A few weeks ago, it would have been hard to argue that the Cincinnati Bengals could defeat the Houston Texans.
But times have changed.
The Bengals have won seven of their last eight contests leading up to their Wild Card matchup against the Texans on Saturday, while the Texans have lost three of their last four games.
In fact, Cincinnati hasn't given up more than 20 points to any opponent since its Week 9 loss to the Denver Broncos. That includes holding the New York Giants to 13 points in Week 10.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been phenomenal this season, posting 12.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles. He is the central force behind Cincinnati's much-improved defensive unit.
But the Bengals also feature impressive rookie inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (127 tackles, six tackles for loss), as well as defensive end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks).
Houston, on the other hand, has gone into a tailspin at the worst point of the season, getting destroyed by the New England Patriots and losing to the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts in the past four weeks. They've scored a combined 36 points in those three losses, including 16 points against a Colts team that allowed 24.2 points per contest during the regular season.
Does Houston have more talent overall than Cincinnati? Of course: Eight Texans made the 2013 Pro Bowl roster, compared to two selections for the Bengals (Atkins and receiver A.J. Green).
But talent isn't everything, as we've seen time and again in the NFL. The Bengals are showing great team chemistry heading into the playoffs, while the Texans are struggling.
While Houston is 6-2 at Reliant Stadium this season, Cincinnati is 6-2 on the road, showing a resiliency rare for a young squad.
The Bengals lost in the Wild Card Round to the Texans last season, 31-10. That was despite T.J. Yates starting in place of the injured Matt Schaub.
Expect Cincinnati's budding defense to get revenge at Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
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