New England will look first and foremost to contain the bruising back. If they can do that, it’s likely that Tannehill will look more like the quarterback from Miami and less like the guy who posted the highest QBR in the league this season (117.5).  

Prediction:  New England is a scant 5-point favorite at home, but it’s hard to pick against these Patriots.  Tennessee has a singular strength on offense, and New England is better than anyone at neutralizing an opponent’s key player.  Look for them to hold Henry to below one hundred yards. Tennessee is just 3-7 in such games. If the league’s best defense can do that, it’s advantage New England.

Patriots 24 – Titans 21

Agree? Disagree? Let’s us know in the comments.

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: USA Today

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