Dec 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) looks to throw during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) at Houston Texans (1-11-1)
Game time: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, noon CT
TV/Radio: KHOU-11 (CBS)/SiriusXM 225, KILT-AM 610, KILT-FM 100.3, KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)
What’s at stake: The Chiefs can clinch the AFC West with a victory over the Texans. Kansas City, at 10-3, is tied with the Buffalo Bills for the top record in the AFC as they battle it out for the number one overall seed in the AFC and the coveted bye on Wild Card weekend. Buffalo holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a 24-20 win in Kansas City on Oct. 16.
The Houston Texans are in evaluation mode, 1½ games ahead of both the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears for the top overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Both the Broncos and Bears previously defeated the Texans this season, so Houston would need a better record than either team to fall down the draft-order ladder.
When the Texans have the ball: Houston is missing multiple offensive starters for this game. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, fellow wideout Nico Collins, left guard Kenyon Green, and running back Dameon Pierce have all been declared OUT for Sunday. Here is where that leaves Houston:
Running backs Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale will carry the load offensively for the Texans, and Royce Freeman should be getting a game day elevation from the practice squad. They need to replace the league’s seventh-leading rusher in Pierce, who has racked up 939 yards on the ground thus far. Neither Burkhead (26 carries for 80 yards this season) nor Ogunbowale (8 carries for 27 yards) is the type of physical, bruising power back that Pierce is. Houston will need to be creative in figuring out how to get them the ball in space. Pierce excels at breaking tackles and yards after contact, Burkhead, and Ogunbowale rely more on being quick and shifty.
With Cooks and Collins both out again, Houston will turn to WR Chris Moore, who is coming off his best game of the season. Moore had 10 receptions for 124 yards last week in Dallas. WR Amari Rodgers also caught his first touchdown as a Texan last week and was Houston’s second-best wideout in that game. The Chiefs do not cover tight ends as well as the Cowboys, so Jordan Akins could see a bigger role as well.
The Texans will once again deploy the two-quarterback system they revealed for the first time in Dallas. Davis Mills will start with Jeff Driskel strategically inserted for RPOs and designed runs. Houston did an excellent job of deploying both players to their strengths last week, and both quarterbacks played well.
With LG Kenyon Green unavailable, Justin McCray would be the next man up. However, McCray missed last week’s game due to injury and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. McCray got in a limited practice Friday, but he is officially listed as QUESTIONABLE. Jimmy Morrissey, the backup center who saw time in Dallas at left guard when Green left the game, could see more time filling in at left guard this week as well.
When the Chiefs have the ball: No one is better at making something out of nothing than Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes leads the league in passing yards (4160) and passing touchdowns (33) and is second in yards per attempt (8.1). Mahomes’ ability to escape the pocket and be focused downfield is already legendary.
Tight end Travis Kelce is Mahomes top target. Kelce leads KC in receptions (81), yards receiving (1,039), and receiving touchdowns (12). He is a matchup nightmare for any team, and the Texans are 18th in the NFL in covering tight ends. WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster (762 yards receiving) and Marquez Valdez-Scantling (606 yards receiving) are formidable receivers on the outside.
Seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco (591 yards rushing, 3 rush TD, 4.8 YPC) has taken over as the lead back for Kansas City. Jerick McKinnon operates as the third down/change of pace back.
Kansas City is the league’s top offense, averaging 423.8 yards per game.
Key Texans to Watch:
QB Jeff Driskel: With Dameon Pierce out, the Texans’ best option at running the ball between the tackles may be the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Driskel. It will be interesting to see how the Texans utilize Driskel this week. He was excellent running RPOs with Pierce, but neither Burkhead nor Ogunbowale possess Pierce’s skill set. Both backs need to get the ball in space, so how the Texans create that space is something to watch. Will they ask Driskel to be more of a runner this week, simply out of necessity? Driskel’s usage will be important. Can the Texans put him in a position to succeed?
The Left Guard position: Justin McCray is the top backup at guard, but he missed last week’s game with an injury and missed the first two practices of the week as well. He was only a limited participant in Friday’s practice. Backup center Jimmy Morrissey came on in relief of Green last week in Dallas when Green was forced from the game. The Texans’ offensive line has played its best football the past two weeks. Part of that is the vastly improved play of Kenyon Green. Can whoever his replacement will be maintain that level and give the needed protection to the quarterback the O-line has provided the past two weeks?
The Christians: Christian Kirksey and Christian Harris are the Texans’ primary linebackers. They are both three-down LBs and will be on the field the most. They will have the unenviable task of covering Travis Kelce. Whichever one winds up on Kelce on any given play has to play tough, physical coverage and cannot allow Kelce to run roughshod over the Texans. Mahomes can get impatient when he can’t go to his favorite receiver and force footballs down the field, giving the Texans opportunities for turnovers. They will need multiple turnovers to try to keep this game relatively close.
The Cornerbacks: Desmond King and Tremon Smith will be the Texans starting cornerbacks with both Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson out. King has done a very good job filling in for Sting and Smith had a pair of interceptions last week against Dallas, taking over for Nelson, who was injured during the game. They will have their hands full with big, fast receivers in JuJu and MVS. If the Texans throw double teams, they will be directed at Kelce, which means there could be some one-on-one time for King and Smith against the 6-foot-1 JuJu and 6-foot-4 MVS in this game. They will need to be up to the challenge.
The Bottom Line: Last week, the Texans played surprisingly well in Dallas, and nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets, if not the biggest, of the year. They did that without Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks. Now they have to add Dameon Pierce and Kenyon Green to the list of offensive starters they will be without, and the RB depth is suboptimal.
It is highly unlikely that the Texans can duplicate their play from a week ago against the Chiefs, who may currently be the favorite to go to the Super Bowl from the AFC. The Chiefs are the NFL’s top offense in yards per game; the Texans are the league’s 29th-ranked defense. You probably don’t need an advanced physics degree to know where this is going.
It would be great to see the Texans fight hard, but this game is more likely to be a dog day afternoon for Houston than a replica of the Cowboys game. Texans fans will spend more time Sunday debating Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud as the first overall pick than they will if Houston can beat the Chiefs. If you are at the game and at the Modelo area on the east side of the stadium or in a club or suite, you can even watch the World Cup final between France and Argentina.