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The playoffs start today, and unusually both AFC teams are playing today with the NFC taking over the Sunday schedule so let’s take a look at the two AFC matchups.
Buffalo Bills (5th) @ Houston Texans (6th)
The Texans won out in the AFC South and are rewarded by getting to host the Buffalo Bills. The headline news about the Texans is the return of JJ Watt from a pectoral injury and he has been cleared to play but this is much earlier than is typical for such an injury so I don’t know how effective Watt will be. Of more importance to the Texans in recent weeks is whether Will Fuller will play as the often injured this season receiver seems to have a dramatic effect on the offence through his ability to stretch the field. He was rested last week but it is looking doubtful that can play, and even if the answer at the start of the game is yes the question is whether he can give the Texans what they need and he has already aggravated an injury and had to come out the game once this season as well as missing five others. Interestingly, the Texans are ranked six places lower overall by DVOA than the Bills and not only are the worst ranked of the playoff teams by DVOA, but are ranked below seven teams who failed to make the playoffs. Now two of those teams are special cases as only this year’s iteration of the Cowboys could manage to rank top ten statistically (6th overall by DVOA) and still manage to miss the playoffs with their 8-8 record, whilst the Rams in a down year still won nine games despite having to play the 49ers and Seahawks twice thanks to being in the fearsomely competitive NFC West. The Bills also ranked below the Rams and Cowboys but unlike the Texans, they did not rank behind any other team who failed to make the playoffs.
The Bills has a somewhat quiet season in terms of press coverage despite never coming close to a losing record and finishing the regular season 10-6. They are not a flashy team and have their limitations on offence. In his second year Josh Allen has improved, but he is still far from an elite quarterback but the Bills have done enough to win thanks to their defence, which ranks sixth in the league by DVOA and hasn’t allowed the opposition to score more than seventeen points in the last four weeks. This looks like it should be a really competitive game and I don’t have a clear winner in this one, but I just get the feeling that between the Texans being at home and Deshuan Watson’s ability to conjure something out nothing, that the Texans will edge this one out. That said I love the direction the Bills are heading in, with a front office and coach working in lock step over the last three years, and even if they don’t manage to get their first playoff win since 1995 today, it feels like it is coming.
Tennessee Titans (6th) @ New England Patriots (3rd)
The Patriots won the AFC East for the eleventh year straight, but have not looked quite the same team on offence, with people whispering with a little more evidence this time that Tom Brady is too old and a week seventeen loss to the Dolphins set alarm bells ringing amongst their faithful fans. The Patriots have the number one defence in the league, but have neither been able to get the passing game going whenever they want nor had the power running game they were able to utilise to such effect last season. Between the retirement of Robert Gronkowski and the play of Tom Brady dipping just enough, people are wondering if the end of an era is finally coming.
Part of the reason for this worry is their opponent, the Tennessee Titans who after a rough start to the season switched to Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback and from then went on a 7-3 run that took them to the playoffs. They also enter this game with the rushing champion of the league in Derrick Henry who managed to average over five yards a carry, whilst rookie receiver AJ Brown had a breakout season and seems to have forged a real bond with Tannehill.
This game should be fascinating, although the often-bad January weather looks to be heading into New England. The Titans have a real chance in this game, but it feels like Patriots probably have enough to win this at home, particularly as I am sure that Belichick and his staff with be throwing every trick they have at this game. It is a testament to their history that no one is comfortable writing them off, but this could very well be an end of era, and if the Patriots do win they are going to really struggle against either the Ravens or the Chiefs.
DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.