With the regular season going by seemingly faster than usual, we now turn our attention to the dark horse’s of the NFL; the wild card teams. First, we will focus on the AFC match up between the Cincinnati Bengals as the 6th seed in the conference as they go on the road to face the Houston Texans, as the 3rd seed.
Cincinnati Bengals (6) @ Houston Texans (3)
With the Texans squandering a chance to wrap up home field advantage throughout the playoffs with one win in the final two games, they were unable to win even one and now find themselves unexpectedly playing in the first game of the NFL postseason. And it’s easy to see why, as they look nothing like the team that ripped out to a 11-1 start to the year. In dropping three of their last four games, none of them really close at all, some wonder if injuries have caught up with them and they’re just out of gas.
When you’re the quarterback, you’re going to get too much credit when the team is winning and all of the blame when the team is struggling. The pressure on Matt Schaub right now from fans in Houston is a perfect example of this. While the team was winning almost every week, there wasn’t too many complaints of him. Now that they’ve managed one win in the last month, he’s the reason Houston will never win anything.
It’s clear that the Houston offense seems to be broken the last month while the once top three defense plays a lot of bend but don’t break ball. If they can’t move the ball on offense, the defense is going to have to play as good of a defensive game as they did in this same match up one year ago. But with the lack of depth at linebacker, this could be a tough order against the Bengals always improving offense.
The Bengals seem to be on a different course than the Texans this year as they started slow and have now accumulated wins in seven of their last eight games; and that one loss was by only a single point to Dallas. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have shown no lingering effects of a sophomore slump and have connected in the end zone eleven times this year.
The Bengals defense has been better each and every week this season and finished ranked sixth overall in the league, one spot ahead of the Texans. This seems to indicate that we’ll be looking at some sort of defensive struggle, right? Not necessarily. Both teams have offenses that can explode at any moment, and would would have to believe that Houston is past ready to snap out of their funk.
The key match up will be the Bengals interior defense not letting Arian Foster get into a groove. The Houston scheme is simple; if you can stop the running game, you can stop Matt Schaub. He isn’t the “get on my back and I’ll take you there” type guy. He’s a system quarterback who is great when the system is working and lately, it has been doing anything but.
I have no reason or actual logic for the pick I’m going to make here, but I think I’m going to take the Texans simply because I think the last month was a bad stretch and not the new normal. Also, they still have one of the best home field advantages in the league and even though I think Cincinnati is on the cusp, I still don’t think they’re ready for this step to pull off an upset on the road in the postseason. But it’ll be close. VERY close. Houston makes one bigger play on defense in the fourth quarter than the Bengals do.
Texans 23 Bengals 20