AFC Wild Card Matchup:
Buffalo Bills (10-6) at Houston Texans (10-6)
Saturday, January 4, 1:35 PM PST (ESPN)
The Bills and the Texans face off in the first NFL AFC Wild Card Round slot on Saturday. The Texans play in this spot seemingly every year. This year, they get a feisty Buffalo Bills squad playing its second playoff game in as many seasons, but also just its third playoff game since Y2K had us all in a tizzy. How can the Bills win this matchup? How can the Texans win this matchup? Below, we’ll outline a key player, position group, and statistic for each team that is central to their success on Saturday. If you want to know how I think this will play out, check out our Wild Card Round predictions article.
How the Buffalo Bills Win
Important Player: Josh Allen
As I make my way through this series, it’s important that I point out that the important player for all teams, is the quarterback. However, I won’t list that as the most important player for every team (see J.J. Watt below). However, Josh Allen’s play will make or break the Buffalo Bills on Saturday. He started the season with five touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first five games. He cleaned it up from there, throwing two interceptions and fifteen touchdowns in the last eleven games. Josh Allen’s legs could also make the difference: Allen led all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns this season.
Important Position Group: The Secondary
The Buffalo secondary’s quietly stifled opponent wide receivers this season. They did it by selling out on the deep ball to allow short passes. This secondary gave up the fewest 20+ yard pass plays and the fewest 40+ yard pass plays in the league. Conversely, Houston joins Carolina, Dallas, and Tampa Bay as the only teams with three wide receivers with an average depth of target over 10 in 2019.
Important Statistic: Turnover Differential
The turnover differential ties the important player and important position group together. The Bills caused four more turnovers than they had. That +4 differential ranks in the top-ten in the 2019 regular season, and it took them as far as they’ve gone. Only two of Buffalo’s ten wins came with a negative turnover differential. Also, one of those losses came against the Jets, so does it really count?
How the Houston Texans Win
Important Player: J.J. Watt
Guess who’s back? Back again? J.J.’s back, tell a friend! The Texans get one of the best defensive players in the league back this week, after losing him in week eight to a torn pectoral muscle. Watt’s slowed in recent years but still had five sacks in half a season. That is to say: J.J. Watt is still a difference-maker. Opposing defenses sacked Josh Allen at the ninth-highest rate in the league. He also ran out of a lot of sacks, so we can see if a formidable defender like Watt will turn those short runs into sacks.
Important Position Group: Wide Receivers
As I outlined above, this will be a strength-on-strength battle in the passing game. While this should be a strong matchup, Will Fuller’s balky soft tissue continues to make this a bad Texans matchup. Buffalo’s secondary stifles deep receivers, and the Texans specialize in them. The Texans’ success in this game sits with the wide receivers getting loose against a stout Buffalo secondary. It will be the matchup to watch in this one.
Important Statistic: Deshaun Watson sacks
No quarterback spent more time on his back in the last two seasons than Deshaun Watson. Opposing defenses sacked him 106 times in the last two years, and no other QB reached triple digits. The Bills have the twelfth-most sacks this season (44). This is a weakness for Houston against strength for Buffalo. If the Texans lose this one, they can look at how often Watson ended up on the ground as a big reason why.