Bengals vs. Texans: 5 Key Matchups in AFC Wild Card
The sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bengals haven't been to the playoffs since 2009, and the third-seeded Houston Texans have never played postseason football. While that may discourage some fans from watching the game, it actually makes the matchup that much better.
Both teams are fairly evenly matched because of the injuries suffered by Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub. That means two rookie quarterbacks will matchup against each other on Saturday for two up-and-coming teams.
The two teams faced each other on Dec. 11 in Cincinnati. The Texans pulled away and won 20-19 thanks to a late drive put together by quarterback T.J. Yates that sealed their playoff spot. Now that the teams are facing up a second time, it should be an even better game.
Let's find out some key matchups to watch for on Saturday.
Cincinnati O-Line vs Houston Pass Rush
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The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line will have the rough task of stopping the sixth-ranked pass rush that the Texans will bring out. But if there is any offensive line that can do so, it's the Bengals O-Line.
Cincinnati has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL season, something that has greatly helped the development of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
In the team's previous matchup this season, linebacker Connor Barwin (pictured) had the lone sack of the day for the Texans. He has 11.5 sacks on the season.
Houston Running Backs vs Cincinnati Linebackers
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The Houston Texans have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, finishing second in rushing yards thanks to great seasons by Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The two combined for 2,166 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Foster has developed into one of the best backs in the NFL and had seven games this season where he broke 100 rushing yards on the day, including one against the dominant Steelers defense.
But he and Tate will be going up against the 10th ranked Cincinnati run defense that held them to 143 rushing yards earlier this year, 10 yards under their average. The Bengals also forced a fumble from each of them.
Rey Maualuga (pictured) and Thomas Howard are both very capable of stopping Houston's rush game but in order to do so, they will have to close many gaps on Saturday.
T.J. Yates vs Cincinnati Secondary
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T.J. Yates' seventh NFL game will be his first every playoff game.
I bet no one saw that coming.
But it could play in his favor that his seventh game is the Texans' first every playoff game because he is facing a team he has already beaten.
In that 20-19 victory, Yates threw for 300 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in one of his better games of his rookie season.
It won't be an easy task to throw for 300 yards against the Bengals again though—they have the ninth-ranked pass defense and are led by Reggie Nelson's four interceptions. Nelson was the man who picked off Yates in the previous game.
Luckily for Yates, he has one of the best deep targets on his side in wide receiver Andre Johnson, in addition to tight end Owen Daniels.
Andy Dalton vs Houston Secondary
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Aside from the magic that happened in Carolina this season with Cam Newton, Andy Dalton has had the best season from any rookie quarterback.
But now comes the real test—the playoffs.
Luckily for him, his first test is against a team he already faced, the Texans.
In that previous matchup, Dalton threw for 189 yards and a touchdown and completed 57.1 percent of his passes. Houston is no defensive slouch—they have the third-ranked pass defense in the league.
It will be a battle for Dalton to get the ball to wide receiver A.J. Green as often as he will want, but given Cincinnati's offensive line, he should be OK.
Gary Kubiak vs Marvin Lewis
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While the action happens between the lines, it's outside of those lines where the decisions are made.
Because both teams are so young and are fairly new to the playoffs, it will be on the head coaches more than ever to make sure the teams are prepared well before and to lead them as the game is being played.
But what makes this matchup even more enticing is the fact that the coaches, in addition to the players, are new to the playoffs.
Houston's Gary Kubiak (pictured) has been coaching the Texans since 2006 and will be tasting the playoffs for the first time as a head coach.
The Bengals' Marvin Lewis has been the head coach in Cincy since 2003 but he has only coached two playoff games, both losses.
Will Kubiak rise to the occasion and lead the Texans to victory or will Lewis turn around his troubles in the playoffs?
Tune in on Saturday to find out.