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Texans-Chiefs: AFC Divisional Round preview

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on CBS at 3:05 p.m. ET, Jan. 12 as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

The Backstory

Rematch!

Sunday the Texans head back to Kansas City, the sight of perhaps their most impressive victory this season, a 31-24 back-and-forth affair in Week 6. Houston used a 20-point second quarter -- aided by two Patrick Mahomes turnovers -- to turn a double-digit deficit into a lead. Deshaun Watson then used his magic to engineer a 12-play lead-taking drive late and iced the game with a dandy pass to DeAndre Hopkins.

In the previous meeting, the Texans pounded the K.C. defense on the ground, churning the clock, picking up 35 total first downs, piled up 192 total rushing yards, and a nearly 40-20 minute edge in time of possession. Carlos Hyde was the focal point of the Houston offense, gobbling up 116 yards and a score, while Watson added 42 yards rushing and two ground scores. The Texans' ability to move the chains, and churn the clock kept Mahomes on the sideline. Will Fuller played in the Week 6 tilt but couldn't seem to connect with Watson on several deep shots. Houston's longest reception of the game went for 23 yards.

If Fuller plays, he and Watson will need to make those splash plays count this time around because this isn't the same Chiefs defense they faced those many moons ago.

Steve Spagnuolo's D gelled down the stretch. Since Week 11, K.C. has allowed 11.5 points per game, fewest in the NFL, and allowed an opposing passer rating of 63.5, with 10 INTs while allowing just seven total touchdowns (five passing).

The K.C. defense has improved down the stretch but hasn't come close to playing anyone as dynamic as Watson during that six-game win streak.

The Texans QB showed last week in the Wild Card Round that he can put his team on his back and overcome any deficit. Against a Bills defense that showed its mettle all season long, Watson shined in the second half to lead a comeback from down 16-0. When Watson and Hopkins are on, there is no counting out Houston's chances of entering any tilt. Making it a shoot out could be Houston's best chance of beating Mahomes & Co. in K.C. once again.

Under Pressure

Texans secondary: Every single secondary is on notice the moment Patrick Mahomes steps on the field. This Texans secondary, in particular, has its work cut out. Houston's secondary allowed 267.2 passing yards per game for the season, fourth-worst in the NFL. Last week against Buffalo, the crew made Josh Allen look like Brett Favre for long stretches. Put up that performance against Mahomes, and you're liable to get your doors blown off.

Particularly troubling for Houston is third down, where they ranked 31st in the NFL during the 2019 campaign. The Chiefs had the best third-down conversion rate in the NFL all season. This pivotal down could decide the contest if Houston can't find a way to get off the field. The inability of the Texans to get stops is why Houston's ball-control offense was key in the last meeting. It will be again Sunday.

J.J. Watt played a crucial role in last week's comeback. The Texans will need the pass rusher to play a full set of snaps and cause havoc Sunday if Houston is to pull off the road upset. If Romeo Crennel's front doesn't pressure Mahomes, forcing sacks and turnovers, the backend will get eaten alive by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, et al.

Juan Thornhill's replacements at safety for K.C.: The Chiefs had an extra week to figure out how to replace the dynamic rookie safety. How they go about making up for his playmaking ability deep will play a big role in Sunday's contest. The rookie was a menace on the backend this season, allowing Tyrann Mathieu to roam throughout the defense.

Upon Thornhill's injury in Week 17 -- a game K.C. needed to win to vault into a first-round bye -- Kendall Fuller continued to play a hybrid corner/safety roll, and second-year defensive back Armani Watts filled in as the deep safety. Watts played 46 defensive snaps in Week 17. He'd played 26 defensive snaps up until that point. The Chiefs will likely deploy a similar plan this week but could enlarge Fuller's snaps at safety if needed.

As mentioned previously, the Texans missed several big plays in the Week 6 matchup by a fingernail. Thornhill's absence could open Houston's chances in the rematch.

Matchup to Watch

Houston RBs vs. K.C. defense: Keeping Patrick Mahomes on the sideline is priority No. 1 for Houston. Dominating time of possession once again would go a long way to keeping the Texans in the game. Hyde has proven he can pound the ball, galloping for 1,118 yards in 17 games, with three tilts of 100-plus yards, including Week 6. The player to watch for Houston, however, should be Duke Johnson. The shifty running back could be a matchup weapon against Kansas City defense that enters giving up 951 receiving yards, most in the NFL, and 100 receptions to RBs this season. In limited touches, Johnson can provide big plays. He averaged 11.3 yards per touch (six for 68) last week. Bill O'Brien must use his mismatch in space Sunday to move the change.

Kansas City's run D has been much better of late, allowing just 95.0 rush yards since Week 11, eighth-best in the NFL over that span, and haven't allowed a 60-plus yard rusher since Week 13. If the Chiefs stifle the Houston ground attack this time around, it would allow Mahomes more time to feast on a suspect Texans defense.

Prediction

Deshaun Watson can spin magic to keep the Texans close for much of the contest and won't miss on every big shot as he did in the first matchup. However, a rested Chiefs team that ended the season one of the most balanced squads in the league owns more mismatches all over the field. Patrick Mahomes won't turn the ball over this time around; the Chiefs will pick apart Houston's defense and pull away at the end.

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