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Scouting the Patriots’ potential playoff opponents

Ben Volin reviews his Patriots postseason predictions
Ben Volin reviews his Patriots postseason predictions

The Patriots will watch and wait this wild card weekend to find out which team they will host in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Here is a look at each of New England’s three potential opponents and how they stack up statistically:

Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 12-4

Seed: 3

Wild card game: vs. Pittsburgh at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9 (CBS)

Opponents’ combined record: 104-104

Coaching chops: In Marvin Lewis’s 13th year in Cincinnati, the Bengals have their seventh shot at the postseason. Lewis has not won in the postseason, and to do so this year requires taking down his team’s biggest rival. Lewis is 8-19 against Pittsburgh, including 2-12 at home. Lewis’s first chance at a playoff victory was in the 2005 playoffs when the Bengals were pitted against the Steelers at home and lost, 31-17.


Season’s turning point: When Andy Dalton broke his thumb early on against Pittsburgh in Week 13. A.J. McCarron has played decently, going 2-1 over the season’s final three games. But that Week 13 loss started to make a first-round bye out of reach for the Bengals, who will likely rely on McCarron, rather than test Dalton’s thumb, in their third matchup of the season against the Steelers.

Patriots history: Cincinnati has never faced New England in the playoffs. The Patriots have won four of their last five regular-season meetings, including last year’s 43-17 romp in Foxborough.

A.J. Green and Marvin Jones combined to score 14 touchdowns this season.
A.J. Green and Marvin Jones combined to score 14 touchdowns this season.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The players you’ve heard about: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and receiver A.J. Green, both Pro Bowlers.

■ Atkins recorded 11 sacks – second-best on the team, first among all NFL defensive tackles, tied for seventh overall, and second-highest total in his career. He had 21 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. Bengals coaches have called Atkins the best player on the defense, even categorizing his play as worthy of defensive player of the year honors.


■ Green has caught 86 passes on 132 targets for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 15.1 yards per reception, tying a career high. He is first on the team in catches and yards, but second in touchdowns behind tight end Tyler Eifert (13).

The players you haven’t heard about: Safety Reggie Nelson, a Pro Bowler, and receiver Marvin Jones.

■ Nelson, in his ninth season, started all 16 games. He tied for first in the league in interceptions (8), led the Bengals in fumble recoveries (2), and was second in passes defended (14).

■ Jones has caught 65 passes on 103 targets for 816 yards and four touchdowns. He has averaged 12.6 yards per reception. He is second on the team in receiving yards, targets, and catches, but third in touchdowns.

Making your reads: 1) Andy Dalton had his cast removed Monday. 2) Marvin Lewis’s playoff record doesn’t bother him.

Houston Texans

Record: 9-7

Seed: 4

Wild card game: vs. Kansas City at 4:35 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9 (ESPN)

Opponents’ combined record: 111-97

Coaching chops: Second-year coach Bill O’Brien has the Texans in the playoffs for the third time in franchise history and the first time since the 2012 season. O’Brien’s squad opened the season with a 27-20 loss to the Chiefs and went on to lose five of its first seven games before recovering to finish the year as AFC South champs at 9-7. He coached his way through a quarterback carousel and his defense came alive in the second half of the season, which ended with three straight wins over division rivals by a combined score of 80-22.


Season’s turning point: Getting shellacked by the Dolphins in Week 7. The Texans traveled to South Florida only to give up a season-high 503 yards in a 44-26 loss. Houston regrouped, rattled off four straight victories and went on to win seven of its final nine while giving up more than 10 points just three times in that span.

Patriots history: Houston lost to New England, 41-28, in the 2012 divisional round. The Patriots earned a 27-6 regular-season victory over the Texans in Week 14.

J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus combined for 29.5 sacks this season.
J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus combined for 29.5 sacks this season.Bob Levey/Getty Images

The players you’ve heard about: Defensive end J.J. Watt and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, both Pro Bowlers.

■ Watt led the league in sacks with 17.5, second-highest of his career. He forced three fumbles, batted eight passes, and recorded 49 quarterback hits and 29 tackles for loss. He has helped anchor a defense that was first in the league on third down (28 percent) and third in yards per game (310.2). He was also second on the team in tackles with 76.

■ Hopkins had the best season of his career, catching 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, all career highs. He was second in targets (192) and finished third in yards and catches behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown.

The players you haven’t heard about: Linebacker Whitney Mercilus and receiver Cecil Shorts.


■ Mercilus recorded his career high in sacks with 12, good for first in the league among linebackers and tied for sixth overall. Though he accumulated just two sacks though the first seven games, he finished the final nine games with 10 sacks, four hits, and 31 quarterback hurries, according to PFF.

■ Shorts is the Texans No. 3 receiver behind Hopkins and Nate Washington, catching 42 passes on 74 targets for 484 yards and four touchdowns. Nearly half of his yards came after the catch (223) – Hopkins had 201 and Washington had 155. Shorts missed the Texans’ last two games with a hamstring injury, but is expected to play against the Chiefs.

Making your reads: 1) It’s been a weird year for Brian Hoyer. But he’s now a playoff starter. 2) Alex Smith’s passer rating drops 53 points when he is under pressure. That’s good news for J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. 3) It’s the defense that gives the Texans a shot against the Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 11-5

Seed: 5

Wild card game: vs. Houston at 4:35 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9 (ESPN)

Opponents’ combined record: 104-104

Coaching chops: Andy Reid has Kansas City in the playoffs for the second time in the three years he has been with the Chiefs. Reid is 10-10 in the postseason and hasn’t won in the playoffs since beating the New York Giants with the Eagles in the 2008 divisional round. This season he has stuck with his steady, cautious signal caller, Alex Smith, and his defense — including Pro Bowlers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, and Marcus Peters — has flourished into one of the best units in the league.


Season’s turning point: Beating Pittsburgh, 23-13, at home in Week 7. That improved the Chiefs to 2-5 and was the start of the 10-game winning streak they are carrying into the postseason. That also marked the end of the slow start Kansas City had while awaiting the return of cornerback Sean Smith from suspension while Berry, linebacker Derrick Johnson, and defensive tackle Dontari Poe worked themselves back into game shape.

Patriots history: Kansas City has never faced New England in the playoffs, but if they meet in the divisional round, you can bet the Patriots won’t forget about the 41-14 beatdown they received in Week 4 of 2014.

Marcus Peters grabbed eight interceptions this season.
Marcus Peters grabbed eight interceptions this season.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The players you’ve heard about: Berry and receiver Jeremy Maclin.

■ Berry recorded 61 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 passes defended in his first season back after battling lymphoma. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his five-year career and was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded safety this season with a 93.6.

■ Maclin surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, catching 87 passes on 124 targets for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. In his first season in Kansas City, he led the Chiefs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The last two seasons, he has had two drops in 174 catchable passes, according to PFF.

The players you haven’t heard about: Cornerback Marcus Peters, a Pro Bowler, and running back Charcandrick West.

■ Peters shined in his rookie season. He tied Nelson to lead the NFL in interceptions (8). Peters also had the most interception return yards (280), passes defended (34), and targets (137) in the league. He was fourth on the team in tackles (60), forced a fumble, and returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns, one of five players this year to have two pick-6s. Peters had the lowest catch rate (39.4 percent) in the league over the last seven weeks of the season, according to PFF.

■ West took the majority of the carries after Jamaal Charles was lost for the year in Week 5. He carried 160 times for 634 yards and four touchdowns and was spelled by Spencer Ware, who had 72 rushes for 403 yards and six touchdowns. West has also been used in the passing game, with 20 catches for 214 yards and a score.

Making your reads: 1) The Chiefs’ trouble with closing games. 2) Why isn’t anybody afraid of the Kansas City Chiefs? 3) How Marcus Peters got into the running for defensive player of the year.

Offensive statistics
Points per game 26.2 21.2 25.3 29.1
Margin of victory 8.8 1.6 7.4 9.4
Yards per game 358 347.8 331.2 374.4
Yards per play 5.7 4.9 5.5 5.7
Rush yards per game 112.8 108.2 127.8 87.8
Pass yards per game 245.2 239.6 203.4 286.7
20+ plasses 63 46 42 59
40+ passes 13 8 10 12
Third-down conversions 40 percent 39 percent 38 percent 41 percent
Time of possession 31:13:00 30:48:00 30:55:00 30:18:00
Fumbles/lost 17/8 22/8 16/8 14/7
Turnover margin +11 +5 +14 +7
Defensive statistics
Points per game 17.4 19.6 17.9 19.7
Yards per game 340.8 310.2 329.3 339.4
Yards per play 5.3 5.0 5.1 5.2
Rush yards per game 92.3 99.8 98.2 98.8
Pass yards per game 248.5 210.4 231.1 240.7
Third-down conversion 39 percent 28 percent 33 percent 37 percent
Fumble recoveries 4 5 7 9
Interceptions 21 14 22 12
Passes defended 104 104 111 93
Sacks 42 45 47 49
Source: NFL, pro-football-reference.com

Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.