The AFC Wild Card games are pretty strange this year. First, they’re both on Saturday, and I can’t remember the last time the NFL didn’t put one game from each conference on each day. Second, if you’re looking at the games from the perspective of pure interest and not what interests Pats fans the most (the AFC games), then Saturday boasts the most boring game and the most interesting on the same day. That’s what the NFL wants with its Wild Card Saturday, and they clearly cared about it a lot more than splitting up the games by day and conference.
Here’s my pick for the first Saturday game. I’m delaying my pick on the Bengals-Steelers game so that I can add analysis about how who the Pats should want to win, which could change depending on who wins the first game.
Chiefs at Texans, Chiefs -3.5 favorites
Straight up, there’s no way I’m taking the Texans here. I love using the Football Outsiders DVOA rankings to make a decision when there’s a big discrepancy, and that’s what we have here.
The Chiefs are 5th in total DVOA and 2nd in weighted DVOA, which places more emphasis on the later games in the season. The Chiefs played a schedule that pretty much included teams like Perkins School for the Blind, but being the 2nd best team carries a ton of weight nonetheless. The Texans, meanwhile, are 18th in total DVOA. They’re playing better recently, but that’s too big of a gap to overcome. The Chiefs have the secondary to at least contain DeAndre Hopkins, and that’s all they should need to win versus a clearly inferior team.
The spread of 3.5 does worry me, because the Chiefs could easily control the game and have a 10 point lead in a crappy, low scoring game, only to have the Texans get a late, last ditch attempt, backdoor touchdown and cover the spread. I’d bet on the Chiefs anyway because of how much faith I have in that DVOA discrepancy being a big deal, but I think the better play is a 2 team tease of Chiefs +2.5 and the under of 45.5 The normal over under is 39.5 and that’s simply too low, as even a 23-17 game would cover it. However, I doubt these two teams will combine for 46 points, and the Chiefs will likely cover 2.5 on the other end. I could definitely see the Texans winning by 2 on a field goal in a low scoring game because of a dumb Andy Reid decision, and I’m covered for that and the Chiefs winning by 3 or fewer.
Picks: Chiefs straight up, Chiefs -3.5. Best Bet: Chiefs +2.5, Under 45.5