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AFC Playoff Preview

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Bills (+2.5) over TEXANS This is actually pretty interesting matchup for the early Saturday game. The Bills have done a impressive rebuilding job, constructing a fundamentally sound team with an excellent defense. As with the last semi-decent challenge to the Pats from within the division, the nagging limitation of the team remains the QB. Josh Allen has been better than could reasonably have been expected but has still been somwhere between below-average and replacement level (23rd in ANY/A, 24th in QBR, 27th in DVOA.) And ominously for his future, as Robert Mays concedes in this interesting but somewhat over-optimistic profile, to the extent that he’s been better this season it’s because Daboll has recognized that he’s awful on long throws and has given him simpler and shorter passes, not great for a QB who was supposed to overcome his accuracy issues with arm strength. The Texans actually have a QB, which gives them more upside if everything is clicking. But a stars-and-scrubs team needs is stars healthy, and the Texans are without a critical one in Will Fuller. Watt will be playing, which could be a big deal given that Allen has Andy Dalton-like pressure splits, but it’s hard to expect him to be close to 100%. I think the Bills can grind out their first playoff win since the Clinton administration here.

Titans (+4.5) over TEAM TRUMP It’s nice to have a reminder that nobody’s perfect, and for the second time this decade the Patriots blew a critical Week 17 game to Miami in part because of a strangely conservative game plan from the greatest coach in NFL history. And this time it cost them not only seeding but a bye. The Titans are a tough team to figure, but they have two of the top-tier offensive skill players the Pats currently lack and have been excellent since Tannehill took over. Tannehill is not as good as he’s looked this year, but I don’t think his improvement is just a fluke either; Adam Gase is a really fucking terrible coach. (Miami had the 27th best offense in the league last year despite Tannehill, a gifted but previously disappointing wideout who capped off an excellent year by spending Week 17 repeatedly torching arguably the best corner in the league, and a talented young TE who also had a significant leap forward with a coach who wasn’t setting the team up to fail. And Darnold showed no progress at all in Year 2. What a disastrous hire for the Jets.) This is not to say that one should overreact to Week 17 either; despite the creaks in the foundation the Pats are still real good and I’d expect them to pull out a win here. But the Titans are a very live dog and the Belichick coaching shrub has had a good recent track record in direct matchups against the master, so between the potential for an upset and the potential for a close bad weather game I’d grab the points.

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