Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans Wild Card Preview
The first game of Wild Card weekend features the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans. This is the first of four NFL playoff previews from our Sportstalk crew. The Bengals backed into the AFC Wild Card spot after losing at home to Baltimore. Meanwhile, Houston clinched the AFC South Division weeks ago but have struggled in their final few games of the regular season. The Texans are making their first playoff appearance in the team's history.
Steve's Keys to Watch for Texans
1. Will the Texans get the postseason jitters? Sometimes teams that do not regularly go to the postseason, play a little tentative early on. I'm not sure this will be true for Houston. Despite quarterback T.J. Yates' lack of experience, the rest of the team will be ready to prove that they are a legitimate playoff contender. Yates has not played poorly since taking over the team a month ago. I wonder if head coach Gary Kubiak will take off the training wheels and let Yates loose against the Bengals.
2. Arian Foster and Ben Tate have been one of the best one-two punches in the NFL this season. If Yates does not establish the pass early on, the Bengals' defense will key in on stopping both backs. Foster and Tate are healthy and tough to stop when the Houston offensive line opens up massive holes at the line of scrimmage. The Bengals defense allows 111 rushing yards per game.
3. The Texans defense has been one of the best in the AFC and their redesigned pass defense has been a huge key to their resurgence. Johnathan Joseph has been a tremendous free agent signee and JJ Watt has delivered the kind of season the Texans hoped when they drafted the defensive end from Wisconsin. The Bengals offense is not very productive and will have trouble scoring points against Wade Phillips' defense.
Steve's Keys to Watch for Bengals
1. The Bengals need to score early and take the Houston crowd out of the game. The problem is that Cincinnati does not score a lot of points, but their first quarter has been their most succesful. The Bengals have outscored their opposition 83-51 in the first quarter, but have been outscored 132-59 in the second quarter. Consistency will be key on Saturday.
2. When the Bengals get rolling on offense, rookie A.J. Green is a big key. The wide receiver leads the team with 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. Green quickly became rookie quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target, but Jerome Simpson has made plenty of big plays of his own. The duo will need to stay active against Houston's secondary. It will also be interesting to see if the Texans keep Joseph on Green all game long or if they hold true to their philosophy of playing their best cornerback on only one side of the field.
3. If the Bengals defense can get pressure on Yates, they will have a chance to the win the game. Former UTEP linebacker Thomas Howard has been reborn in Cincinnati, and led the team in tackles. Howard and Rey Maualuga have been very strong all year, while Geno Atkins has totaled 8 sacks from the defensive tackle spot. They will have their work cut out for them, especially trying to slow down the Texans' running game.
STEVE'S PREDICTION: I think the Texans take control of this game in the second half and win their first ever playoff appearance by a final score of 27-16.