With neither top ranked New England Patriots or the Kansas City Chiefs involved over the weekend during the National Football League Playoffs, the AFC Wildcard round saw the Houston Texans overcome the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers demolish the Miami Dolphins. The three takeaways from those games are as follows:
Houston's defense could win games by itself
The Texans scored three touchdowns against the Raiders but their defense put them in positions to capitalize on the Raiders' mistakes and their back up quarter back. The Texans picked up three sacks and three interceptions on a day that saw them advance to the next playoff game with a 27-14 win over Oakland. The defense reduced Oakland's rushing game to just 64 yards and ensured only a 12% conversion rate on third downs by the Raiders.
All of this without the services of future Hall-of-Famer JJ Watt. In his place, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney ran all over the Raiders' offense line and forced quarter back Connor Cook into completing only 18 of his 45 pass attempts. More of the same and some improved offense will be what the Texans work on as they head to Foxborough to face the Patriots.
Bell could propel the Steelers to the Super Bowl in his first playoff appearance
Le'Veon Bell is not an unknown quantity to the NFL but in his first ever post season appearance, the Steelers running back played like a man with something to prove. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown had big days out for Pittsburgh as well but it was the run game that allowed the Steelers to take a 20-6 lead against the Dolphins early in the first half.
It was all about Bell, though, as he finished his game with two touchdowns and 167 rushing yards, where a 26 yard play pushed the Steelers to their early big lead. Bell also picked up seven receiving yards but it was play on the ground that caught the eye as time and time again, his patient running style found gaps in the Miami defense which he then exploited with pace and power.
In the end, a 30-12 win was the outcome as the Steelers defense stepped up as well to cause some vital turnovers at key moments. In cold weather, a running back of Bell's prowess is vital to any team and when the Steelers head out to Kansas City, they will look to him as a catalyst for their play-action game that the likes of Brown and Eli Rogers have excelled in.
The Patriots are not overwhelming favourites in the AFC
Before the post season began, New England was the who the majority picked to go all the way but the Steelers have shown that they could be the dark horse on this side of the bracket. Pittsburgh does have to go to Kansas City and find a way to win there but with the way their running game is moving at the moment, they could pose trouble for any team, even New England in Foxborough. The smart money will still be to go with the Patriots but this weekend has shown that Pittsburgh, especially their defense, has enough in them it to go the distance.