Spread: Houston -3
This matchup truly is the "wild card" of the weekend in terms of handicapping.
There are just too many unknown variables here to try to accurately forecast this one.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Rookie Andy Dalton has undoubtedly had an impressive season for Cincy. It’s been hard to tell that 2011 was his first year in the NFL.
But the postseason is a different animal. How will he handle the pressure of winning in the playoffs, especially on the road against a team that finished second in overall defense?
And how about the QB situation in Houston? Will it be third-stringer TJ Yates? Journeyman Jake Delhomme? How is Delhomme still in the league, nevermind starting a playoff game? Does it really even matter who starts?
The Texans do have a few things going for them here. First, they’re at home (although teams playing in their own building have won just 53 percent of games in the Wild Card Round since the NFL expanded to eight divisions in 2002).
Second, all-world receiver Andre Johnson should be close to 100 percent for the first time in a long time—a big help to whomever will be playing quarterback.
Third, Houston has had a terrific running game and a solid defense all year long, and if nothing else, those are two strengths you can expect will carry over into postseason play.
Still, with A.J. Green on the field, Cincinnati has the ability to strike quickly. Oh, and by the way, the Bengals play some tight D, too.
In the end, this matchup is just too close to call with any confidence. I’m predicting a close win for the Texans (because the Bengals went 0-7 against current playoff teams this season), but for betting purposes, don’t be tempted into action just because it’s the first game of the weekend. Save your money for smarter opportunities.
Prediction: Houston 23, Cincinnati 17
What to Bet: Nothing