The Houston Texans powered into the playoffs on the last day of the season – they were almost guaranteed to progress, but Indianapolis still had a whisker of a chance coming into week 17.
Texans soar into the wild Card spot on the back of a three-game win streak, despite starting the season 3-5, prior to their bye week. They started the season with a 27-20 loss to their first playoff opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kansas also started the season poorly. Following the win over Houston, the Chiefs lost five consecutive games; but they come into the playoffs riding a ten game win streak.
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No Jamaal Charles for the second match-up
The biggest difference between the Week 1 game and the upcoming Wild Card playoff is that Kansas are without their star running back Jamaal Charles. On October 11, Rotoworld reported that Charles tore his ACL and would miss the remainder of the season.
Instead, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have ran well in the very rush-tailored Kansas offence, but quarterback Alex Smith has more noticeably stepped up his running game.
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The NFL records that: prior to Charles’ injury, Smith averaged 21.8 rushing yards per game this season; after the star rusher tore his ACL, Smith averaged 35.4 rushing yards per game.
Alex Smith going on the charge has given Kansas two touchdowns, including one at Wembley against the Lions – where he totalled 78 yards.
The rushing performances of the replacement backs and the QB have managed to keep Kansas a major threat on the ground without Jamaal Charles.
Houston’s offence troubles
The Texans fans waited four weeks in anticipation of their star running back, Arian Foster, to return to the backfield. After just four games and one touchdown, he sustained another injury causing him to miss the season.
Houston has struggled to get a consistent running game established in Foster’s absence. Alfred Blue, who has been the primary trustee of Foster’s carries, has only managed two touchdowns this season.
The NRG Stadium residents made NFL history this season. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are the first team in over 60 years to make the playoffs whilst winning with four different quarterbacks.
Houston Chronicle also reports that Brian Hoyer will start for the Texans in the Wild Card playoff game. In Hoyer’s first game of the season, against Kansas, his first pass was intercepted.
The offense, for Houston, is centred on overloading DeAndre Hopkins with targets. ESPN records Hopkins as the third most targeted receiver in the league, with 193 targets. He also leads his team in touchdowns with 11 – next closest Texan is receiver Nate Washington on 4 scores.
Key to a Kansas win – stop Hopkins
There’s no point in saying that the key to the game is nullifying J.J. Watt, the man is simply unstoppable. He leads the NFL in sacks once again – this season he eclipses second place Khalil Mack by an extra 2.5, putting Watt’s total at 17.5.
With such a dull running game and a less than elite quarterback, DeAndre Hopkins comes out as Houston’s greatest offensive threat. If the Chiefs defence can limit him, then it’ll be down to the offensive line holding back the likes of superstar J.J. Watt
Kansas have been very good defensively – since overcoming the first six games – and have stopped elite wide-men like Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and Amari Cooper from not only scoring touchdowns but also gaining over 100 yards – those three receivers only combined for 16 receptions against the Chiefs.
The defense will be key for Kansas as Houston’s big defence will cause problems for their offence. In that first game victory over the Texans, Hopkins was allowed 98 yards on nine receptions, and he claimed 2 touchdowns.
Given the recent form of Kansas’ defence, they should put in an improved shift against Hopkins this time around.