The Kansas City Chiefs have the superior record, but the Houston Texans will host the teams’ AFC Wild Card Game on Saturday at NRG Stadium.
The Chiefs roll into the first-round playoff contest as the hottest team in the NFL, winning 10 straight following a 1-5 start to the season. The Texans also overcame a slow start to punch their ticket to the NFL postseason with a 9-7 record by way of winning the AFC South, but one could argue Houston’s divisional crown is suspect given the state of their competition.
In any event, it’s playoff football. And that means one should probably expect the unexpected. While the Chiefs have been rolling and look like a better team on paper, it’d be unwise to write off the Texans, who were three-point underdogs, according to OddsShark, as of Friday afternoon.
Chiefs Player To Watch: Marcus Peters, cornerback
Peters, who tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions during the regular season, has emerged as a playmaker in his first campaign and should earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors because of it. The 2015 first-round pick will have his hands full this weekend, though, as he’ll go up against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins.
Peters and Hopkins faced off in Week 1, during which each player had his moments. Peters jumped Hopkins’ route and intercepted Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer on the first play of his NFL career, but Hopkins later exacted revenge by catching two touchdown passes while matched up against the rookie. Hopkins finished the game with nine grabs for 98 yards, jump-starting an impressive season in which the third-year receiver ranked third in both receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,521).
Shutting down Hopkins seems like an impossible task, all things considered. But even just minimizing Hopkins’ impact could go a long way toward flustering Hoyer, who already will be dealing with a relentless pass rush thanks to linebacker Justin Houston’s impending return and left tackle Duane Brown’s injury. That’s where Peters comes in.
Plus, Saturday is Peters’ birthday. Why not celebrate?
Texans Player To Watch: J.J. Watt, defensive end
This one probably goes without saying. Watch Watt not just because he’s the most dominant defensive player in the NFL today but also because it’s a chance to witness greatness. Seriously, you know a player’s special when Bill Belichick compares him to Lawrence Taylor.
But Watt’s impact, especially this week, goes beyond his personal skill level. The Chiefs likely will need to double or triple team Watt throughout Saturday’s game, which could open things up for Whitney Mercilus and/or Jadeveon Clowney. Putting consistent pressure on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith might be enough to swing the pendulum in Houston’s favor.
How To Watch
When: Saturday, Jan. 9, 4:35 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images
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