The Wildcard round will begin Saturday with the Bengals vs. Texans playing at Reliant Stadium. Both teams at the beginning of the year were perhaps afterthoughts to be in this position. Especially the Bengals, here is a team that was in complete disarray last season. There was no continuity, and the team seemed totally out of sync. So coming into this season, a lot of people expected the Bengals to be the worst team in the NFL. After all, two rookies were going to be the centerpiece of their offense. However, those two rookies have certainly turned out just fine. The combination of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have played well enough to get the Bengals a wildcard berth. Dalton finished with 3394 yards passing, 21 TDs (1 rushing), and 13 INTs, with an 80.4 passer rating. His number one target, A.J. Green, dazzled with his speed and big play ability down the field. Green completed the season with 1057 receiving yards and 7 TDs. The Texans on the other hand, have fallen short season after season. This year, though, they captured the division title with a win over the Bengals several weeks ago. It was a come from behind last minute effort by rookie 3rd string quarterback T.J. Yates.
While the Bengals have turned every aspect of their team around from last season, the Texans have turned things around in a sense as well. The Texans defense was once at the bottom of the NFL, every team they played absolutely torched them via the passing game on a consistent basis. It wasn’t unheard of to hear mediocre quarterbacks putting 400 yards up on them. However, 2011 has been the complete opposite, as they rank up there with the NFL elites. Former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, now Texans defensive coordinator, has turned the defense into a ferocious bunch that is not easy to get yards on. The defense as a unit is ranked 2nd in the NFL, only allowing 285.7 yards a game and 17.4 points a game. The air and ground defense is essentially on par with one another, as the pass defense is ranked 3rd and 4th against the run. The offense, however, has sputtered since Matt Schaub went down with a foot injury. They have been through Matt Leinart, Jake Delhomme, and T.J. Yates. Rookie Yates is listed as the starter for Saturday, who is probably the better option with what is available (Delhomme and Yates). The Texans have gone 3-3 without Schaub and averaged 18 points per game. So, it is definitely obviously that they miss their top signal caller. Not only Schaub, but the Texans have been without Andre Johnson for several weeks (has only played seven games). He did play last week, and will be ready for Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see if Yates and Johnson can get on the same page in so little time.
T.J. Yates will need to perform against a pretty stout Bengals defense. Again, no one expected much of the Bengals, but their defense has been the glue of sorts this season. They rank 7th in the NFL, allowing 20.2 points per game, and 316.2 yards per game. Like the Texans, the Bengals rush and pass defense is pretty much on par with one another (10th and 9th). Expect a heavy dose of the Texans impressive run game spearheaded by Arian Foster. The Texans rushing attack ranks 2nd in the NFL with 153 yards per game. I don’t expect them to put the ball too much in Yates hands in this critical game.
Bengals vs. Texans Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Cincinnati Bengals +3
@Houston Texans -3
Over 39 (-110)
Under 39 (-110)
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Bengals vs. Texans Pick:
I think for the majority of the first half it is going to be a feeling out process for both teams. You’ve heard the comparison before, but I can see it turning into a boxing match, as both competitors wait for the other to make a mistake. Both of these defenses are far too good for these offenses. As a result, I expect a heavy dose of the run on both sides. There will be the occasional big play action completion downfield, but in the end it should be a defensive struggle. It doesn’t help the situation any more that the flu bug is running rampant in the Bengals locker room. The bug sure has affected Andy Dalton, as he has been limited in practice due to an illness.
A huge statistic I love in this game is that when Wade Phillips is coaching the defense, the Texans only allow 14.4 points per game at home. Conversely, the Bengals only allow 17.2 points a game on the road. Considering Dalton and Yates are both rookies, I don’t foresee either of them putting big numbers up. The odds are simply against rookies; only 9 rookie quarterbacks have won a playoff game in their first season. Of course, one rookie quarterback has to win this game; however, don’t expect a head turning performance. If you want more points, wait until the Lions/Saints game at 8:00(EST). All signs point to a low scoring contest here.