Kaz’s Korner – Joe Kazmar

A quick glance at the NFL Playoffs reveals that the Wild Card Round begins Saturday with our Houston Texans kicking off the action at 3:35 p.m. against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium in Houston.

But further scrutiny shows that this year’s four wild card teams are perhaps stronger than the eight division champions.

It sounds strange, but Kansas City, the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a combined total of 11 Super Bowl championships between them.

Going one step further, the only wild card team that is not a favorite for this weekend’s opening action is the Green Bay Packers, who are a one-point underdog at Washington on Sunday, according to the early lines released from Las Vegas. The game is set for 3:40 p.m. Sunday and can be seen on FOX.

Strangely enough, Green Bay and Washington are the only teams in this weekend’s Wild Card Round that didn’t face each other in the regular season.

The odds-makers in Vegas must realize that the Redskins are playing lights out while the Packers appear to be floundering, losing their two final games which relegated them to wild card status.

Houston hosts Kansas City as a three-point underdog on ESPN, followed by Pittsburgh being a 2½-point favorite at Cincinnati in Saturday’s nightcap kicking off at 7:15 p.m. on CBS.

Sunday’s first game has Seattle traveling to Minnesota to play the Vikings in a 12:05 p.m. start on NBC. The Seahawks are a whopping 5½-point favorite, probably because of the 38-7 whipping they gave the Vikes in Minnesota early last month. The Green Bay-Washington game follows at 3:40 p.m.

Although the Texans were 99.8 per cent assured of winning the AFC South Division championship over Indianapolis, they went out and played perhaps their best game of the 2015 season, drubbing an overmatched Jacksonville team 30-6 Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium.

The Houston victory left no doubt which team was going to the playoffs as the division winner, although there were nine scenarios that had to happen for Indianapolis to slip into the playoffs.

The Texans win topped off the most successful year for Houston’s three major pro sport franchises making the playoffs (Rockets, Astros and Texans) since 1980 when the Oilers, Astros and Rockets accomplished that same feat.

The defense was superb, setting a franchise record with eight sacks and holding an opponent under 300 total yards for the seventh time in the last nine games in which the Texans compiled an impressive 7-2 record and allowed fewer points than any other NFL team in the final nine games. They held opponents to zero touchdowns five times during that period.

And when one mentions brilliant defense, the name J.J. Watt usually is the ringleader. That also was the case Sunday when he played without his hand cast for the first time in four weeks.

Watt led the team with eight tackles—three for losses—three sacks to once again lead the NFL with 17½ and four hits on the quarterback. He also deflected three passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

But he had plenty of help from outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus who outdid Watt by getting 3 ½ sacks for the second time this season, finishing with a very respectable 12 for the season. He also had five tackles, including two for losses and three hits on the quarterback. He forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

Brian Hoyer returned to quarterback for Houston after completing concussion protocol and is anxious to start against Kansas City Saturday. Alfred Blue rushed for 102 yards and had a 65-yard run called back because of a penalty.

Kansas City enters the playoffs as the NFL’s hottest team, currently riding a 10-game winning streak and an 11-5 record compared to Houston’s 9-7. The Chiefs scored 27 unanswered points against the Texans in the season opener and then hung on for a 27-20 win.

The Chiefs built their winning streak without star running back Jamaal Charles of Port Arthur, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

However, Kansas City has not won a playoff game since they beat the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome after the 1993 season when Joe Montana was the Chiefs’ quarterback.

I figure that losing streak will be extended after the Texans win 26-24 Saturday. And while we’re at it, look for Pittsburgh to win the nightcap at Cincinnati in their rubber match this season, 31-27.

I also look for the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom to have a repeat performance at Minnesota Sunday by ousting the Vikings 23-16 and Green Bay to upset the Redskins 27-23 in the later game.

KWICKIES…Sara Thomas just completed her first season as an NFL game official. She is the first female football official in the league’s 95-year history. Her “real job” is being a pharmaceutical sales representative.

The Houston Texans 2016 opponents have been determined with the dates of their games to be announced this spring. Home games include Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Kansas City, San Diego, Detroit, Chicago and Cincinnati. The road games will be at Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Denver, Oakland, Green Bay, Minnesota and New England. The schedule looks extremely competitive, especially the road gig.

It looked for a long time Sunday afternoon like the Houston Texans would be playing Denver at NRG Stadium Saturday. That was until Head Coach Gary Kubiak inserted his “backup” quarterback Peyton Manning into the game with the Broncos trailing  San Diego 13-7 after committing five turnovers. The 37-year old Hall of Fame candidate directed five drives with four resulting in scores as Denver beat the slumping Chargers 27-20 and won the AFC West Division and kept Kansas City as a wild card.

The Seattle Seahawks rebounded from their upset loss to the St. Louis Rams last week and came through with an upset of their own Sunday at Arizona. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes in the second period to extend the Seahawks’ lead to 30-6. Orange’s Earl Thomas intercepted a Carson Palmer pass to add to the Cardinals’ frustration as Seattle went on to win 36-6.

JUST BETWEEN US…Black Monday, the day after the regular NFL season ended, had several coaching casualties with the headliner being the resignation of New York Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin, who left with a 102-90 record, including three Super Bowl rings. Unfortunately, his team hadn’t made the playoffs in the last four seasons. Chip Kelley was ousted at Philadelphia last week for dismantling his team of star players, Mike Pettine was let go at Cleveland after only a couple of seasons and Jim Tomsula only lasted one season at San Francisco. Other openings include Miami where Mike Shanahan and former Atlanta boss Mike Smith expressed an interest and Tennessee where Mike Mularkey was the interim head coach. Several teams are interested in New Orleans’ head coach Sean Payton who still has two years left on his contract but meets with the top brass today to find out his fate.