The sixth-seed Bengals will play at the three-seed Houston Texans in the AFC-wild card round at 4:30 Saturday on the first Saturday of
2012 2013. Deja Vu!! As opposed to last season, the Texans enter this game struggling and the Bengals enter the playoffs on a roll. The Texans are playing this week after having lost home-field advantage by losing three of the last four, including last week at Indianapolis. The resurgent Bengals were left for dead after week 9, finding themselves 3-5 before winning 7 of their last 8 to get to 10-6. The Texans won decisively in the wild-card faceoff last season behind J.J. Watt's breakout performance. Have the Bengals improved enough to get Marvin Lewis his first playoff win and the first Bengal playoff win since 1990? Time to find out!!
0: Number of playoff wins for Marvin Lewis and number of playoff starts for Texans QB Matt Schaub.
1: Career playoff starts for Andy Dalton and career playoff wins for Texans' coach Gary Kubiak, and we all remember that one. Also, number of touchdowns Texans QB has thrown in the last four games, including two against the pourous Colts defense. Don't get too excited Bengal fans, also the number of offensive touchdowns for the Bengals in the last two games.
6: Number of road wins for the Bengals this season. Also the number of AFC home wins for the Texans this season, making them undefeated against the AFC at home.
22: Years since last Bengals playoff win. Ironically, that win was also against Houston. Oops, I meant the Houston Oilers.
32: Percent conversion on third down for the Texans in the second half of the season. Even lower on 3rd down and 3 or more. Keep Foster in check and let third down dictate itself.
The Cheesehead Clash: Texans DT J.J. Watt vs Bengals RG Kevin Zeitler
University of Wisconsin alums Watt and Zeitler will match up in what could be the battle that determines the fate of the Bengals' O for the day. Outstanding rookie Zeitler will try to keep probable NFL Defensive Player of the Year Watt from having a game similar to the breakout game he had last season in the playoffs. Watt's game has only improved, challenging the single-season sack record but falling just short.
Bengals New vs Old: A.J. Green vs CB Jonathan Joseph
Bengals fans remember Joseph, who left more money on table to sign in Houston before the 2011 season. Joseph is finally healthy for the first time all season, and needs to be 100% to have a chance at containing Green, who enjoys a full five-inch height advantage over Joseph. Joseph is one of the best cover corners in the NFL nevertheless, and Green will need his best effort along with a little more accuracy from QB Andy Dalton to lead the Bengals down the field.
Matt Schaub vs Bengals Defensive Line
Savvy veteran QB Matt Schaub will start his first playoff game against the outstanding Bengals defensive line. The defense had a club record 51 sacks on the season, and even more impressive is the fact that 38 of those sacks came without any blitz. This tells us the d-line is getting outstanding pressure on the QB and is allowing the rest of the defense to play coverage. Schaub comes into the game struggling but is always a threat.
Illegal Arian: Geno Atkins and the Bengals Defensive Line vs. RB Arian Foster
No doubt, Arian Foster is an all-world RB. However, the Texans run game has not been the guarantee it was in the season's opening half. The consistent pressure that Atkins and the defense get on the opposing o-line does not bode well for Foster either. Atkins should have his way with Texans offensive linemen Ben Jones and Chris Myers. In the month of December, the Bengals completely shut down running backs Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Mathews, and DeMarco Murray. These guys may be a notch below Foster, but it does say that Foster can at least be contained by this defense even if it cannot completely shut him down. Just one discouraging note, as good as the Bengals interior defense was, it was horrible on 3rd and short runs up the middle.
Texan vs Texans: Andy Dalton vs Houston defense
Katy, TX native Andy Dalton struggled in last year's game and has really struggled throughout the second half of this season. Though the Bengals offensive line is better matched up this time around, the Texans defense stands an excellent chance of making Dalton's Saturday afternoon miserable. In the absence of LB Brian Cushing, Brady Jackson has been nothing short of outstanding. One of Dalton's biggest faults is trying to force the ball to covered receivers and the Texans have the personnel to make him pay dearly for those decisions. DB's Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Daniel Manning have all returned INT's for TD's this season, and don't forget Manning's stellar game against the Bengals in last year's playoff game.
Not So Golden Graham: Bengals Fan Base vs
man who has no soul Shayne Graham
The red-headed kicker who singlehandedly eliminated the Bengals from getting to the 2006 playoffs will be doing the placekicking for the Texans this weekend. If it's a close game, history will definitely favor the Bengals. The man who has no soul has never made a clutch kick, even if he is still the most overrated supposed accurate kicker in NFL history. That said, I'm hoping the Bengals have a comfortable lead and don't have to worry about a Graham game-winning field goal. That very thing could be what finally sends me over the edge.
All in all, these two teams are similar in a lot of terms at this point. The difference is the general direction in which these teams appear to be headed. Both teams have struggling offenses with a superstar (Foster, Green). Both have high-ranking NFL defenses (Bengals 6th, Texans 7th) and are dominant up front (Watt, Atkins). In my opinion, one more year of experience and positive momentum are enough to usurp home field advantage and a team stuck in neutral if not reverse. This sets up to be the game the young Bengals shed the up-and-coming label and have a coming out party of their own. There is too much talent on this team to be satisfied with simply making playoff appearances. If the Bengals can get the Texans into third and long and eliminate the play-action as the Colts, Vikings, and Patriots were able to do, the Bengals can win this game. I'm banking on having a game to preview next week. WHO DEY!!!
Bengals 21 Texans 13