On Saturday, two teams going in completely different directions will face each other in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
After a dismal final stretch of the regular season, the Texans will try to regain the form that made them the NFL’s top team for the first half of the season. If Houston goes one-and-done in the playoffs, it will mark a disappointing finish for a franchise that appeared ready to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy this winter.
Led by a contingent of budding young stars, the Bengals appear fully capable defeating the Texans Saturday.
Here is one bold prediction for each team during Saturday’s Wild Card Game.
Matt Schaub Sacked 5 or More Times
While the Bengals feature a young defense, they possess speed, power and tenacity, which enables them to get after opposing quarterbacks. This season, Cincinnati’s defense recorded 51 sacks, which was the second most in the NFL.
Headlined by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals will look to get after Houston quarterback Matt Schaub early and often Saturday.
Atkins, in just his third year out of the University of Georgia, leads the defense with 12.5 sacks and has forced four sacks. Defensive end Michael Johnson has chipped in with 11.5 sacks this season. Johnson, who at 6’7”, uses his long wingspan and athleticism to fight off opposing linemen.
In its last four games, Houston has allowed 13 sacks. Schaub, who doesn’t handle pressure well, will certainly be under duress if he is asked to drop back often Saturday.
One way the Texans can counter the Bengals pass rush is by feeding All-Pro running back Arian Foster the ball. If Foster can find success in the running game early, it will take the pressure off of Schaub, forcing the Cincinnati lineman to respect the run.
The Bengals have been susceptible against the run at times this season but only allow an average of 107.2 rushing yards a game.
Don’t expect Foster to be much of factor Saturday, which for Schaub, it means he will be seeing a blanket of orange coming his way the entire game.
Andrew Hawkins Has at Least 7 Receptions and a Touchdown
While everyone is fully aware of the talents of A.J. Green, the diminutive Andrew Hawkins is often overlooked.
A mere 5’7” ,180 lbs, Hawkins looks like a little kid on the field. What he lacks in size, Hawkins makes up in amazing quickness and explosion. The tiny receiver can stop and start on a dime, making defenders look silly when they try to tackle him.
Although he’s not Andy Dalton’s favorite or even second-favorite target, Hawkins still was targeted 80 times this season, catching 51 balls for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Whenever he catches the ball, Hawkins is a threat to take a short gain and turn it into a long one.
What will help Hawkins Saturday is the fact that Green is so good. Houston will be paying close attention to Green, likely double-teaming him; this will leave Hawkins open across the middle.
This season, the secondary has been the weak spot for Houston’s defense, giving up 225.8 yards through the air a game.
With Houston putting all its attention on Green, Hawkins will benefit and have himself a big game on Saturday.