Matt BowenESPN Staff WriterClose
- Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for ESPN Insider.
The NFL’s wild-card weekend is here. Win and it’s on to the divisional round.
Let’s dial in to all four games and see how each team gets it done. Here are a couple of game plan keys — one offensive and one defensive — that can create matchup edges and a path to the divisional round for all eight teams in play this weekend.
Let’s start with the AFC games on Saturday, then move into the NFC slate that kicks off Sunday afternoon.
The Buffalo Bills beat the Texans if …
1. Quarterback Josh Allen hits his deep-ball throws
The Bills will draw up shot plays for Allen — like they did on a touchdown throw to wide receiver John Brown versus the Patriots in Week 16 — but it’s on the quarterback to be accurate with the ball over the top. On throws of 20 or more yards down the field this season, Allen ranked No. 28 in the NFL in Total QBR (36.8), with a completion rate of just 26.5%. Allen still shows signs of being a one-speed thrower. Simply put, he has to display more touch and win with ball placement when Brown separates in the vertical passing game.
2. The defense limits the production of Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
The Bills feature a zone-heavy defense — they play zone on 54% of their snaps — so we will see a lot of split-safety coverage. That puts the safeties in a position to play top-down or cut the crossers when the Texans work the ball to Hopkins in the middle of the field. And we know that’s coming for Houston — a clear-out post with Hopkins on the deep crosser or over route.
Keep an eye on the Buffalo defense when it does play single-high man coverage, however. When the Bills faced the Texans last season, Buffalo matched up cornerback Tre’Davious White on Hopkins and played more man coverage. That’s good football. Give me the best versus the best on the playoff stage.