Sports analysts and handicappers often speak of playoff and/or ‘big game’ experience as a salient factor in evaluating post season success. That’s debatable, but assuming it is relevant you might as well throw the entire concept out the window before starting to evaluate this matchup. The Buffalo Bills have reached the playoffs just once in the past twenty years. The last time the Bills won a playoff game was in 1995. That was the year after their last of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. They’ve gone through plenty of head coaches since Marv Levy and the hope is that ‘lucky number 10’ Sean McDermott can guide the Bills back to some measure of playoff success.
While the Bills have the dubious distinction of reaching the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons without a victory, the Houston Texans have never advanced past the divisional round. Of course, the franchise didn’t exist prior to 1999 but their only measure of postseason success has been three wild card round victories since 2011. Bill O’Brien is in a tenuous position even with the team’s playoff run. There’s a lot of sentiment among the NFL cognoscenti that the Texans win *despite* O’Brien’s coaching and not because of it. That might be unfair but suffice to say that he’s not considered to be among the best ‘in game’ coaches in the league.
There’s no question that Houston has the more potent offense and certainly the more accomplished quarterback. Former Clemson standout Deshaun Watson is one of the most dynamic players at the position in the entire NFL. Buffalo’s Josh Allen might not have reached Watson’s level in the league but he’s become an increasingly valuable weapon in an offense that is sill a ‘work in progress’. Allen certainly didn’t have the hype coming into the league that accompanied Watson–he’s a product of the University of Wyoming–but he’s seriously underrated in terms of toughness and team leadership. Allen rushed for over 500 yards this year and scored 9 touchdowns on the ground leading the team.
While the Bills’ offense is still a ‘work in progress’ and a unit that stagnates at times their defense is downright nasty to the point that they could be the surprise team of the postseason. Buffalo finished #3 in team defense and were top ten against both the rush and the pass. The result was a mere 16.2 PPG allowed–second best in the NFL behind the New England Patriots’ 14.1 PPG against. Buffalo’s offense is a concern but the defense gives them a significant margin of error. It’s also perfectly constructed to limit what Houston’s Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins do best. That was the case when the Bills played at Houston early in the 2018 season and they’re even better this year.
Buffalo was money in the bank as a pointspread proposition this year and particularly on the road where they went 6-2 SU/6-0-2 ATS. The Bills were 9-5-2 against the pointspread overall. Houston is one of three teams in the playoffs under .500 against the spread. The Texans were horrific at home going 2-6 against the spread and as a favorite where they’re a brutal 1-6-1 against the number. The pointspread performance of the teams reflects our perception that Houston may be overrated in this matchup while the Bills are underrated. The Bills advance thanks to their nasty defense. We’ll go with Buffalo and the ‘Under’.