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Reply To: ♦ AFC Wild Card Playoffs ♦ Saturday 1/9/16

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Kansas City Chiefs (-3-) at Houston Texans
4:35 ET
A very rare situation has evolved in the 2016 NFL Playoffs. All 4 home teams are underdogs in the contest. This is notable because all Wild Card home dogs are 13-9 SU, 15-6 ATS. To kickoff this year’s playoffs, the KC Chiefs travel to play the Houston Texans as a (3-) point road favorite. Somewhat ironically, these 2 met in Week 1 of the regular season. In that game, the Chiefs led 21-0 in the 2nd quarter, before settling for a (27-20) victory on this field. Each of these teams finished at 9-7 SU last season leaving no recent experience edge in the playoffs.

That KC Week 1 victory was meaningful because it would not be until October 25th, when the Chiefs won at home vs. Pittsburgh that they would crack the victory column again. But after that 1-5 SU ATS start, the Chiefs would reel off 10 consecutive victories with a (+16) net TO margin leading the way. Before you get excited about that, note that in those 10 victories, they only outgained the opposition by an average of 11 YPG. And for the season, they held a narrow 331-329 yardage edge. That 10-game season ending win streak was a bit misleading, as the last 7 of those victories were all against non-playoff teams. Nonetheless, true to HC Andy Reid form, the Chiefs would finish 4-0 SU ATS on the road. Last week, KC closed out the regular season with a (23-17) win no cover vs. the Raiders. They did hold a 39/189 to 16/48 overland yardage edge. In that regard, we note the fact that teams who outrushed their opponent by 30 yards or more in a game this season were 128-47 ATS. Teams who ran the ball 30 times or more in a game, while their opponent did not, were 130-17 ATS this season. And, teams who ran the ball 22 times or less in a game, while their opponent did not, were 122-20 ATS PLAY AGAINST.

Houston was also finishing the 2nd half of the season on a strong surge. After beginning the year 2-5 SU ATS, Houston would finish on a 7-2 SU ATS run, losing only at Buffalo and to New England. But much like KC, they faced only New England as a playoff opponent (a 27-6 loss) in the final half of the season. Much like the Chiefs, Houston closed the season with a dominating overland win against Jacksonville. They outrushed the Jags 31/160 to 14/32 and prospered from a (+3) net TO margin in a (36-6) victory. With that pointspread victory, we note that teams who had a (+3) or more net TO margin in any NFL game this season went 42-2 ATS, good for 95% winners. Keying that closing stretch was the superior play of QB Hoyer, whose team had just 10 giveaways in their last 11 games. Unlike KC, they were a bit more dominant in the yardage column with a 348-310 edge for the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals
8:15 ET CBS
Noting that all Wild Card home dogs are 13-9 SU, 15-6 ATS for the playoffs, we must note that the record improves to 9-3 ATS, if our home dog has the better record. As a result, there is a definitive value edge when the division rivals (Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals) meet at 8:15 ET on Saturday night in this playoff game televised by CBS. For, while Pittsburgh authored a solid 10-6 SU season, the Bengals were 12-4 SU for the year. These teams met twice this season with the Bengals winning (16-10) in Pittsburgh before the Steelers returned the favor with a (33-20) victory at Cincinnati on December 13th. That was the game in which Bengals’ QB Dalton was injured. He has not played since and is not expected to play in this contest.

Dalton was replaced in the starting lineup by Alabama 2nd year QB McCarron, who led the Bengals to a 2-1 SU ATS mark down the stretch. Unfortunately for the Bengals, making the playoffs is no guarantee of success. For, they have gone 0-5 SU ATS the last 5 years when making the promised playoff land. In last week’s (24-16) win, no cover, vs. Baltimore, the Bengals went to their strong ground game, outrushing Baltimore 27/145 to 21/59. With a (+2) net TO margin aiding the victory, I must note that any NFL team who had exactly a (+2) net TO margin in their game this season was 43-14 ATS for the year. Much like his time at Alabama, McCarron has been a successful “game manager.” Again today, he will look to hand off the ball to RBs Hill and Bernard, while controlling the line of scrimmage. Once that has been established, McCarron has lethal weapons in TE Eifert, who has 13 TDC and WR AJ Green, one of the best wide-outs in the league. If the Bengals are to win, it will most probably be in a workmanlike fashion, as the Cats have yet to crack the 300 yard mark on offense in any of McCarron’s starts. They will also be aided by the No. 2 defense in the league that allows just 17.4 PPG.

The Steelers have injury concerns of their own, as RB Williams, who filled in quite ably for RB Bell, is listed as questionable for this contest with an ankle he injured last week in the Steelers’ (28-12) victory against Cleveland. In that contest, however, the Steelers rushed just 19 times for 30 yards. With Williams at less than full strength, the Steelers will revert to a strong passing game, behind QB Roethlisberger, throwing to one of the best WR corps in the NFL, including Brown, Bryant, Wheaton and TE Miller. Ben completed 66% of his passes for the season, leading the Steelers to 6.5 offensive YP play (the most prolific offense among teams playing this weekend). Unfortunately for the Steelers, Ben has not been as careful with the ball, as was necessary. This resulted in the fact that Roethlisberger enters the playoffs with a humbling 24/18 ratio for the season.

It is looking more and more that this will be an offensive matchup of the Bengals’ ground game against the Steelers’ passing game. An additional note regarding the selection shows us that when these teams last met on this field, the Bengals were a 3 point home favorite.