Bengals vs. Texans: An AFC Wild Card Matchup Preview
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The Houston Texans weren't expecting to play this weekend.
The Cincinnati Bengals are just happy not to be headed to Foxboro, Mass.
The two franchises will square off in the playoffs this weekend for the second time in two years.
Will the Texans take the rematch, or will the Bengals get their revenge for an early exit in 2011?
Here's what you need to know about the game.
History of the Matchup
The Texans and Bengals are fighting for the right to advance in the playoffs. The Texans will be rewarded with a trip to New England if they win, while the Bengals will head to Denver should they upset the home team.
The two teams met in Houston in the Wild Card Round last season, and the Texans harassed Andy Dalton into coughing up the game.
An J.J. Watt pick-six right before halftime broke open a tie game. The Texans sealed it with two more picks of Dalton in the fourth quarter as they landed their first playoff win in franchise history.
Matchup to Watch
Johnathan Joseph vs. A.J. Green
Joseph has gone from being the rock of the Texans' defense to an unknown quantity. He's battled lower-body injuries the entire second half of the season and isn't locking down his side of the field the way he used to.
Meanwhile, A.J. Green is catching 47 percent of deep balls (20 yards or more past the line) thrown his way for four touchdowns and nearly 500 yards receiving.
Anytime you get a gimpy corner and a long-bomb burner matched up, big things are going to happen.
As Andy Benoit of the Football Outsiders points outs, the Bengals aren't going to just let the Texans throw safety help to Joseph all day. Joseph is going to have to hold his own at least sometimes.
Of course, the wrench in this plan is J.J. Watt. If you can't give safety help to your corner, it's incumbent on the pass rush to land before the long ball can be turned loose.
Stat that Matters
The Bengals are eighth in the NFL with 30 forced turnovers.
The Texans are ninth in the NFL with 29 forced turnovers.
In 12 wins Houston is a plus-17 in turnovers. In four losses, they're a minus-five.
In 10 wins Cincinnati is a plus-eight in turnovers. In six losses they're a minus-four.
This game is going to come down to which team makes the biggest mistake.
Biggest Advantage for the Texans
The Bengals have a soft run defense. They allow 4.1 yards a carry, which isn't bad, but they're dead last in power-run situations.
If the Texans can get into manageable third downs, they may be able to pound the ball and play the style of offense that Gary Kubiak adores.
Arian Foster should get some rest this week, because he's going to be worn out come Saturday.
Biggest Advantage for the Bengals
All year long in this space, it's been the same story.
The Texans have the worst special teams unit in the game.
The Bengals have a top-10 squad, and cover punts particularly well. They have the chance to steal yards and even points from the special teams units, and in a tightly-matched affair, that could make all the difference.
Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game
Yeah, this is about right...
Houston Will Win If...
...Matt Schaub is a top 10 quarterback.
Schaub was on his way to a terrific season, but really hit the skids down the stretch. Now he faces his first play off game.
So who is he?
Is he a borderline-elite passer who is perennially underrated?
Is he the weakest link that is holding back the Texans?
His resume screams he's the first, but his reputation declares him the second.
If he comes out and has a solid game, Houston should win.
Cincinnati Will Win If...
...they push the Texans around.
The Bengals have the second-best pass rush in football. If they can exploit the vulnerable right side of the Houston line, they'll make life miserable for Schaub.
If the Texans really are wilting at the wrong time, the Bengals can come in and throw their weight around and take home a victory.
This match up is much closer on paper than the two-win disparity between the teams would indicate. The Bengals do a lot of things well, and it's hardly breaking news that Houston is languishing at the present.
As you go over both team's numbers, it's clear that if this game were played in Cincy, the Bengals would be legitimate favorites.
But the game is in Houston.
While there's no reason to foresee a long stay in the playoffs for the Texans, they are playing at home, and that's a huge advantage.
While the game should be closer than the 2011 affair, the outcome will be the same.
Texans 24 Bengals 20
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