We’ll be locked in on New England at Buffalo, but let’s take a peak at some other intriguing games from the AFC this week.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Monday night is a pivotal game for the Bengals’ playoff hopes as they host their arch-rivals. The Steelers come into Cincinnati rolling right along on a six-game winning streak. They won the previous meeting 29-14 in Pittsburgh back in October.
The Bengals are 5-6, a game behind Baltimore and Buffalo in the wild card race. A loss will put their playoff hopes on life support. Last week in a win against the hapless Brown, Cincy finally got their running game going as rookie Joe Mixon recorded 114 yards.
They will need more of that in order to sustain drives keeping Pittsburgh’s powerful offense off the field. They also will look to exploit Pittsburgh’s inability to prevent big plays. Week after week, the Steelers have been sneaky bad on defense. Even quarterbacks like Jacoby Brissett and Brett Hundley have hit on multiple deep passes against Pittsburgh. Where the Steelers have been strong is in short yardage situations and against the run in general.
Where Pittsburgh is not struggling is obvious. Le’Veon Bell may be the best running back in the NFL; Antonio Brown may be the best player in the NFL. The Bengals are tough to run on, but have been beaten through the air. Good luck with #84.
Houston at Tennessee
Who scored the most points in one game this season? Houston. The first time the Texans and the Titans played seems like a lifetime ago. Deshaun Watson was a tremendous story early in the season, no doubt on pace to be rookie-of-the-year. But Watson tore his ACL. Enter Tom Savage and a rash of other injuries and this season has become a nightmare for Bill O’Brien and the Texans.
Tennessee is 7-4 but does not have the look of a team that can compete for anything more than a division championship this season. Marcus Mariota has been throwing an increasing number of interceptions and the Titans barely scraped out wins over the likes of Cleveland and Indianapolis. Still, with a favorable schedule ahead of them and a season-ending home game vs. Jacksonville, the Titans have it all in front of them.
Look for the Titans to ride their running game against the banged-up Houston defense.
Kansas City at New York
Anyone who saw these teams in September would have told you that their December meeting would be a lopsided conquest for KC. But a season in the NFL is a long haul.
The Chiefs have lost five out of their last six games. Their offense has played with anemia. In the last two weeks they’ve especially faltered as they’ve scored just one touchdown and a combined 19 points against the Giants and Bills. They obviously have to get back to establishing Kareem Hunt on the ground early and often. In fact, that is when Alex Smith is at his best – when he is not relied on to make the big plays. When Hunt is gaining yards in chunks, it allows Smith to get comfortable and find Travis Kelce his favorite target.
The Jets are just 4-7 but have actually exceeded expectations in their effort and performance. Other than an early season debacle at Oakland, the Jets have been in every game. The fact is, however, Josh McCown is Josh McCown and his fourth quarter play has cost the Jets multiple times this season.
Expect another very competitive game this week unless the “playoff” Chiefs get their mojo back. On paper, this should be one-sided. In reality, it likely won’t be.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills