Bengals at Texans -4.5
For the second year in a row, the NFL playoffs kick off with the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Houston to face the Texans. This year’s wildcard match-up has a completely different feel from a year ago. The Houston Texans were excited just to make the postseason this time last year, but after a complete meltdown in December, the Texans who were projected to get a first-round bye are all of a sudden feeling the scrutiny after blowing an opportunity for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Bengals enter this match-up on a three-game winning streak. Cincinnati has won six out of their last seven games after starting the season 3-5. The momentum is clearly in their favor right now as the Houston fan base is still pissed off about the fact that they are even playing this weekend. The local Houston media and talk radio shows have been calling for Kubiak’s head after it was clear that the team could not battle back against division rivals the Colts last weekend. If the Bengals can start fast and frustrate the Texans offensively, they may be able to sneak away with an upset road win.
Andy Dalton (a brewing fantasy QB) really upped his game mid-season after being challenged by head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals offense ranks 17th in passing and 18th running the ball. Except for their elite wide receiver A.J. Green, the team isn’t overly flashy. Although, the Bengals defensive line is among the league’s best, and their ability to stop opponents through the air is a definite strong point.
My Two Cents: The one thing I was really surprised with the Texans while watching them lose to the Colts last weekend, was their inability to play from behind. Houston is a very balanced team. They have an excellent offensive line, strong running game and have a very methodical passing attack. The Texans defense is also meant to play with the lead, they have the NFL sack leader, a sneaky pass rush and a smart defensive coordinator that knows how to get inside of opposing quarterback’s heads. Yet, when the Colts started to pull away late in the second half last Sunday, the Texans entered uncharted territory; they were out of their element. The Texans needed to not only score, but score quickly. The team continued to use 2WR, 2TE formations, and still continued to call play action passes and quick bubble receiver screens. I was completely surprised, the team needed to switch gears and run a heavy pass attack preferably out of shotgun with 4 to 5 WR sets. In all of the Texans losses this season, especially in the games they played against the Packers and Patriots, it was clear they did not have the offensive passing attack to compete in a shootout.
I’m not putting the blame on Matt Schaub, this team basically just has its own personal preference and game tempo. If the Texans can gain control early and establish their signature rushing attack, I’m very confident they can walk away with the win Saturday. Although I truly believe, if the Bengals want to steal this game, they’ll need to be as aggressive as humanly possible in the first quarter. A couple quick scores will deflate not only the crowd, but will enrage most of the Texans sidelines.
My pick: Texans 24-23