The AFC South champion Texans (10-6) host the Buffalo Bills (10-6) in a Wild Card playoff this Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium. Houston's played in six of the last nine postseasons, and kickoff is set for 3:35 p.m. CT on ABC-13/KTRK and ESPN. Here are five things to watch when the Texans and Bills tangle. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Dazzle, Deshaun – Saturday's the second playoff start at quarterback for Deshaun Watson. The third-year pro picked up quite a bit last January in his first postseason go-round, and knows it'll be a lot faster than a regular season contest.
"Everything just speeds up," Watson said. "So, just being able to be prepared and see how the energy and everything changes in a playoff game, it really helps out to kind of get that firsthand look last year. I know it didn't go our way but we've got another opportunity this year."
Watson threw 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2019, and finished with a passer rating of 98.0. In 15 starts, he guided the Texans to 10 wins.
The Bills are well aware of his arm, but they are also wary of his success with his legs when improvisation is necessary.
"There are times when you watch him on tape and people have him hemmed up, but somehow, someway he gets out of it," Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "On the run, he makes some very accurate throws. He presents a lot of problems to defenses. He's really the straw that stirs the drink for their offense."
Buffalo safety Micah Hyde agreed, and also pointed to Watson's brain as being a difference-maker.
"I don't think he gets enough credit for how smart he is and how he can read coverages," Hyde said. "Then when the play breaks down that's when I feel like he makes his plays the most."
In seven starts at NRG Stadium this season, Watson led the Texans to five wins. In those home starts, he threw 14 touchdowns, was picked off just three times and also ran for four touchdowns.
2) Hopkins vs White – On the edge, Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins will most likely square off the majority of the time against Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White. Both were first team All-Pros in 2019, and Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly described the matchup.
"It's two of the best outside players in the league going at it," Kelly said. "It'll be a good challenge. White's a big, long corner. Likes to press, does some good things and it'll be a good challenge for 'Hop."
Hopkins finished 2019 with 104 catches for 1,165 yards and seven scores in 15 games. White, meanwhile, snared six interceptions, which tied him for the NFL lead in picks. Hopkins said Buffalo's defensive backfield clearly did something well in 2019 to get to this point.
"Very good secondary," Hopkins said. "I don't really know too many stats about individual players, but they're playing us this Saturday. So for them to be able to do that, they've had to do some things right."
Since his rookie season of 2013, Hopkins has moved the chains in clutch situations better than any other pass-catcher. In third and fourth down situations, nobody has more first down catches than Hopkins' 179. He's averaged 12.9 yards per catch on third and fourth down, with 13 of those 179 receptions resulting in scores. Seeing how White defends him will be a must-see battle.
"He's one of the better corners in the league and we've got what we feel like is the best receiver in the league, so it's a great matchup," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "That's what playoff football is all about, when great players are going against each other, both guys are competing at a high level. It'll be a big part of the game."
3) Hey, hey, J.J. – After missing the final eight games of the regular season with a pectoral injury, defensive end J.J. Watt returns to action for the playoffs. The 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year practiced the last two weeks and is back in the lineup.
Even though he missed the entire second half of the season, he still led the Texans with 20 quarterback hits. He also finished second the team with four sacks, and tied for fourth with four tackles for loss.
While he won't likely play every defensive snap against Buffalo, Watt is confident he could if needed.
"We have a plan," Watt said. "I could play them all if I had to. There's no doubt about it. But we have a good plan in place and we're going to execute that plan. It'll be good."
Last season when Watt faced the Bills, he finished with a sack and a tackle for loss in the victory. In a 2014 Texans win, he demolished Buffalo with nine quarterback hits and an interception he returned 80 yards for a score.
"He's an exceptional football player," Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "He's been an All-Pro for a variety of reasons. He's dynamic. He can affect the pass game. He can affect the run game. On the field, he's a beast and you've got to have a plan for him."
Watt's presence and ability to draw blockers to him certainly impacts his teammates, as Whitney Mercilus, Jacob Martin, Brennan Scarlett, D.J. Reader and others in the front seven should get more 1-on-1 opportunities.
4) Just Joshin' – Watt's return should impact Bills quarterback Josh Allen. The second-year signal-caller put together an impressive 2019, throwing for 20 touchdowns and running for nine more. He completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,089 yards, was picked off nine times and sacked 38 times. Allen's capable of doing damage with his legs, and Mercilus believes the Texans need to stay disciplined with him.
"He's a strong guy in the pocket," Mercilus said. "Hard to bring down. He's fast, too, for his size. We've got to be able to have disciplined rush lanes when rushing the passer.
Allen completed 10-of-17 passes for 84 yards against Houston in 2018. He didn't throw a touchdown or an interception, and was dropped for a sack twice in the loss to the Texans.
When the Texans blitz Allen, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel explained what Houston's defense must do.
"Everybody hitting their gaps at the right time and full speed," Crennel said. "Get him off the spot and make him have to try to improvise and hopefully get him on the ground rather than he throw the ball down the field."
5) Back in H-Town – A few Buffalo Bills are returning to Houston. Cornerback Kevin Johnson was a first round pick of the Texans in 2015 and spent his first four NFL years here. He played in all 16 games for the Bills this season.
Defensive lineman Ed Oliver grew up in Houston and played collegiately at the University of Houston, while defensive end Jerry Hughes is from Missouri City and played his high school ball at Austin High School.
Johnson said the Bills defense knows defending against Watson will likely require some extra time, because of the quarterback's elusiveness and playmaking ability.
"You see his game style," Johnson said. "We're definitely going to have to be on their receivers until the whistle blows."
He finished with 32 total tackles and five passes defensed, and contributed on special teams, too.
Oliver, meanwhile, is a defender Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly respects greatly.
"He's really explosive," Kelly said. "He's active, he's running to the ball, he plays really hard. He's a disruptive player."
The Houston Texans roster in photos.