Already favored to claim their first playoff victory in more than two decades, the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) up the ante on the Houston Texans (9-7) as they welcome top linebacker and sack-leader Justin Houston back to the lineup.
Houston, 26, hyperextended his knee in Kansas City’s Week 12 victory over Buffalo and sat out the final five games of the regular season to heal. But before the injury Houston had already accumulated 7.5 sacks to lead a Chiefs pass rush that ranked fourth in the league with 47.0 sacks.
Beside fellow linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive end Jaye Howard, Houston will now lead Kansas City’s defense against Texans starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. Back in Week 1, Houston recorded his first sack of the season on Hoyer as the Chiefs took him down four total times and hit him another five.
Leading the NFL with 22.0 sacks a year ago, Houston told the Kansas City Star that he’ll have to readjust to normal game speed, but defensive coordinator Bob Sutton brushed off concerns.
“I’m not worried about his ability to get back in there,” Sutton said. “You have to see where he’s at with his conditioning, his reaction time, all of those things, which, deep down inside you believe this guy’s played a lot, he knows what he’s doing, and I think it will be fine.
“We have to see where he’s at, like any player that comes back. We believe he’s going to be fine. If he keeps progressing like he has during the rest of this week, I think he’s going to be ready to roll.”
Houston fully participated in Wednesday and Thursday’s practice sessions, though Hali (thumb/ knee) and center Mitch Morse have sat out the week’s first two sessions while Kansas City hopes to claim its first postseason victory since 1993’s run to the AFC Championship.
Last week the Texans brought Hoyer back under center after concussions kept him on the sidelines in Weeks 15 and 16. The former Browns and first-year Houston passer has started nine games and appeared in 11 while completing a career-high 60.7 percent of his attempts for 2,606 yards and 19 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.
Hoyer, though, has taken his fair share of hits this season. Houston’s offensive line has allowed 36 sacks, No. 16 in the NFL, and 25 of those were on Hoyer.
However, Hoyer is not one of the 19 players to make the Texans’ injury report. Most, including defensive end and NFL sack-leader J.J. Watt (groin/hand) have at least participated in practice on a limited basis.
Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (foot) and wide receiver Nate Washington (hip) were the only exceptions. Each was held out of Wednesday’s session but returned on Thursday as limited participants.
Betting Odds: Kansas City -3
Over/Under: 40 points
Kickoff: 4:20 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN