Advertisement

NFL playoffs: Offensively driven Texans favored over stingy Bills

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 67.3 percent of his throws for 3,852 yards, 26 scores and 12 interceptions in 2019. Photo by Trask Smith/UPI
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 67.3 percent of his throws for 3,852 yards, 26 scores and 12 interceptions in 2019. Photo by Trask Smith/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The offensively driven Houston Texans are slight favorites to beat the defensively dominant Buffalo Bills in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs.

Houston boasts the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the AFC, while the Bills allowed the second-fewest yards and second-fewest points in the AFC during the regular season.

Advertisement

"It's a great challenge for all of us, just being able to do what we do," Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson told reporters Tuesday. "This is professional football, the 12 best teams in the NFL have a chance to get to the ultimate goal, but you've got to win your matchup.

"It's definitely a nice challenge and we're going to be up to par for it."

RELATED Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, GM Dave Caldwell to return in 2020

The Bills (10-6) started the season hot, winning five of their first six games. They won four of five games from Week 11 through Week 15, before ending the season with back-to-back losses. They finished second in the AFC East, behind the New England Patriots. The Bills are looking to win their first playoff game since 1995.

Advertisement

Houston (10-6) began the season at a modest 2-2, before winning four out of five games to improve to 6-3 on the season. The AFC South champions then won four of five games once again, before a season-ending loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Texans have never advanced to a conference championship game, despite three divisional round appearances in the last eight seasons.

The Texans are a three-point favorite to win, according to Caesars. The game has an over/under of 43.5 total points.

RELATED NFL playoffs: How to watch, betting odds for wild card weekend

Offense

Watson threw multiple touchdown passes in eight of his 15 starts this season, but failed to throw a touchdown in his 2019 finale. He also hasn't eclipsed the 300 passing yards mark in a game since Oct. 20. The two-time Pro Bowl selection missed nine games due to injury during his 2017 campaign, but hasn't missed a start for injury-related reasons since that campaign. Watson completed 67.3 percent of his throws for 3,852 yards, 26 scores and 12 interceptions in 15 starts in 2019.

Watson's Texans did not face the Bills during the regular season, but did face the the other top pass defenses in the AFC. Watson had one of his best games of the season against the Patriots, who own the best pass defense in the conference.

Advertisement
RELATED Houston Texans' J.J. Watt returns to practice after torn pectoral muscle

He completed 72 percent of his throws for 234 yards and three scores in the Texans' Dec. 1 win against New England. He also exploded against the Los Angeles Chargers, who own the fourth-best pass defense in the AFC. Watson threw for 351 yards and three scores in that Week 3 win. The Baltimore Ravens were the other top-five AFC pass defense the Texans faced in 2019. Baltimore held Watson to 169 yards and did not allow a passing score when beating the Texans in Week 11.

"They're really good," Bills coach Sean McDermott said of the Texans offense. "You could tell the makeover they made from last year, they play well together, they do a good job in both the run and the pass game, they set up the screens well. So, they've been very effective this year overall in helping their offense."

Bills quarterback Josh Allen is primarily known for his running ability. Allen ranked first in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks in 2019, while Watson tied for second. Allen threw multiple touchdown passes in six of his 16 starts this season, but only did so once in his final five games of the season. He also failed to throw for at least 300 yards in a game in 2019. He finished his regular-season campaign by completing 58.8 percent of his throws for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while also running for nine scores.

Advertisement

The running game will be of the utmost importance in this matchup, as the Bills need to keep the potent Texans offense off the field. The Texans also need to control the clock, as defense isn't their strength. Carlos Hyde leads the Texans rushing attack, with 1,070 yards and six scores on the season. Duke Johnson has also been key in sparking the passing game, with 820 yards from scrimmage and five scores out of the backfield.

The Bills' backfield breakdown has been split between veteran Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. Gore led the team in carries during the regular season, but Singletary is much more explosive and led the team in rushing, despite a limited workload. Singletary averaged 5.1 yards per carry and piled up 969 yards from scrimmage and four scores in 12 games this season.

Buffalo and Houston ranked eighth and ninth in rushing, respectively.

The Texans have talent everywhere when it comes to the wide receiver position. DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the best wide receiver in the game. Watson's secondary options include speedsters Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, who are both banged up entering the matchup. The Bills will likely be focussed on stopping Hopkins and need to contain Stills and Fuller to avoid big plays.

Advertisement

John Brown had 1,060 yards and six touchdowns this season for the Bills, while Cole Beasley has been a solid secondary option for Allen. The Bills' game-plan likely won't include a lot of passing attempts for Allen.

Edge: Texans

Defense

The Bills have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Cornerback Tre'Davious White made his first Pro Bowl and leads the secondary. He will likely be focussed on limiting DeAndre Hopkins. White also has a nose for the ball. He tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2019. The Bills allowed the 10th-fewest rushing yards per game and fourth-fewest passing yards per game. They also finished +4 in takeaway differential, good for 10th in the NFL.

"You've got to earn every yard you make," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said of the Bills defense. "They're very disciplined, they're very good at what they do. You have to be disciplined. You've got to do a lot of things that are basic, fundamental football. You've got to take care of the football, you've got to really just eliminate mistakes, you have to be able to drive the ball.

Advertisement

"They just do a lot of things well. So, you have to be very disciplined and you've got to really got out there and earn everything you get. They're a top-five defense for a reason."

The Texans ranked 29th in passing yards allowed and 25th in rushing yards allowed. They'll need to control the clock with their running game in this matchup in order to keep that generous defense off the field. The Bills' pass rush generated 44 sacks this season, while the Texans logged 31 sacks. Houston could get a boost in that regard, if defensive end J.J. Watt plays.

Edge: Bills

Special teams

When it comes to the kicking game, the Bills have the advantage of experience with Stephen Hauschka. The Texans could have an edge if they need a long field goal, as Ka'imi Fiarbairn has three field goals from 50 yards or longer in 2019, compared to Hauschka's one made try from that distance.

Texans punter Bryan Anger is averaging 46.5 yards per punt, compared to Corey Bojorquez's 41.9 yards per punt for the Bills.

Bills return man Andre Roberts ranks among the league's best at returning kicks, with an average of 26.6 yards per return.

Advertisement

Edge: Texans

Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans

When: 4 p.m. EST Saturday

Where: NRG Stadium in Houston

TV: ESPN/ABC

Latest Headlines