Well, we’ve dispensed with the regular season, so I’ll dispense with the preliminaries and dive right into Saturday’s action. There are two excellent matchups on tap, so hopefully we’ll get some good games.
Buffalo at Houston
Over and over, I’ve heard that Houston will win this game because Buffalo’s offence isn’t good enough. If only it were that simple.
Josh Allen has had an up-and-down season as a passer, at times inaccurate, and relying heavily on Cole “Hillbilly Edelman” Beasley and John Brown, which makes Buffalo’s passing game relatively easy to defend. The running game has been more consistent, and has allowed Buffalo to sustain drives and win close games. Allen’s athleticism and fearlessness gives the offence an added dimension that can be hard to quantify and defend. Going up against Houston’s defence, which is mediocre and doesn’t do anything particularly well, Buffalo can absolutely muster enough offence to win this game.
Houston’s offence is streaky, but effective. Deshaun Watson has game-changing ability, they have quality receivers, and their running game is decent enough. Unfortunately, they have the unenviable task of facing the second-best defence in the league (don’t listen when pundits say Buffalo’s defence is 3rd-best; the league ranks based on yards, but it’s points, not yards, that decide games). Buffalo’s defence is well-coached, and relies on scheme and depth rather than stars. Their secondary plays well in coverage, allowing the team to get pressure on the passer. The best hope that Houston’s offence has in this one is if they can run the ball effectively early, and if WR Will Fuller plays. Fuller is a field-stretcher, and the depth he adds to the receiving corps will go a long way towards helping free up DeAndre Hopkins, thereby helping Watson find open targets quickly enough to avoid Buffalo’s pass rush.
I’ve been high on this Buffalo team all season, and they absolutely have what it takes to pull off an upset here.
Tennessee at New England
Asking any team to go into Foxborough and win a playoff game is asking a lot. Tennessee is the underdog in this game, but should they be?
Tennessee has really had two seasons; pre-Tannehill, and Tannehill Time. Since the team finally pulled the plug on Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill has turned this offensive unit into one of the most efficient in the league, spreading the ball around, and unlocking the game-wrecking potential of rookie wideout AJ Brown. Throughout it all, the constant has been Derrick Henry and his superior blend of power, speed, and durability. Their defence is middle-of-the-pack; solid, if unspectacular, but certainly not awful.
Everyone knows what New England has done on defence this season. Everything starts with the DBs, particularly Stephon Gilmore. The strength of the defence lies in the coverage ability of the secondary, which allows New England’s no-stars front seven to get lots of pressure on the passer. The hallmark of New England defences for years has been its ability to take away what the opponent does best. This is why Tennessee’s offence presents such a challenge; it does a lot of things well. Add to that the fact that New England’s defence skews older, and is a bit banged-up, and the physicality of players like Henry and Brown, plus Tannehill’s mobility, will take a toll.
New England’s best hope is if its offence can move the ball, sustain drives, score points, eat up clock, and keep the other team’s offence off the field. In other words, things that they haven’t been able to do with any kind of consistency all season. Despite what you might have heard, Tom Brady has not played badly this season. However, he’s had to deal with a rash of injuries along the O-Line and at wideout. The team’s inefficient passing game, along with OL problems and the loss of FB James Develin has sapped the effectiveness of the running game. Phillip Dorsett hasn’t looked good since he was concussed by a dirty (and unflagged) hit against Philadelphia in Week 11; he’s only had 3 catches since then. The TE position has virtually no presence in the passing game. Julian Edelman has been hurt all season, and looked it, but played in every game and caught 100 balls. Why? BECAUSE HE HAD TO! No other receiver has been able to consistently step up to shoulder some of the load.
Of course, this is New England, and these are the playoffs, so it’s hard to rule them out in this one. The weather in Foxborough is supposed to be nasty, cold, windy, and wet. While this might seem to favour Tennessee, with Derrick Henry pounding the ball on the ground, Tannehill might struggle, which would be a boon to New England’s defence. In a contest that ends up being decided by running backs, New England’s depth makes them up to the challenge. A big game by versatile Rex Burkhead is essential for the Pats to have a chance.
The thing that New England really needed, more than anything, was rest, the kind you can only get from a first-round bye. That they couldn’t secure that last week against Miami tells me everything I need to know about this team. Even if the defence and/or special teams forces some turnovers, the offence does just enough, and they pull this one out, the success will be short-lived. I believe there’s an excellent chance that New England will make an early exit from this year’s post-season tournament.