Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (+3, 40 o/u)
The first game on Wild Card Weekend (Saturday, Jan. 9, 4:20 p.m. Eastern) will pit the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 5-3 road) against the Houston Texans (9-7, 5-3 home) in a rematch from the opening week of the regular season. The winner of this game will face New England on the road next week if Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati on Sunday; if the Bengals win, the winner travels to Denver.
Back in September, the Chiefs opened up a 27-6 lead on the Texans and held on for a 27-20 win on the strength of three TD passes from QB Alex Smith. After beating Houston, the Chiefs lost five straight games (four to playoff teams) and looked dead in the water. But then they rattled off ten straight wins and now enter the postseason as the hottest team in the NFL.
KC only knocked off two playoff teams during their run, Pittsburgh and Denver, and finished the year 8-8 against the spread with a 5-3 mark on the road, failing to cover two straight and three of their last four.
Despite boasting the third-worst passing offense in the NFL, Kansas City is ninth in the league in scoring at 25.3 points a game. And even though star running back Jamaal Charles missed most of the year because of injury, the Chiefs are sixth in the NFL in rushing.
The defense has been solid all year and is strong both up front and in the secondary. The unit limited opponents to under 18 points a game, third-best in the NFL, and finished the year +14 in turnover margin.
Like the Chiefs, the Texans got off to a sluggish start, going 1-4 to begin the year with one score losses against Kansas City, Carolina, and Indianapolis. They responded by winning four out of five to get back in postseason contention, including a win over one playoff team, Cincinnati. Following setbacks against the Bills and Patriots, Houston closed out the season beating their three divisional rivals to earn the AFC South crown.
The Texans were 9-7 against the spread this year and 5-3 at home. They actually covered in each of their wins and lost ATS in all of their SU setbacks.
The Texans reached the postseason thanks to a dominant defense. They rank third in the league in total yards, allowing only 310 yards per game, and are in the top-ten against both the pass and run. Scoring-wise, they gave up 19.6 PPG, on average, but that number was almost a touchdown lower in the second half of the season.
Houston’s offense, on the other hand, is middling at best and doesn’t excel through the air or on the ground. The kicking game was surprisingly strong, especially from close range; the team has not missed a field goal under 40 yards this season and went 21 of 22 from less than 50 yards out.
This feels like a game that will come down to the fourth quarter. The Chiefs have been a little bit better for most of the season, but Houston is playing at home. Getting three points is a relative bargain, and under 40 seems fairly likely too.
Picks: Houston (+3); over 40.
(Image credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been cropped.)
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