For the Bengals, it's deja vu all over again.
Cincinnati secured a wild-card berth for the second straight season, and for the second consecutive year, the team takes on the Texans in Houston. Though such accomplishments might not seem especially noteworthy, it's the first time in 30 years that the Queen City franchise achieved such feats. Up next for the Who Deys: secure their first postseason win since 1990.
If the Bengals hope to attain this objective, Andy Dalton will need to elevate his play. Judging by the stat sheet, the Red Rifle vastly improved in his sophomore campaign, enhancing his accuracy, yards, and end-zone excursions. Regrettably, this improvement was not apparent in the final month of the season, as Dalton averaged just 180 passing yards per game in December with six touchdowns and seven turnovers. Cincinnati still went 4-1 in that time period, and wins are really the only figure that matter to quarterbacks. Alas, though, the Bengals were winning despite Dalton's play—not because of it.
Fortunately for Marvin Lewis, his defense, engineered by mastermind Mike Zimmer, has been the best unit in the conference in the second half of the season. With a formidable front four, featuring Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, the Bengals have been suffocating opposing signal callers into rushed and ill-advised decisions. This force has been transparent on the scoreboard, as all the Bengals' final eight opponents failed to surpass 21 points.
Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Texans this season. Armed with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Houston is just one of eight attacks to average 26 or more points in 2012. Most of these trips to pay dirt have come from the legs of Arian Foster. The two-time All-Pro led the league with 15 rushing touchdowns and added another two scores in the receiving game. Though his production on the ground slightly slowed in the final two months, Foster still averaged 89 rushing yards per game, second-best in the AFC. As Foster goes, so goes the Houston offense.
Such a statement may seem to discount the contributions of quarterback Matt Schaub. Certainly the Houston field general has had his moments, most notably his record-setting performance of 527 yards and five touchdowns versus the Jaguars in Week 11. Yet, subtract this outing, as well as a four-score assault on the Broncos in Week 3, and Schaub is left with a meager 13 touchdowns in the other 14 games of 2012. Andre Johnson remains one of the most lethal wideouts in professional pigskin, and Owen Daniels has overcome an array of injuries to become an elite receiving tight end, but the Houston air onslaught is more terrifying in reputation than veracity.
This attitude also applies to the Houston defense. Through the first 11 games on the season, J.J. Watt and company appeared to be an unstoppable force, destroying all that stepped into their path. The same could not be said of the team's play in the past month, as adversarial air strikes have had their way with the Texans, with the secondary suddenly becoming susceptible. The return of Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph to full health should lighten the load. Nevertheless, what once was considered a shut-down squad enters the postseason as a question mark.
So who comes out on top in this playoff rematch? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Texans win the battle 62.3 percent of the time by an average margin of 27-22.
|AFC Wild Card: Bengals at Texans|
|Matchup||Win%||Avg Score||WIS Interactive|
|@ Houston Texans||62.3||27||Simulate Game|
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