With the regular season over, it’s now win-or-go-home for the twelve teams remaining. Eight of those teams play this weekend in the wild card weekend. I’ll look at the AFC teams first, since they play on Saturday, with the help of some statistics I’ve compiled over the course of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
The Houston Texans won their division with a 9-7 record this season – the weakest record of the AFC division winners. By contrast, the Chiefs took the fifth seed with an 11-5 record and for a while in week 17 looked like they might win their division, as Denver struggled to beat the Chargers with the division (and #1 seed) on the line. Moreover, having started 1-5, they won their last ten games – the longest winning streak in the league by a long way. So, given their hot streak, and Houston’s weak division record, are the Chiefs destined to win?
Well, according to my rankings, the Chiefs are the better team (1.873 to 1.517). However, when looking at the home/road rankings, it’s much closer. The Chiefs still edge it, barely (1.701 to 1.684). That’s a margin of 0.017. Twenty-three games have featured teams this close so far this season. Home teams are 9-14 in those games. This includes two road wins for Houston (Jacksonville in week 6 and the Colts in week 13). Kansas also lost a home game to Denver in week 2.
Oh, and the Chiefs and Texans also played once – in week 1. The Chiefs won by 7. On the road – a repeat of this game! So, in tight games featuring these teams, road teams are 4-0. Good luck, Houston… That game in week 1 was the only time this season the Chiefs have been slim favourites in a road game, or that Houston have hosted a road team who are.
Verdict: It all points to a Chiefs win, doesn’t it? So I’ll pick the Texans.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
The Steelers and Bengals have looked great and awful in equal measure at times this year, and it’s been the same cause for both: their quarterback. Big Ben has been phenomenal on the whole when fit, and the Bengals looked unstoppable before Andy Dalton attempted a tackle and broke his thumb.
Otherwise, teams both have struggled, which has also affected their ratings. The Bengals have a higher rating (2.063 to 1.719), but accounting for home/road rankings, it’s 2.063 to 1.375. So, Bengals to win?
Yeah, just one problem with that. Andy Dalton won’t be playing. Throw all the stats you like at me, I don’t think the Bengals can beat a Steelers team (even at home) that has Big Ben and Antonio Brown, when all the Bengals have is a backup at QB. One and done they will be – for a fifth straight year. Ouch.
Don’t believe me? Well, despite their stellar home rating, the Bengals have lost at home twice this season, both times to AFC playoff opponents – Houston in week 10, and, in week 14, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They did beat two other playoff contenders – the Chiefs in week 4, by 15, and the Seahawks in week 5, by 3, but both those teams were really struggling at that point.
This is the Steelers’ to lose.
Bye week: Denver Broncos
According to my rankings, the Denver Broncos are second to the Bengals in the AFC (2.063 to 2.042). However, with Andy Dalton out, they should be the de facto #1 team – if it weren’t for their Peyton vs Brock battle at QB. It’s hard to know which option is better, but they’ve gone with Peyton Manning for now. Time will tell. They have homefield advantage, but according to the rankings, they are equally good at home as on the road.
They have lost at home – to the Raiders, and more notably, the Chiefs, and the Chiefs will visit Mile High if they win against the Texans and the Steelers lose to the Bengals.
Most interestingly, Denver’s home games are close. Aside from the loss to the Chiefs (by 16) and the victory over Green Bay (by 19), their other 6 games have been won by a total of 25 points. Just over 4 points a game isn’t much for a #1 seed.
Bye week: New England Patriots
The Patriots started well, and should have secured the #1 seed. However, injuries hampered them in the last few weeks and that’s made their job potentially a little harder. The key for the Patriots is to get their starters healthy. If that happens, they are the most likely winners of the AFC. If it doesn’t (especially Julian Edelman), they have no hope.
The Patriots average over 30 points a game at home. They lost only once – to the Philadelphia Eagles, in a game affected by a combination of key injuries and abysmal special teams. Even then, they only lost by 7. They have beaten two other playoff opponents on home turf – the Redskins by 17, and the Steelers by 7 in the very first game of the season. They also beat the Jets by 7.
However, they haven’t played a tough game at home in the second half of the season, so they have a lot to prove. But would you bet against them? I wouldn’t. But the key is getting starters back from injury.
For reference, the following table shows the rankings for each of the AFC teams in the playoffs, with their playoff seeding, home and road rankings.
|New England Patriots||2||2.11||1.51|
|Kansas City Chiefs||5||2.04||1.70|