On Saturday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals will take on the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs. It's a rematch of last year's opening playoff round game in which the Texans soundly defeated the Bengals.
Will this year be a repeat?
Starting off with the Texans, who've lost three out of their last four games, Houston stumbled to the finish line, running out of gas as the season came to an end. They're without a doubt a very talented team, but there is a lot of concern heading into this game due to their recent difficulties.
Matt Schaub hasn't played well at all over that four-game stretch, so he'll need to get it together if they're going to pull this game out. Arian Foster's been relatively sluggish over the past month or so as well. If they want any chance, he'll need to be on his A-game.
What makes it challenging to pick against the Texans is their staunch defense, led by J.J. Watt. They're actually relatively mediocre against the pass but have played extremely tough against the run. If Cincy can't get the running game going, they're going to be in trouble, and it'll be in Andy Dalton's hands.
That's not to say that Dalton isn't capable of winning the game if it comes down to it. Dalton and sophomore standout A.J. Green have established a terrific rapport over the past couple of seasons. Green will no doubt be heavily targeted in this game, and is the key to the Bengals offensive success.
If the Texans can take Green out of the equation, and force Cincinnati to beat them in another way, they'll win the game, plain and simple. Cincy does have an elite defense, but if Green struggles it's unlikely they'll put up enough points to stay in the game.
However, I think the Bengals will stay in the game, and ultimately win it. Houston is the favorite in this one, but they've looked so bad down the stretch that it's hard to trust them. Yes they're 12-4, but as we saw last year with the New York Giants, it all comes down to who's the hotter team at the moment.
Regular season records mean nothing.
And the hotter team is the Bengals. They've won seven out of their last eight games, with their lone loss coming by just a single point. They're clicking on offense, playing tough on defense, and have just looked like the better team.
Final Score: Bengals win, 24-20.