The two hottest teams in the NFL kick off the AFC wild-card round on Saturday as the Kansas City Chiefs look to extend their franchise-best 10-game winning streak when they visit the AFC South-champion Houston Texans. Kansas City rebounded from a horrid 1-5 start to run the remainder of the regular-season table and push Denver to the limit before the Broncos claimed the AFC West title on Sunday.
Spencer Ware rushed for his team-leading sixth touchdown in Kansas City’s 23-17 victory over Oakland on Sunday, but the 24-year-old was on the practice squad when the Chiefs posted a 27-20 victory over Houston on Sept. 13. Jamaal Charles’ season-ending ACL injury a month later expanded the workload of Charcandrick West and Ware while Alex Smith’s conservative passing game helped Kansas City advance to the postseason for the second time in three years. While the Chiefs are favored on the road, the Texans have won three straight to unseat Indianapolis as the AFC South champion. Brian Hoyer, who was benched in the Week 1 loss to Kansas City, threw for 249 yards and a touchdown on Sunday as Houston claimed its first division title since 2012 with a 30-6 rout of Jacksonville.
TV: 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Books opened the Chiefs as 3-point road faves but that is now -3.5. The total is down to 40 from the opening 40.5.
Chiefs – LB Tamba Hali (Probable, thumb), LB Justin Houston (Probable, knee), WR Jeremy Maclin (Probable, hip), DB Husain Abdullah (Questionable, concussion), T Jah Reid (Questionable, knee), LB D.J. Alexander (Questionable, concussion), OL Mitch Morse (Questionable, concussion), LB Dee Ford (Questionable, concussion), WR De’Anthony Thomas (I-R, concussion), OL Ben Grubbs (I-R, neck), TE James O’Shaughnessy (I-R, foot), RB Jamaal Charles (I-R, knee), DB Phillip Gaines (I-R, knee), OL Paul Fanaika (I-R, undisclosed), QB Tyler Bray (I-R, knee), LB Justin March (I-R, knee).
Texans – WR Cecil Shorts (Probable, hamstring), WR Nate Washington (Probable, hip), S Rahim Moore (Questionable, illness), LB Jadeveon Clowney (Questionable, foot), DE Jeoffrey Pagan (Questionable, illness), T Duane Brown (I-R, quadriceps), DB Charles James (I-R, foot), QB T.J. Yates (I-R, knee), C Greg Mancz (I-R, knee), RB Arian Foster (I-R, Achilles), S Lonne Ballentine (I-R, knee), LB Carlos Thompson (I-R, wrist), T Jeff Adams (I-R, knee), QB Tom Savage (I-R, shoulder), LB Reshard Cliett (I-R, knee), T David Quessenberry (I-R, illness).
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Chiefs (-3) + Texans (+1.5) + home field (-3.0) = Chiefs -1.5
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “Trend bettors take note: Teams riding a winning streak of eight games or more coming into the playoffs (like the Chiefs) are on a 1-14 ATS slump in their first postseason game since 2004.” Covers Expert Teddy Covers.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (11-5 SU, 8-8 ATS, 8-7-1 O/U): Smith tossed two of his three touchdown passes to Travis Kelce in the win over Houston, with the tight end making six catches for a season-high 106 yards. Jeremy Maclin was limited to five receptions for 52 yards in that contest but has settled in as Smith’s go-to receiver after finding the end zone six times in the last six games – including once in each of the past three weeks. Maclin suffered a bruised hip versus the Raiders but returned to finish that contest and is expected to play on Saturday.
ABOUT THE TEXANS (9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS, 8-7-1 O/U): Stud defensive end J.J. Watt shed the cast on his broken left hand and registered three sacks versus the Jaguars on Sunday to finish the season with an NFL-best 17.5. Whitney Mercilus tied a career high with 3 1/2 last week and set a personal best with 12 this season for Houston, which recorded a franchise-best 45 sacks. Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins (career-high 111 catches, 1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns) began his breakout season with nine catches for 98 yards and two scores versus the Chiefs.
* Road team is 6-1 ATS in their last seven meetings.
* Chiefs are 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings in Houston.
* Chiefs are 4-0 ATS in their last four road games.
* Texans are 5-1-2 ATS in their last eight games in January.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Sixty percent of Covers users are backing the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (+3, 45.5)
The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in familiar territory, squeezing into the playoffs as the sixth seed and challenging the AFC North-champion Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round. The Steelers made the most of that situation 10 years ago by winning the Super Bowl, and it’s a path they’d like to travel again when they visit Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday.
Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense looks to lead the way as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday in a 28-12 victory over Cleveland. Antonio Brown (career-high 136 receptions and 1,834 yards) had 187 yards versus the Browns on 13 catches, but he totaled that many receptions as the Steelers and Bengals each claimed a road contest in the series. While Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have won four of five to enter the playoffs, the Bengals are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance with a question under center. While second-year backup AJ McCarron is expected to play on Saturday, Andy Dalton is inching toward a return – perhaps as early as next week should Cincinnati advance – after fracturing his thumb in the Bengals’ 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13.
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS.
LINE HISTORY: Books opened the Bengals as 2.5-point home pups but that has moved to +3. The total opened at 46.5 and is down to 45.5.
Steelers – WR Sammie Coates (Questionable, illness), CB Doran Grant (Questionable, groin), RB DeAngelo Williams (Out, foot), RB Le’Veon Bell (I-R, knee), CB Cortez Allen (I-R, knee), T Kelvin Beachum (I-R, knee), TE Rob Blanchflower (I-R, ankle), C Maurkice Pouncey (I-R, ankle), QB Bruce Gradkowski (I-R, hand), K Shaun Suisham (I-R, knee), T Mike Adams (I-R, back).
Bengals – WR Mario Alford (Questionable, personal), HB Ryan Hewitt (Questionable, knee), QB Andy Dalton (Out, thumb), DT Brandon Thompson (I-R, knee), LB Emmanuel Lamur (I-R, knee), CB Darqueze Dennard (I-R, shoulder), WR James Wright (I-R, knee).
WEATHER: Temperatures will be in the high-40s with a 69 percent chance of rain.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Steelers (-3.5) + Bengals (-3.0) + home field (-3.0) = Bengals -2.5
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “After losing stud RB LeVeon Bell earlier in the season, Mike Tomlin just lost his replacement DeAngelo Williams. New starting RB Fitz Toussaint has 24 career carries. The Bengals defense has been the best in the NFL against the deep ball, ranked #1 in the NFL against passes that travel at least 16 yards from the line of scrimmage.” Covers Expert Teddy Covers.
The Steelers don’t have cheerleaders, so here’s a double dose from Cincy’s squad:
ABOUT THE STEELERS (10-6 SU 9-6-1 ATS, 6-10 O/U): While Pittsburgh’s vaunted aerial attack is raring to go, its rushing game could be a sore spot as veteran DeAngelo Williams’ ankle injury may play a major role on Saturday. Williams (team-leading 907 yards, 11 touchdowns) is listed as day-to-day while coach Mike Tomlin reportedly is considering Fitzgerald Toussaint (42 yards) and journeyman Jordan Todman (22 yards) in the gameplan. The Steelers only have to look to their first-round contest last year, when the absence of Le’Veon Bell led to a limited ground attack – and an early exit at the hands of arch-rival Baltimore.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (12-4 12-3-1 ATS, 7-9 O/U): A.J. Green reeled in a season-high 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s 16-10 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 1 before adding six catches for 132 yards and a score in the latter meeting. While Green led the team with 86 receptions and 1,297 yards, his 10 touchdowns were only eclipsed by tight end Tyler Eifert (13). Jeremy Hill overcame a sluggish start to record six touchdowns in his last seven games, but he was limited to just 76 yards on 22 carries collectively in two meetings with the Steelers.
* Steelers are 16-4-1 ATS in their last 21 meetings in Cincinnati.
* Steelers are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 road games.
* Bengals are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 vs. AFC.
* Bengals are 1-10 ATS in their last 11 games in January.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Fifty-seven percent of Covers users are backing the Steelers.