Last updated: January 9th at 8:45pm ET
Team Totals: Chiefs 30.5, Texans 20.5
Fresh off luckboxing last Saturday’s overtime win via Josh Allen, Brian Daboll, and Sean McDermott’s collective late-game meltdowns, a legitimately below-average Houston team visits Arrowhead to face a legitimately Super Bowl-contending Chiefs team that should squash the fraudulent Texans at home. As was the case in Houston’s thrilling Wild Card comeback win, however, Deshaun Watson looms as an ultimate X-factor with Will Fuller (hamstring, groin) due back after essentially missing four of the Texans’ last five games. Worrisome for Watson is that Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo’s defense appears to have found its stride, holding five of its last six quarterbacks faced to fantasy scores of QB18 or worse with point totals allowed of 3 (Broncos), 16 (Patriots), 9 (Raiders), 17 (Chargers), 3 (Bears), and 21 (Chargers). As the Texans are ten-point dogs, it’s notable that Watson’s career yards per pass attempt spike from 7.7 when leading to 8.4 when trailing, 4.3 to 6.1 in terms of yards per rushing attempt, and Watson has scored 45 of his career all-purpose TDs when playing from behind as opposed to 31 with a lead. Even if the Texans get boat raced as a team, Watson’s box-score ceiling remains immense.
The Chiefs played leaky run defense for most of 2019 but stiffened during the final month, collectively holding Chargers, Bears, Broncos, and Patriots backs to a 71/281/2 (3.96 YPC) rushing line in Weeks 14-17. Albeit in a small sample, Kansas City’s up-front improvement was just enough to not deem Carlos Hyde’s Divisional Round matchup an outright gimme. Hyde ran roughshod over the Chiefs when these clubs met in Week 6 (26/116/1), yet critical Kansas City defenders DT Chris Jones (groin), NT Xavier Williams (ankle), and MLB Anthony Hitchens (groin) were all missing and are now near full strength, while prized offseason pickup DE Frank Clark was playing at a markedly lower level than he is now. Hyde’s lack of passing-game usage is a big concern as a two-score road dog with just six receptions since the month of September, rendering him a low-floor, contrarian DFS-tournament pick who will almost certainly need a touchdown to pay off. … The 2019 Chiefs gave up a league-high 59.4 receiving yards per game to running backs, suggesting Duke Johnson offers sleeper appeal as Houston’s main pass-catching back. Yet Johnson has gone five straight games without reaching double-digit touches and handled the ball just six times on 39% of Houston’s Wild Card Round offensive snaps despite a three-quarter-plus deficit. Not unlike Hyde, Johnson is a low-floor DFS pick who probably will need a touchdown to hit.
Even if Fuller returns, there are no matchup-based cakewalks for Houston’s pass catchers at Arrowhead. The Chiefs wound up allowing the NFL’s second-fewest regular season fantasy points to wide receivers, while neither DeAndre Hopkins (9/55/0) nor Fuller (5/44/0) blew the doors off in these clubs’ Week 6 date. Fuller did drop three potential TDs in that game, however, and Hopkins primarily ran low-aDOT routes that moved the chains and kept Patrick Mahomes off the field. Ultimately, Hopkins projects as a high-volume but potentially capped-upside DFS play, and Fuller the opposite considering his history of in-game injury aggravations. … I continue to throw my hands up at Kenny Stills’ weekly unpredictability, regardless of Fuller’s status. Stills’ fantasy appeal is always limited to DFS tournaments with three games of 60-plus yards all season and no noticeable plus or minus correlation in connection with Fuller’s availability. … Rather than wide receivers, running backs and tight ends were the best means of attacking Kansas City’s defense all year. With Jordan Akins (hamstring) sidelined, Darren Fells played all but three of Houston’s Week 18 offensive snaps and delivered 4/37/0 receiving on five targets. Fells will be playable again if Akins sits, but this otherwise is a situation to avoid.
Hobbled by knee, ankle, and hand injuries throughout a regressive yet still-impressive third NFL season, full-strength Patrick Mahomes caught fire during a difficult Weeks 15-17 stretch against the Broncos, Bears, and Chargers for a combined 66-of-92 passing (72%), 765 yards (8.3 YPA), and 5:2 TD-to-INT ratio with an additional rushing score. Winners of six straight to close out the season, key to Kansas City’s late-year dominance was the reemergence of versatile RB Damien Williams, who tallied an efficient 63/398/3 (6.3 YPC) rushing and 15/98/1 receiving line over his final five appearances and played 71% of the Chiefs’ Week 17 offensive snaps against the Chargers. Andy Reid has all but phased LeSean McCoy out of his offense, while Darwin Thompson isn’t trusted for more than spot duty with consecutive touch counts of 5 and 5 since Williams returned from injury two games ago. This is an eruption spot for Williams; the Texans surrendered a combined 241/1,163/7 (4.83 YPC) rushing line to enemy backs over their last ten games, permitted the NFL’s second-most running back receiving yards per game in 2019 (55.7), and got torched for a season-high 76 receiving yards by Devin Singletary in the Wild Card Round. Williams is a home-favorite probable feature back in a near-optimal Divisional Round draw.
As Texans-Chiefs offers serious shootout potential and all of his pass catchers draw gorgeous Week 19 spots, Patrick Mahomes’ ceiling is the second-highest behind Lamar Jackson among quarterbacks on this year’s Divisional Round slate considering his fast regular season finish and upward-trending health. Mahomes’ foremost passing strength is his ability to threaten all quadrants of the field, so it’s notable that Houston surrendered the NFL’s eighth-most pass plays of 20-plus yards (58) this regular season, then five more such gains in their squeaked-out Wild Card win over the Bills. Right behind Jackson, Mahomes is a close-second favorite to lead all players in Divisional Round fantasy points.
Mahomes’ Weeks 10-17 target distribution: Travis Kelce 62; Tyreek Hill 54; Sammy Watkins 34; Williams 16; Demarcus Robinson 15; Mecole Hardman 9; Darwin Thompson 8; Blake Bell 7. … The Texans allowed 2019’s ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends, including big games to Noah Fant (4/113/1), Mark Andrews (4/75/1), Eric Ebron (4/70/1), and Jonnu Smith (5/60/0) down the stretch. This is a no-brainer smash spot for Kelce. … Despite playing only 51% of Kansas City’s offensive snaps in his first game back from a multi-week shoulder injury, Hill torched Houston for 5/80/2 receiving when these clubs met in Week 6, while Texans DC Romeo Crennel’s secondary was flamed for three 100-plus-yard games by enemy wideouts over the past four weeks. Especially in a high-totaled game, Hill offers slate-breaking upside. … Scoreless since Week 1 with a single game above 50 yards since Week 4, Watkins is always a leap-of-faith play whose matchups don’t matter. … Robinson has cleared 45 yards once since Week 2. He’s a touchdown-or-bust dart throw. … Hardman’s target counts in Weeks 13-17 were 0 > 1 > 2 > 0 > 1. If you’re like me and believe Hardman deserves more usage, you’re willing to punt play him against the Texans. But there’s no getting around the fact that Hardman has a goose-egg floor.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 34, Texans 20