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Top 9 storylines for Bills at Texans | AFC Wild Card

Jerry Hughes and Micah Hyde get a hit in on Houston QB Deshaun Watson during the Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans game, October 14, 2018 at NRG Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Jerry Hughes and Micah Hyde get a hit in on Houston QB Deshaun Watson during the Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans game, October 14, 2018 at NRG Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

The Bills have been playoff caliber all season long, on their way to 10 wins and a spot in the tournament. Now, the focus shifts to championship caliber — do they have what it takes to win a title?

Phase one of the championship chase starts this week with Buffalo's Wild Card playoff game against the Houston Texans. Here's a look at some of the top storylines for the Buffalo-Houston matchup:

1. SETTLING IN TO THE POSTSEASON

It's only the Bills second playoff appearance in the last 20 years. They're 14-16 all time in postseason football –  3-4 in the Wild Card round. The Bills haven't won a playoff game since 1995, when they beat the Dolphins in a Wild Card game.

Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier says there's a different vibe at One Bills Drive this week.

"It's just an entirely different atmosphere around the building," Frazier says. "The fact that everything shrinks. You're the big fish in the pond now. When we play this Saturday, we're going to be the only game that's going to be shown."

"It's just completely different and what you're playing for this time of year is kind of really crystallized now," he continued. "You're in the tournament for the world championship, and that means a lot."

2. OFFENSE GETS A CHANCE TO BREATHE

The Texans defense is a break for the Buffalo offense which has been up against the NFL's top defenses the last five weeks.

Each of the Bills last five opponents put a top-10 NFL defense on the field (Jets 7th, Patriots 1st, Steelers 5th, Ravens 4th, Cowboys 5th) and it showed. The Bills went 2-3 down the stretch and averaged only 16 points per game.

Now, the Bills go up against Houston's defense, ranked 28th in the league and giving up 24 points per game. It's a chance for the Buffalo offensive attack to regain its footing after a tough stretch.

3. ALLEN'S FIRST LOOK AT THE PLAYOFFS

He's done a good job with virtually every test thrown his way this year — tough road games, national TV exposure, battles against top ranked defenses.

Now, second-year quarterback Josh Allen gets his first NFL playoff start Saturday in Houston. The Bills would love to see him continue his solid play and especially get off to a fast start against the Texans. But they're not quite sure what to expect.

"We'll see. He hasn't been in a playoff game," says offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "Again, you really have to go back to the basics. We've talked about this time and time again, what wins in September wins in January: taking care of the football, making good decisions, getting us into the right checks. All those things matter in September and they matter in January."

4. BELICHICK DISCIPLES GO HEAD-TO-HEAD

It's Daboll up against Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel this week, in a battle of Bill Belichick disciples. Daboll spent 10 seasons on Belichick's staff at New England, Crennel worked with Belichick as an assistant under head coach Bill Parcells and was with Belichick when he was head coach of the Patriots.

Daboll said he has a ton of respect for Crennel. "I have so much respect for Romeo, his family, the type of man he is. He's an unbelievable person, unbelievable football coach," said Daboll. "I was a young coach in this league, he was working as a defensive coordinator and I was actually working as a defensive assistant: just a great person, a great coach. I think he garners a lot of respect from most people in the league, his players, other people he's worked for. He's smart, he's worked for some really good coaches in Coach [Bill} Parcells and Coach [Bill] Belichick. He's got his own stamp, he's been doing it a really long time and he's really good at it."

5. WATT'S UP WITH JJ?

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien says he'll know by the middle of this week whether J.J. Watt will play on Saturday. Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, missed the final eight games of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle.

He returned to practice last Tuesday after extensive rehab. Watt has been practicing for a week now and the Texans are expected to have him play against the Bills. The five-time Pro Bowl performer is a difference-maker for the Houston defense when he's healthy.

6. BILLS ARE ROAD WARRIORS

Buffalo's 10-win season included six wins on the road, tying a franchise record for wins away from home. The road to the Super Bowl will be on the road for the Bills, starting this week in Houston.

As the fifth seed in the AFC, the Bills are likely to play on the road for the duration of their playoff run, with the slight chance that the AFC Championship Game could be played in Buffalo, if the sixth seed, the Tennessee Titans, advance.

Scroll through to see the top photos of touchdowns from Buffalo's 2019 regular season. Touchdown Tuesday is presented by Pepsi.

7. TRE-DAY VS DEANDRE

The best individual matchup on the field Saturday may be the one featuring Buffalo's Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

The Bills have had success this year matching up White with the opponent's best wideout, including Cleveland's Odell Beckham, Jr.

Hopkins is a four-time Pro Bowl performer coming off another sensational year. He caught 104 passes; seven of them for touchdowns for the Texans this year. He even threw a touchdown pass this season, a six-yard score against the Patriots five weeks ago.

The Bills aren't offering any clues about their plans to have White trail Hopkins around the field this Saturday, but it makes sense.

8. HOMECOMING FOR SEVERAL BILLS

Houston is home for several Bills, including standout defensive end Jerry Hughes, a native of nearby Sugarland, Texas. First-round draft pick Ed Oliver is also from Houston and played college football for the hometown Houston Cougars. Linebacker Corey Thompson is also a native of Houston.

Bills cornerback Kevin Johnson, who may play a prominent role this weekend depending on the health of starting corner Levi Wallace, was the Texans first round draft pick in 2015. And Buffalo's defensive backs Coach John Butler coached the Texans secondary for four years before joining Sean McDermott's staff in 2018.

9. LAST VISIT TO HOUSTON WAS TOUGH ON BILLS

The Bills let a 13-10 fourth quarter lead slip away in their last visit to Houston to play the Texans in 2018. They lost 20-13 on a Jonathan Joseph interception return for a touchdown with 1:23 to play.

It was a difficult end to a day that saw Bills backup Nathan Peterman throw two interceptions in the final minute and a half. He was in for Josh Allen, who was making his fifth NFL start, and suffered an elbow injury. Allen missed the next four games for the Bills, and they lost three of them.

Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson didn't fare much better. He was sacked seven times and hit a total of 12 times. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

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