AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans

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Texans and Bengals meet in the playoffs for the second straight season

<p> AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans</p>

The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans will face off in the postseason for the second straight season when they get together on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Bengals (10-6) enter this game having won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the AFC South champion Texans (12-4), stumbled late, dropping three of their last four games. Houston defeated Cincinnati 31-10 in last season’s Wild Card round, earning the Texans their first playoff victory in franchise history.

When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
On offense, Cincinnati finished the regular season ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards with 332.7 per game and 12th in points with 24.4 per contest. The Bengals are 18th in rushing offense (109.1 ypg) and 17th in passing (223.6 ypg). Cincinnati’s offense has struggled somewhat recently, as the Bengals have averaged just 235 yards of total offense over their past three games. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has already set a career high in rushing yards with 1,094, but he had just 14 against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore after injuring his hamstring during pregame warmups. Without him, the Bengals had just 47 yards on the ground versus the Ravens. Green-Ellis was back at practice on Wednesday, so it looks like he will be able to suit up for this one. If for some reason he’s unable to go or ends up being limited, the Bengals will most likely turn to Cedric Peerman (258 yards, 7.2 ypc). Quarterback Andy Dalton has already surpassed his passing yard (3,669) and touchdown (27) totals from his rookie season, but he’s thrown three more interceptions (16 to 13) this season too. He also tossed three picks in last season’s Wild Card loss to the Texans, and may be called on to make more plays depending on Green-Ellis’ health. Wide receiver A.J. Green is Dalton’s primary target, having finished in the top 10 in the league in both receptions (97) and yards (1,350), earning him a starting spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Green tied for fourth in the league with 11 touchdown receptions, while tight end Jermaine Gresham had five scores among his 64 catches for 737 yards. Besides Dalton’s 16 interceptions, he has been sacked 46 times, the third-most of any quarterback in the league, and the Bengals as a team have lost 10 fumbles.

After getting off to a strong start, Houston’s defense has struggled at times during the second half of its schedule. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in the league in total defense at 323.3 yards per game, but gave up more than that in five of its last seven games, a stretch in which they went just 4-3. They are tied for ninth in points allowed at 20.7 per game, but surrendered 42 to both Green Bay and New England (both losses) and 37 in an overtime win against Jacksonville. Statistically speaking, the Texans have fared better against the run (97.5 ypg, seventh) compared to the pass (225.8 ypg, 16th), but they also lead the league in batted or tipped passes with 37. Houston’s defense suffered a significant loss when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5, but defensive end J.J. Watt has picked up the slack and then some. The AFC Pro Bowl starter at defensive end and Defensive Player of the Year contender led the league with 20.5 sacks and also forced four fumbles. Watt’s presence is a big reason why the Texans finished tied for fifth with 44 sacks. Watt made the most of his first career playoff game last season when he picked off a Dalton pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown right before halftime in the Texans’ Wild Card win over the Bengals.

When the Houston Texans have the ball:
More known for its running attack, Houston’s offense is fairly balanced. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in total offense with 372.1 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 26 per game. The Texans had the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing offense (132.7 ypg), led by running back Arian Foster’s 1,424 yards and league-leading 17 touchdowns, 15 of those coming on the ground. The Texans’ passing attack finished 11th, as quarterback Matt Schaub posted the third 4,000-yard campaign of his career and had 22 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted another Pro Bowl-caliber season, finishing fourth in the league with 112 receptions and second in yards with a career-high 1,598. Tight end Owen Daniels led the team with six touchdown catches. The Texans’ offensive line, which features Pro Bowlers in tackle Duane Brown (starter), guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers (reserves), has given up only 28 sacks to this point and the team has turned it over just 17 times, including an AFC-low four fumbles.

Cincinnati’s defense has been the team’s strength this season, as the Bengals finished sixth in the league in total defense (319.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring at 20 points per game. The Bengals are seventh in passing defense (212.5 ypg) and are 12th against the run (107.2 ypg). The defense has given up 300 yards of total offense only once in its past seven games, a big reason why the team went 6-1 during this stretch. The Bengals have been even more successful than the Texans in the sack department, finishing third in the NFL with 51. They also are second only to New England in the AFC in takeaways, as the defense has generated 16 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The heart of this unit is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who leads the team with 12.5 sacks, has forced four fumbles and was voted in as a starter for next month’s Pro Bowl.

Key Factor:
Houston is hosting and won its division, but there’s little question that it’s Cincinnati who enters this game with more momentum. The Bengals have won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the Texans lost their last two and three out of their final four games. However, this also is a veteran Texans team that’s in the playoffs for the second straight season and finished last season in similar fashion before thumping the Bengals 31-10 in their Wild Card matchup. And don’t forget, Houston’s quarterback in that game was T.J. Yates, who was starting for an injured Matt Schaub. Even though Houston seems to be headed in the wrong direction at the worst time possible, I think the Texans’ balance on offense and pass rush on defense will be enough to hand the Bengals a second straight playoff defeat in Reliant Stadium.

Prediction: Texans 30, Bengals 23

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NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

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