CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-6)
at HOUSTON TEXANS (12-4)
AFC Wild Card Playoff Game
Kickoff: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Houston -4.5, Total: 43
Cincinnati tries to win its first playoff game in 23 years on Saturday when it visits the same Houston team that ended its 2011 season in this same Wild Card round.
This is a rematch of last year’s AFC Wild Card matchup in which the Texans played back-up QB T.J. Yates but still cruised to a 31-10 victory. This year the Bengals played only four games against teams that made the playoffs, going 2-2 SU and ATS. That included last week’s narrow home win against a Ravens team that emptied its bench. They did win four straight on the road to finish the year, three over bottom-feeders and one a mistake-filled gift at Pittsburgh. Houston slumped down the stretch, but did go 6-2 SU and 5-3 ATS at home, with its two SU losses coming to NFC playoff teams in Green Bay and Minnesota. The Bengals' look to end a four-game postseason losing skid, with their last playoff win coming in 1990, a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers.
Will the Bengals finally end their long playoff losing skid? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the postseason.
Cincinnati has been a great road team this season, going 6-2 (SU and ATS), with 24.6 PPG and 361 total YPG. However, QB Andy Dalton has struggled in the past three tilts, throwing for just 616 yards (5.8 YPA), 2 TD and 4 INT while taking 13 sacks. Dalton was awful in the playoff loss in Houston last year, throwing three picks and getting sacked four times. But not all is hopeless for Dalton, as the Texans secondary has faltered down the stretch this year, ranking a mediocre 16th in passing yards allowed (226 YPG). And they have 0-or-1 takeaways in six of the past seven games. The key matchup here will be Cincy star WR A.J. Green (1,350 rec. yds, 11 TD) against Houston's shutdown CB Johnathan Joseph, a former Bengals player. Cincy desperately needs injured RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring) to keep the Texans' pass rush (44 sacks, T-5th in NFL) at bay. Green-Ellis has played in four playoff games in the past two seasons with New England, rushing for a pedestrian 183 yards on 47 carries (3.9 YPC) and one touchdown. The Bengals know they must be keenly aware of Houston DL J.J. Watt, who has 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 23 Tackles for Loss and 16 passes defended this season. Watt also returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of last year's playoff win against Cincy, giving his team the lead for good.
Texans QB Matt Schaub is making his playoff debut, and is sure happy this debut is at home, where he has a 101.7 passer rating (8.0 YPA, 13 TD, 4 INT) this year, compared to his 79.5 rating (6.7 YPA, 9 TD, 8 INT) on the road. He did not finish the 2012 campaign on a strong note with 1 TD and 3 INT over his final four games, but he does have a healthy WR Andre Johnson who has been outstanding late in the season. In the past seven games, he has 66 catches for 1,001 yards (143 YPG), including four games of at least 140 yards. Johnson caught five passes for 90 yards and a TD in last year's win over Cincy. But the Texans prefer to run the football (508 rush attempts, 4th-most in NFL), in particular with Arian Foster, who has 1,424 rushing yards (6th in NFL) and a league-leading 17 total touchdowns. The Bengals had no answer for Foster last year, as he rumbled for 153 yards (6.4 YPC) and 2 TD on the ground, plus 29 more yards through the air. However, this year's Cincinnati team has a great defense, ranking 7th in the NFL in passing defense (213 YPG) and 12th in rushing defense (107 YPG). The Bengals also rank third in the NFL with 51 quarterback sacks, led by DT Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and DE Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks).