The Battle in the Trenches: Key AFC Wild Card Matchups to Watch

Super Wild Card Weekend is upon us, and the weather is set to play a significant role in two AFC games. As a result, the focus will shift to the battles in the trenches. The conditions are expected to prompt a return to old-school football, where teams will have to rely heavily on their ground game. So, which teams can thrive in these challenging weather conditions? Let’s take a closer look at one key matchup in each AFC wild-card game.

In the matchup between the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns, keep an eye on the battle between offensive tackle Charlie Heck and defensive ends Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith. In their Week 15 game against the Texans, Heck struggled, giving up 15 pressures and two sacks. Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is likely to exploit this weakness and put Garrett or Smith against Heck for the majority of snaps. Heck’s performance could be the deciding factor, as he may struggle to handle the Browns’ formidable edge rushers.

Moving on to the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins, the focus will be on defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and the Chiefs’ interior offensive line. The Dolphins have been strong defensively since Jalen Ramsey returned in Week 8, ranking ninth in points allowed per drive during that period. Wilkins has played a significant role in their success, particularly in stopping the run. The Chiefs’ interior offensive linemen, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith, will need to elevate their game to contain Wilkins and open up opportunities for their running back, Isiah Pacheco.

Finally, in the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the weather is expected to be a major factor. With gusty winds reaching over 40 mph, both teams will need to rely heavily on their ground game. The Bills’ tackle trap run play, where one of their tackles pulls to block the defensive end, will be crucial. Without All-Pro T.J. Watt, the Steelers will need Alex Highsmith and Markus Golden to effectively counter the trap blocks by Bills tackles Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown. This battle in the trenches will be critical in determining the outcome of the game.

In summary, the AFC wild-card games will see teams battling it out in challenging weather conditions. The matchups between Charlie Heck and Myles Garrett/Za’Darius Smith, Christian Wilkins and the Chiefs’ interior offensive line, and the Bills’ tackles against the Steelers’ edge defenders will have a significant impact on the outcome of each game. Ultimately, the teams that can adapt to these conditions and dominate the trenches will have the best chance of coming out on top.