Similar paths to playoffs for Texans, Chiefs

As the Texans and Chiefs prepare for Saturday's AFC Wild Card game, the path to the postseason has had its share of similarities for both this year.

Both had slow starts to the season, Houston at 2-5 and Kansas City at 1-5.

Both dealt with losing their star running back in the first half of season. The Texans placed Arian Foster on injured reserve after he tore his Achilles on Oct. 25 at Miami. Jamaal Charles' season ending on a torn ACL suffered a few weeks earlier against Chicago.

In Week 1, there were flashes of what both teams might become. The Chiefs offense got off to a fast 27-6 lead in the first half, while Houston's defense showed it could keep opponents scoreless after halftime. 

The Texans went on to start four different quarterbacks. Alex Smith started all 16 games for Kansas City.

However, both teams shored up their defenses and turned their season around since facing each other in the season opener on Sept. 13. The Texans finished 7-2 in their final stretch, while the Chiefs won ten-straight games to end their season.

"I don't think you can just ignore it, but both teams are very different," head coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday. "That was a long time ago. But there are certain things that you have to look at, whether it's situationally or personnel-wise, whatever it may be and you have to learn from the mistakes you made in that game. We were down 27-9 in the first half. That's not going to win any playoff games. I think we have to look at it to learn from some of the things we did there. But, again, we've to make sure we know both teams are very different."

With their backs against the wall, O'Brien and the Texans approached the remaining games as one-week seasons, worked on fundamentals, and prepared. The Chiefs did the same.

"We knew we had dug ourselves into a hole and it was like, 'Let's just go 1-0 this week," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said Tuesday. "Let's just have a good day of preparation, a good week of preparation and try to get a win and not think about anything else.' I think to start the season we had a lot of expectations and not to say we didn't play good football at times, but it was inconsistent and the main thing is you don't want to do that, but it did refocus us a bit."

Both teams also relied on stingy defense, excelling on third down. Houston's defense leads the league in third-down percentage (28.5 percent) with Kansas City ranked second (33.18). The Texans rank fifth in the league in yards per play allowed (5.03) while the Chiefs are sixth (5.08). Both have held opponents to under 20 points per game on average this year.

"They play smart football," O'Brien said. "They understand what type of team they have. They've got a good defense. They're very efficient on offense. Sometimes you get, if you look at the stats it may not bear out that way, but I think you've got to really study them on film. He's a very smart coach situationally."

It's been O'Brien's theme as well, since the day he arrived in Houston two years ago, a game-plan offense and defense that adjusted week-to-week. Both teams are playing situational football at high levels. Now with the Texans and Chiefs headed for a rematch on Saturday, it will be two vastly different teams that faced each other in the postseason.

The 2015 AFC South Champion Houston Texans (9-7) will host the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at NRG Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 9. Kickoff for the AFC Wild Card Game is set for 3:35 p.m. CT on ESPN/ABC.

View photos of the pregame scene during Sunday's matchup with the Chiefs.

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