Same teams, same round, same venue as last season, but a much different momentum. The Cincinnati Bengals are the ones going into their Wild Card Playoff game against the Houston Texans as the confident side.
The Texans looked like one of the best teams in the NFL during certain games this season, but losses at home to the Green Bay Packers and getting blown out by the New England Patriots on the road have changed the expectations from them and obviously hit their confidence levels, not to mention the defeats against the Vikings and Colts to end the season.
The biggest keys for the Texans has been their offensive line, allowing them 132.7 rushing yards per game (8th in the NFL) and protecting Matt Schaub from mistakes. That has changed in the last couple of weeks, which has resulted in losses and Schaub taking too much hits. Schaub is a very good quarterback with the ability to scramble and make plays outside the pocket, but seems to come up short in big games and needs a running game and a solid offensive line performance to be at his best.
The other side of the lines equation is the defensive line, Wade Phillips and J.J. Watt. Watt can be used in a number of positions and is probably the most difficult to stop pass rusher in the NFL. Phillips needs to bring back the dynamic and unpredictable blitz packages that worked so well most of the season in order to get the turnovers numbers back up and mask the secondary unit and its weaknesses.
The Bengals have had an excellent season, flying under the radar in the AFC North but eventually doing so well for a number of reasons – Andy Dalton improving, A.J. Green emerging as one of the top receivers this season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the running game and the third best passing rush in the NFL. Led by Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, the Bengals recorded 51 sacks this season, third best in the NFL. The Benglas don’t love to blitz, relying on the ability of their front four to get the stops and create enough of a disruption
Matt Schaub threw at least one touchdown pass against four or fewer pass rushers in 11 of the Texans’ 12 wins this season, but failed to throw one in any of their four losses. The Bengals allowed only eight touchdown passes when rushing four or fewer, second fewest in the league.
Prediction – While the Bengals are the hotter team going into the game, they have a narrower margin for error in it, and A.J. Green hasn’t been hot in recent weeks. If the Texans get their running game going early, this is going to be their day.